For most of his life, Murray Barr was an ordinary American until everything changed abruptly when his story of personal tragedy and period of homelessness created a media frenzy. It was in his article, “Million Dollar Murray,” that Malcolm Gladwell turned homelessness into a celebrity cause by illustrating how Barr cost the taxpayers of Reno, Nevada around a million dollars despite not having a permanent home.

Murray’s story shocked many because it seemed unfathomable that homelessness cost money, let alone a million dollars. In reality, this is far from uncommon.

People without a home, and lacking supports for mental illness and addiction, can draw significantly on social services for survival, including shelters, social agencies and hospitals. They also tend to interact more frequently with police, fire and paramedic services – those agencies on the frontlines, dealing with the visible symptoms of homelessness. This all costs money.