Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The "Million Dollar Murray" problem persists

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see this hed on a story in last week's Examiner: "Small group of vagrants costs San Francisco $20M." It's the same old Million Dollar Murray problem that Malcolm Gladwell wrote so well about in the New Yorker back in 2006 and C.W. Nevius wrote about two years ago, when he reported that in SF an ambulance trip to a hospital emergency room costs $1,500. With some skepticism he described a new city policy to deal with chronic drunks. In fact the city's Ten Year Plan on homelessness also found that a small minority of the chronically homeless cost taxpayers the most and getting them off the street quickly is the best way to deal with the problem. Easier said than done, as it turns out, though not all chronic drunks are homeless.

Nevius tells us how the Fire Department, the Public Health Department, and a "sobering center" were all involved in that policy, which is probably why a simple trip in an ambulance costs $1,500. How many city employees does it take to get a single drunk off city streets? Quite a few, apparently, and they all have to get their tickets punched and paid for the effort, as the "old problems endure."

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