Homelessness: Is There a Solution?
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Recently the city of Seattle closed down one of their parks. This park was a favorite of the kiddies, because it was a sprinkler park. You know, the kind where they turn on the spraying water for the kids to run through on hot summer days. Of course the kids love it and especially this summer with the temperatures so high, everybody was looking forward to it. The parents feel good about the property taxes they are paying because their kids end up with such a nice place to play, and plenty of adults enjoy it too.
But not this year. At least 64 tents and over 150 homeless people are occupying that park. These tent dwellers defecate everywhere. Hypodermic syringes, and discarded booze bottles are scattered around along with other trash and debris. Under the circumstances, it just is not a safe place for kids to play.
The city is not able to get rid of the homeless people, so the taxpayers and their kids can just suck it up, as far as the authorities are concerned. The homeless tent dwellers are in and the taxpayers and their kids are out.
It's not just one park. Whole blocks in downtown Seattle have been taken over by the homeless and businesses have closed. An elementary school made the decision that the kids would give up their playground, since nobody could get rid of the homeless that had moved in. Prospective jurors are being dismissed from jury duty, if they cite concern about having to walk through the homeless encampment between the parking lot and the courthouse entrance, because the presiding judge agrees with their fear.
And it’s not just Seattle. I’ve recently been to Portland, Los Angeles, Boston, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and the homeless situation is out of control everywhere. According to news reports, every major city in the U.S. is dealing with this.
As I type this on the airplane the gentleman sitting in the middle seat next to me reports his wife being attacked by a homeless person while she was stopped at a red light. The vagrant broke off a windshield wiper and opened the car door and grabbed her, and she only escaped by driving off. The police did nothing. She now has to take a different, longer, route home from work.
Why do we have this homeless problem? And why can’t we fix it?
First of all, we need to understand that this problem was created by the politicians.
I saw a post on a Facebook group I belong to asking for some cheap housing options. The man was desperate and said he would be homeless by next week if he couldn't find something really cheap. The main suggestion he received was to consider moving into a storage unit. Apparently living in a storage unit is currently the cheapest housing option.
Why is living in a storage unit the cheapest option? Because the politicians got rid of the other cheap options.
For example trailer parks. Used to be, if you couldn’t afford the prevailing rent, you could move into a mobile home, at about a quarter or half the cost that you would pay in rent anywhere else. That makes a huge difference for a lot of folks. Often the difference between being homeless and having a roof over your head.
There have always been people that had difficulty paying the rent. This is only getting worse with the way property costs are increasing. And there have always been some people that just chose not to pay the prevailing rent. Trailer parks or mobile home villages were a great option for these people. But politicians have changed the zoning laws, and trailer parks are very rare now, and because they are so scarce, the rent is not very cheap anymore. The politicians could change the zoning laws back to allow new mobile home parks, and many homeless people would find housing once again within their budget.
What about boarding homes? Used to be half the widows in town, opened up their home to people that needed a place to stay. After all, the kids were grown and gone, so they had empty bedrooms, and the income paid by the boarders helped make up for the loss of the husband's income. Kind of a win/win solution. Until the same politicians made boarding houses illegal.
And mother in law apartments. An easy conversion, put up a wall here or a door there and now you have a separate little apartment. It brought in a little rent, and that helped out the homeowner and the person living in the mother in law apartment. It provided inexpensive housing to somebody with little income.
Or a little cottage in the backyard. A tiny home is all the rage these days. We used to call them cottages. A retired carpenter could put his skills to use, build a cute little cottage, and somebody was saved from homelessness.
Only problem is, with current zoning and regulations, these options are illegal in most places. Thank our politicians. Even in the cities that supposedly allow these cottages or tiny homes and mother in law apartments, (which are called Accessory Dwelling Units), the red tape and bureaucracy effectively make it nearly impossible to actually build them.
Even the old option of moving into your friend's basement faces legal opposition in many localities that limit how many unrelated people can live under one roof. If circumstances forced you to make your dwelling in an RV parked in a friend's driveway, you would soon be visited by the local zoning officer with an order to vacate.
And don’t even think of moving into an RV park. RV parks are so hard to get licensed now and so limited as to size and location, that there is hardly any rent savings to stay there, and you have to have an RV.
The elimination of these traditional inexpensive housing options causes homelessness. Even pre-pandemic, when unemployment was at historic low levels, when everybody could get a job, homelessness just continued to climb. As a society, we have allowed the politicians to artificially raise the cost of housing above what many can pay. We should quit artificially increasing housing costs, and many people would solve their own housing problem. When we increase the supply of low cost housing options, there will be less people sleeping in our streets and parks.
How do we put this knowledge to work? First we remove the artificial barriers.
Every city should immediately open up large tracts of land with appropriate zoning for mobile home parks and RV parks.
All laws, regulations and zoning limiting boarding homes, mother in law apartments, back yard cottages or tiny homes should be repealed.
Then we provide incentives to those that are reducing homelessness, by letting them keep more of their own money.
A federal tax credit should be given to every homeowner or renter that has an unrelated family living on their personal residential property, whether in a mother in law apartment, back yard cottage or tiny home.
Property tax deductions should be given to those that put in mother in law apartments, cottages or tiny homes.
These simple steps would start a mass exodus of homeless people from our streets back to appropriate housing.
Coming soon: The final steps to eliminating homelessness. A discussion of how mental health, alcoholism and drug addiction contribute to homelessness and what we can do about it.
Cary "CW" Jasper