Nothing but Palaces 4

Government help for the homeless makes things worse.

Jesus famously said, "The poor ye always have with you."  These days, though, they seem to be more visible than they've been in a long time, with homeless encampments under every city overpass and panhandlers on streetcorners even out in the suburbs.

A few years ago, the explanation would have been obvious: the Obama Recession that never ended thanks to government meddling.  Well, we've finally taken care of that, and the economy is roaring in a way that most Americans have not seen in their working lives despite the wishful thinking of our leftist media hoping for a pre-election crash to hurt Mr. Trump's prospects.

Yet the homeless remain.  Why, in this best of all economies, do we still have this problem?  In this series, we've been exploring a number of proposed explanations, but none of them seem to really add up.

At any rate, we've had hard times and homeless mobs before and always managed to figure something out eventually.  This problem, though, seems only to have grown since the 1970s, regardless of economic conditions or national politics, and today homelessness is worse than ever.  Why?

In an earlier article, we mentioned the burgeoning homeless problem in Austin, TX, which recently decriminalized many aspects of homelessness such as sleeping on the street, with the obvious result that sidewalks and public ways are now impassably blocked by bums.  Thanks to the law change, the police can't do anything about the problem.

But there are still laws that can be enforced but not against the bums:

It is now legal for vagrants to camp on the front of your property in the capital city of Texas.

By contrast, renting that space to a homeless person for a month in Austin requires an annual fee of $500, proper insurance, a certificate of occupancy, and payment of hotel occupancy taxes (and for some reason a license to drive a motor vehicle).

We've previously looked at examples of low-quality but cheap housing being shut down by government officials.  Here we see an even more bizarre example: the police aren't allowed to defend the private property rights of a private property owner by getting rid of the bum who's camped out front, but if the property owner tries to rent part of his property to the bum to needs a place to live... the bureaucracy will go after the private property owner!

Now we begin to see the reason for the housing shortage: Governments large and small are causing it.

Consider the post-WWII housing shortage.  It was solved in short order by mass-produced "Levittowns" where thousands of homes were slapped up almost overnight.  Many of these homes still exist today, even though they were inexpensive at the time.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you see part of the reason the Levittown-style houses were so affordable: by modern standards, they were tiny:

The Levittown house had two bedrooms, one small bathroom, and an eat-in kitchen; all its rooms were arranged on a concrete slab whose dimensions were twenty-five by thirty feet... the Levittown house had 750 square feet.

Not many apartments today outside of major cities are that small!

The Bernie Bros aside, most Americans understand the concept that richer people will have cushier lives than poor folks.  Why, then, don't we simply build a bunch of small, cheap houses that poor people can afford, and get them off the streets?

As it happens, this has been tried... and failed.

The city of Seattle plans to shut down the Licton Springs tiny-house village after March, bringing to an end one of the most controversial city efforts to help house homeless people.  [emphasis added]

The decision to let Licton Springs' two-year permit expire next spring marks the first time Seattle has closed one of its tiny-house villages since it began opening them in 2015.

Even regular readers of Scragged will find this example of government self-kneecapping mind-boggling.  The local government authority licensed property operated by a charity to build tiny houses for homeless people.  While rather Spartan, these homes are far cheaper than government-run shelters, and enormously safer for the residents than living on the streets.

But because the government didn't intelligently think through where to put the tiny-house encampment and the derelicts who would live there, outraged middle-class neighbors pushed back and caused the site's license to be revoked.  The NIMBY forces' protests were not without reason:

The site was controversial from the beginning because residents are allowed to use alcohol and drugs, something not permitted at the other city-sanctioned encampments... Calls for police service on the block where Licton Springs sits spiked 62 percent in a year, according to a Seattle Times analysis.

That's right: the city plonked down a "substance laws do not apply here" zone in the middle of an otherwise normal neighborhood.  Of course fireworks ensued!  You'd almost think the powers-that-be wanted the experiment to fail!

Indeed, this has become a common theme in "homeless solutions" - trying to use the awesome power of government to force derelicts into healthy taxpaying neighborhoods regardless of objections by taxpaying people already living there who are concerned for maintaining the value of their homes.

