Homelessness is reaching epidemic proportions in America. On a single night in January 2018, there were 552,830 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. Slightly more than 1/3 of them – 35% – were unsheltered individuals.
Government policies clearly have something to do with the problem. According to HUD, California has more than half of all the unsheltered homeless people in the country (108,432), with nine times as many unsheltered homeless as Florida, even though its population is only twice that of Florida.
The states and jurisdictions with the highest rates of homelessness have all been governed for decades by Democrats: New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C., which has a homeless rate of six times the national average.
Los Angeles is awash in 50,000 homeless folks. San Francisco is being overrun with people who sleep in doorways and attack strangers with no provocation. The City by the Bay just lost a $64 million high-tech conference because conferees don’t want to have to navigate piles of human waste on their way to dinner. Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington are likewise up to their earlobes in the problem.
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Santa Rosa, California is pursuing the most bone-headed non-solution in recent memory. City fathers there intend to spend $3 million to buy three buildings, buildings which right now are inhabited by renters. The plan is to kick all the renters out and move all the homeless in. Apparently no one is bothering to ask exactly how you solve homelessness by creating more homelessness.
All of these “solutions” are enormously expensive and absolutely not a single one of them will work. New Mexico is looking to taxpayers to cough up another $14 million to build a new government-run shelter, in what will prove to be a vain attempt to slow its 27% increase in its homeless population in 2019. Brain-dead regressives will simply throw more money at the problem, expanding the size of government exponentially and expanding the population of the homeless at the same pace. You always get more of what you subsidize. You want more homeless people, subsidize homelessness.
And homelessness is expensive. Nearly a third of all emergency room visits are made by people struggling with chronic homelessness, 80% of them with illnesses that could have been treated with preventative care. An average of $18,500 per year per person is spent on the homeless who visit emergency rooms.
The optimum solution to chronic homelessness is what’s called “supportive housing,” which provides not just a place to sleep but help with life issues like mental health and character development.
A solution must be found that provides supportive housing but does not involve government resources or the problem will never be solved. Government blights everything it touches, because just throwing money at a problem almost never fixes it. What follows is my suggested solution to start the discussion.
The fundamental solution is quite simple: get the government entirely out of the homeless problem. Phase-out all taxpayer-funded government programs and transfer the responsibility entirely to privately funded non-profits. This must be accompanied with a resolve never to coerce taxpayers into coughing up dollars again to solve a problem government cannot solve. And it must be accompanied by an unambiguous commitment to religious liberty for these non-profits.
In my hometown of Boise, Idaho, the city tried to run a homeless shelter and miserably failed. So they donated the facility they had built to the local Rescue Mission, which was doing a fabulous job of, well, rescuing homeless men from the streets. Immediately, regressives went to work insisting that the Rescue Mission refuse to require residents to attend a chapel before receiving a free meal. The Rescue Mission had to go to federal court to protect a practice that was central to their ability to help vulnerable men.
Doing all this will control public costs and place a cap on the number of homeless people any one city can absorb. Once the cap number is reached, and every privately-funded bed is occupied, vagrancy laws and public camping laws can and should be rigorously enforced.
If recipients refuse to cooperate with non-profit homeless shelters, they can be given a bus ticket to the nearest city that still runs taxpayer-funded shelters. If that is the kind of help they insist on, then in Christian compassion let’s help them get to places that offer that kind of help. Such government-run shelters are infinitely expandable whether they are helping anybody or not, since bureaucrats can always soak local taxpayers for more money and harangue them as cold-hearted if they balk at the astronomical tab.
Non-profit shelters, 90% of which will be run by people of Christian faith, will not just provide a bed and a meal. They will offer classes in developing responsibility, self-reliance, and a growing faith in God. There is nothing noble or compassionate about fostering a lifestyle of government dependency, which is all any government-funded programs do. The principle at a non-profit shelter will be simple: if a man will not work, he will not eat. Work might mean something as simple as becoming a volunteer member of the grounds crew for the local park system. (Back in the day, as Marvin Olasky writes, some shelters would send a resident across the street to chop firewood for his supper.)
If residents refuse to follow the simple but clear rules, they can be invited into the main office and given a bus ticket to some place where the government will take care of them as only the government can.
The role of elected officials will simply be to serve as cheer-leaders for the non-profits, helping by speaking at fund-raisers and cutting the red tape and regulations that stifle compassionate innovation. They also can use their influence with wealthy businesses and businessmen in their community to engage in genuine philanthropy.
Not only is government-run welfare outreach doomed to fail, but it is also unconstitutional. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, voted against a congressional appropriation to help victims of a natural disaster. When asked why, he explained. “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the Bad Priest, and the Bad Levite is on point here. The priest and the Levite avoided the beaten traveler like he carried the bubonic plague. But the Good Samaritan showed genuine compassion – not by running off to the nearest city council and demanding a new program or a new building – but by reaching into his own pocket to help the helpless victim. Liberals believe generosity is giving away other people’s money, while Christian constitutionalists believe generosity is giving away your own money.
And note that the Samaritan didn’t have to take the traveler into his own home to receive the praise of Jesus. He found someone who was better at taking care of travelers than he was and paid out of his own pocket to free the innkeeper up to do his thing.
We’ve tried it the government’s way. Let’s give James Madison, Jesus, and their philosophy a shot. It can’t be any worse than what we’re doing right now.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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