When we talk about getting the homeless people off our streets and out of our parks, there are two types of homeless people:
Those that will go willingly.
Those that will need persuasion.
Those That Will Go Willingly
Those that will go willingly were the subject of my earlier newsletter about
homelessness. These are the people that have been priced out of the housing market. For some it is a short term situation, a job loss or other financial catastrophe. These people are happy to get a bed in a shelter. And usually they are homeless for just a short period of time, just until they get back on their feet.
And some of these people have a long term financial problem that makes conventional housing unaffordable for them. Maybe they ended up on an early medical retirement, and they now get a disability check every month, but its only $1,277, (which is the average disability check in 2021). According to RENTCafe, the average rent in Seattle is $2,034 a month.
You see the problem? Those numbers don't work. A typical person on disability can not even pay for their housing with their disability check, let alone all of their other expenses. Hence they will soon burn through their savings, and then end up homeless. The only real, long term hope for a person like this is to permanently reduce the cost of housing.
As I discussed in my last newsletter, we can make huge reductions in the cost of housing if the government will get out of the way. Eliminate the legal barriers preventing new mobile home parks, and RV parks, encourage mother in law apartments and back yard cottages, allow boarding houses and all of these people will find satisfactory solutions to their homelessness. A person getting a $1,277 monthly disability check can't afford $2,034 for rent, but could easily pay $400/month for a boarding house, or $800/month for a mobile home.
Notice that government doesn't need to provide the housing for these people, they just need to get out of the way and let the Free Market work.
Those That Will Need Persuasion
What about the other people, the people that need persuasion? This group consists of alcoholics and drug addicts, people with mental health issues and criminals that have chosen the street lifestyle.
But all of the homeless can be removed from our public spaces with the proper encouragement. Addicts and alcoholics need treatment options, which we already do in this country. It's called Medicaid. If you are homeless you qualify. They may also need some of the cheap housing options discussed above. People with mental health issues need treatment too. And the same Medicaid works for them as well.
We are a generous country, and homeless people do have options, paid for by the good taxpayers of this country. They can get their addictions and mental health treated and under control, and they can get off the streets.
So why don't they? Because many homeless people prefer the life they are living. They like being able to spend every dollar they can beg, borrow or steal on drugs and alcohol, including their monthly government check, which most of them get. They prefer no rules. That's why they won't stay in the shelters. They prefer no landlord. They like defecating on our sidewalks, they like throwing their used needles down wherever they are, they like eating free food at the many soup kitchens our society provides and stealing whatever other food or items they want or desire. (Or at least their addiction or mental health problem make them think they prefer being homeless. Homeless people that get off the street are always grateful to get housed again.)
Does that mean society has to let the homeless live on our sidewalks and in our parks? No! We can have laws against sleeping in public places and these laws have survived judicial review. Laws against vagrancy have been to the Supreme Court and found to be constitutional, if worded correctly and enforced fairly.
If a homeless person sets up a tent in a 'Day Use Only' park, the police can arrest them 10 minutes later and confiscate the tent. A bum sleeping on a park bench can be arrested. People laying on sidewalks can be cuffed and escorted away. These laws have been upheld by the courts.
These people can be arrested and directed to the shelters, that have empty beds every night, in every major US city, or they can go to jail.
These shelters can help them access the help they need to overcome their addictions and mental health problems. They can get back into real housing and let the tax paying public have their parks and sidewalks back.
People complain that jailing the homeless would be expensive. I say it is worth it to get our public spaces back.
And besides, homeless people already cost the public a lot of money. According to Suzanne Zerger's 2005 report, 1/3 of the people in the Emergency Room at any given time are homeless people and 80% of those visits are attributed to homelessness. Between ER visits, hospitalizations, detox visits, sleep off centers, and police contacts, the government is already spending a lot on homeless people. In 2013 the director of HUD estimated the annual cost to the government, per homeless person, was over $44,000, and doubtless it is more now. The Economic Round Table in 2015 put the cost at $83,000 per year.
Compare that to the cost of incarceration. A 2017 Vera Institute report claimed the nationwide average was $31,000 per year, per prisoner. You see the point? It's cheaper to incarcerate them than to allow them to live on our streets. Most homeless people will go into treatment rather than go to jail, which is the real goal. And some will start treatment while in jail. But for those that refuse treatment, jail would cost less than homelessness, and we get our sidewalks, parks and public spaces back again.
Who would be against this type of pragmatic approach? Well, remember, there are thousands of publicly funded agencies "fighting homelessness". We have been paying them billions of dollars annually to "fix the homeless problem", and it just keeps getting worse. Their directors, collecting 6 figure incomes, spend a lot of money lobbying the politicians, so they can stay employed. A practical approach, that will actually work, like I'm advocating here, would put them out of business.
Do you see who benefits from NOT fixing the homeless problem?
All of the social workers and publicly funded agencies.
The politicians that fund these agencies and get campaign donations in return.
Who loses by allowing the homeless problem to continue?
The businesses and the public that can't get through the homeless people and tents to patronize the business of their choice.
The park users who are deprived of the enjoyment of the parks.
The school kids who have lost their playgrounds to homeless encampments.
The people that don't feel safe around the encampments.
Anybody who has to go the Emergency Room because of all the homeless people straining the hospital's resources.
The homeless people who are left to wallow in their own mire and don't get the help they need.
Every taxpayer who has to fund this nonsense.