Homelessness: The unsolvable crisis

This week, let’s discuss a thorny and heartbreaking subject: homelessness. This issue has been plaguing cities with increasing urgency. By some accounts, New York City alone has nearly 78,000 residents who move in an out of homelessness. Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Phoenix – countless cities are facing this seemingly unsolvable issue of tents lining sidewalks, clustering under bridges, and taking over parks and school grounds.

The causes behind the crisis are numerous. People have blamed (with justification) unaffordable housing, mental illness, drug abuse, debt (student loan, medical, etc.), disability, unemployment, relationship issues (domestic abuse, divorce, etc.), or simple bad luck. Those of us sitting in warm houses wonder how someone can be living in a car or tent; but the fact is, it can happen to anyone. That’s why it behooves us to be compassionate about the issue.

Some who become homeless are eventually able to get help and rise out of their unhoused condition. But the most stubbornly unsolvable (and sadly, the most numerous) cases involves a population-within-a-population who are simultaneously homeless, mentally ill and addicted to alcohol or drugs. This subculture has been termed the “perilous trifecta.”

“This is the city’s fundamental predicament,” notes this article. “How do you help people in the grips of the perilous trifecta? What interventions could make progress? Where do social workers even start? It’s almost impossible to understate the depths of this challenge. … Local government provides enough to meet an outward standard of compassion, but not enough to alter the trajectories of the homeless. The result is a disaster, which has drawn criticism across the political spectrum. Progressives are demanding more funding for existing programs, while moderates are bewildered by the eternal recurrence of tents, needles, and feces in their neighborhoods.”

Homelessness has always existed, but why has it exploded so strongly over the last few years? This single-word answer, sadly, appears to be drugs. Drug addiction afflicts a huge majority of unhoused individuals.

“California made homelessness worse by making perfect housing the enemy of good housing, by liberalizing drug laws, and by opposing mandatory treatment for mental illness and drug addiction,” relates a Forbes article entitled “Why California Keeps Making Homelessness Worse.” “For decades, many progressives have claimed that homelessness is really just a kind of poverty, a manifestation of social inequality. … Today, many of California’s leading homelessness advocates insist that the current crisis is due mostly to the housing shortage. … Homelessness experts and advocates disagree. ‘I’ve rarely seen a normal able-bodied able-minded non-drug-using homeless person who’s just down on their luck,’ [said] L.A. street doctor Susan Partovi. ‘Of the thousands of people I’ve worked with over 16 years, it’s like one or two people a year. And they’re the easiest to deal with.’ [Rev. Andy Bales of Union Mission church] agrees. ‘One hundred percent of the people on the streets are mentally impacted, on drugs, or both,’ he said.”

But the issue doesn’t stop there. Politicians got involved, which of course makes the situation vastly more complicated.

Some cities are required to house the homeless at public expense. But in return for housing, people are not required to change their behavior. They can still drink and do drugs. “Like many major West Coast cities,” notes this article, “San Francisco has gone all in on ‘Housing First,’ the theory that the municipal government must provide free housing for the homeless in perpetuity, with no expectations of sobriety, work, or participation in rehabilitation programs.”

Eradicating homelessness isn’t from lack of trying. City leaders all over the country have racked their brains to solve the problem. Short of “compulsion” – forcing the unhoused into treatment programs or facilities against their will – what can be done? Most cities’ solution – if it can be called that – can be summed up as: Deinstitutionalization, destigmatization and decriminalization. In other words, ignore the problem.

Decriminalizing homelessness sounds wonderful and compassionate, but the unintended consequence is public spaces (parks, sidewalks, underpasses) are now fair game, and the public in general (businesses, schoolchildren, etc.) can no longer be protected from harassment, intimidation, threats, or violence (not to mention human waste and discarded needles). And so the situation continues to spiral out of control in cities across the nation. The new Seattle mayor, who ran on a campaign promise of clearing sidewalks of homeless encampments, is now ducking questions from those who want answers.

Government attempts to cure the issue are expensive, as government programs always are. Cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles are building subsidized housing at – get this – upwards of half a million dollars per unit to shelter the homeless. Many city budgets include hundreds of millions of dollars for departments tasked with tackling homelessness, something they have patently failed to do across the board. Los Angeles is slated to spend nearly a billion (with a “b”) dollars on homelessness in just 2022, and they’re not alone.

By decriminalizing homelessness, it means people are less likely to get help since homelessness becomes just another lifestyle choice. Anyone committing crimes or acts of violence are simply cycled through the system – held in jail for a few hours, then released to repeat their offenses over and over and over again. Not infrequently, these offenses culminate in murder, after which the perpetrator sinks back into the nameless void of anonymous tents, unreachable by the justice system.

Meanwhile unspeakably destructive drugs are pouring across our southern border in unimaginable quantities. Many of those drugs end up in the bloodstreams of the unhoused across the country. The solution for some cities is to open drug centers – not to break the habits, but to provide drugs for addicts to take in a “controlled” environment. Color me skeptical, but I don’t think this is going to help people – especially the homeless.

I don’t purport to be an expert in homelessness. Nor do I have the magic answer to solve the crisis. But here’s the thing: Neither does anyone else. Meanwhile, taxpayer funds earmarked for the issue are squandered in increasingly desperate or ridiculous measures. In one extreme example from 2019, Seattle homeless advocates hosted their annual conference, which featured – with obscure social justice logic – a performance by a transgender stripper. The homeless weren’t even there to see the performance, so I’m not sure how this benefited them. But it does say something about how city funds are spent.

One writer observed about weary social workers, “From top to bottom, the system is broke. The more government spends, the worse the situation.”

And so the unsolvable problem continues. My guess is it will take a coordinated effort between federal, state and local officials to secure the borders and encourage cooperation between law enforcement and prosecutors. But of course, that will never happen … and so I cannot see how the issue of homelessness will ever be solved.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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