Originally published April 10, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., updated April 10, 2012 at 3:36 p.m.
Brian Maienschein, commissioner of Plan to End Chronic Homelessness with the United Way of San Diego County.
James Marsh, Project 25 participant
About a year ago, a new program started to target the 25 homeless people who cost San Diego the most money. Project 25 found those people who used emergency services the most and provided them with housing and other services.
“Before, the average Project 25 participant in 2010 cost about $317,000 per individual of taxpayers," he said. "Their first year in the program, it’s been about $95,000, and we expect that will go down over time. So you’re looking at $217,000, $222,000 savings on average per person.”
Maienschein said the project compiled its list of 25 people by partnering with 22 organizations "that literally went through and by name identified their most costly, to taxpayers, individuals."
"We compiled that list and we went out and got them into housing and services," he said.
James Marsh, one of the Project 25 participants, took 54 ambulance rides in 2010. This year, he has taken one. In 2010, he made 51 emergency room visits. This year, he made one. That has dropped his cost to the city from $479,000 to $6,000.
Marsh said beyond those improvements to his health, the feeling of holding keys to his own apartment has been unbelievable.
"I didn’t think it would happen again," he said. "Because of my drinking problem, I never suspected that I would have another chance. And it’s excellent. It’s so exciting.”
“I cried," he added. "I can't even remember the last time I had my own key to my own place. And when I walked in and looked at it, it was like, this is mine, this is my home, I'm not in a bush, I'm not under a park bench somewhere."
Marsh said he remembers "clear as day" the first time someone from Project 25 approached him.
"I happened to be incarcerated, and I was waiting to go to a program, and Project 25 came before the program did and explained to me what it was about and if I would be interested," he said.
He said they told him "we're going to give you a chance to start over, we're going to show you that you are somebody and that you can believe in yourself."
Project 25 ended up helping 35 people - 10 more than expected - and found permanent housing for 31 of them. The project has a three-year commitment to continue operating, and Maienschein said they hope to continue beyond that.