Residents of an affluent San Francisco neighborhood are suing the city and state over a planned homeless shelter to be built in the area.

A group of people who live near the Embarcadero ― a waterfront area popular with tourists, where city officials recently approved bringing a “navigation center” for homeless residents ― filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court. The suit claims that the city violated state law by not getting approval from the State Lands Commission for this use of the property.

In April, officials with the San Francisco Port Commission unanimously approved a new homeless shelter, which would provide 200 beds for unhoused people and offer a range of services, including case managers to connect people with public benefits and permanent housing. The shelter would allow people to bring pets and have 24/7 access to the space.

Yes, poor people - even derelicts - need a place to live.  What sort of moron tries to shoehorn them into a ritzy tourist area, though?  It's not as if San Francisco doesn't already have a world-famous Skid Row, the Tenderloin - why not tear down a condemned building and build the "Navigation center" there, where the derelicts are already?

We can't help but think that a great deal of our homeless problem is really caused by class warfare, of rich entitled liberals against hard-working ordinary people.  If they really cared about helping the outrageous San Francisco homeless problem, they wouldn't have rammed down a "solution" that's led to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lawsuits unless it's all part of a plot to help out starving lawyers.

Indeed, our leftists in robes seem to positively revel in rubbing ordinary folks' noses in dangerous bums.  The infamous 9th "Circus" Court of Appeals recently decided that it was unconstitutional for a city to ban living on the streets - that is, unless the city was prepared and budgeted to house all comers regardless of cost to taxpayers.  Now every locality under the authority of the 9th Circuit will soon get to share in the joys of the San Francisco Poop Map.

There was, perhaps, a time when governmental housing authorities actually cared about trying to decently house the poor.  While we can't know the hearts of the bureaucrats personally, the results speak for themselves:

According to an NPR report from June 2018, “when voters passed Measure HHH, they were told that new ‘permanent supportive housing’ would cost about $140,000 a unit. But average per unit costs are now more than triple that. The PATH Ventures project in East Hollywood has an estimated per-unit cost of $440,000.”...

These costs are utterly unsustainable. But the Homeless Industrial Complex has grown into a juggernaut, crushing the opposition. At community hearings across California, “homeless advocates,” who are often bused in from other areas expressly to shout down local opposition, demand action, because “no one deserves to live on a sidewalk.”

Money is squandered, and the population of homeless people multiplies. This is not compassion in action, rather, it’s corruption in action.

We've now seen why there will be no help from government programs - indeed, like just about every other government "solution" we see, government only makes the problem worse.

What we still haven't discovered, though, is why the private sector doesn't seem to be able to come up with any solutions either.  It used to be able to, why can't it now?  We'll take a look in the next article in this series.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

If a MENSA person is 2.5 sigma above average and therefore in the top 2% of the population and thus has an IQ of about 140, then from a bell shapped there are 2% of the population with an IQ of 60, or on the idiot level. Many such people are cared for by others: parents or siblings. But such people are unemployable. Some of those people have social problems as well and don't relate well with people. This occurs to many who do not have family support. My point is that it is a large problem. The liberals made it worse then they demanded these people be let out of care institutions to fend for themselves. They can't. There are a few, perhaps as many as 20% who game the system and could work if they wanted. But who wants to work when panhandlign is all they need to do?

September 22, 2019 9:54 PM

In my middle-to-upper middle class neighborhood, the city is building a complex of apartments to house single women with children. One can imagine the coming problems—but I think the problems are part of the plan.

September 23, 2019 3:46 PM

Has any one done an economic analysis of catering to the homeless ? I’m not talking about solving the problem. Just pushing it along so that folks get paid to , well, push it along. This article makes it sound like squadrons of people are employed to “ care” for the homeless as well as make sure they stay homeless. Also there are those who make sure they don’t take any responsibility as adults. And we can’t leave out all the lawyers fighting for the status quo. Must be a lot of money wasted on these “ helpers”.

September 23, 2019 4:30 PM
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