Every now and then, somebody will explain something to you in such powerfully simple terms, it will reframe the way you think about a particular issue.

That happened to me while I was chatting with Claude Robinson, the 185th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers.

As Claude said, the government can guarantee it will have a prison cell for you tonight – but it can’t guarantee you a place in a homeless shelter, detox clinic or mental health facility.

With that one observation, Claude made me realise how misguided government funding decisions often are.

Claude speaks from bitter experience.

He spent a decade living on the streets, committing crimes to feed a heroin addiction. That led to two separate prison stints, which he said were appalling experiences.

When Claude was released from prison the final time, he was able to turn his life around thanks to a government-funded rehab program. The program cost $25,000; by contrast, Claude estimates the state had already spent $5 million trying and imprisoning him.

Since then, Claude has been working in the community sector, dealing with mental health, substance abuse and homelessness issues. 

As he explains, the more money the state invests in early intervention today, the less money it has to waste on courts and prisons tomorrow.

Claude doesn’t want the government to increase taxes; he just wants our current tax dollars to be allocated more efficiently. The problem, he says, is politics – there are more votes in building prisons than funding homeless shelters, detox clinics and mental health facilities.

These days, Claude is sober, he’s a father – and he’s a taxpayer. He’s turned his life around, and is passionate about helping others do the same.