Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

To solve homelessness, you have to enforce the law | In Focus

Homelessness will not be ended with either/or thinking.

Seattle mayor Greg Nickels declared that homelessness would become a “rare, brief, and one-time” event. The same year, Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco (now governor of California), promised “not to manage but to end homelessness,” praising his city’s plan as “brilliant in its simplicity.” The year was 2006. (Christopher F. Rufo. “Compassionate Enforcement”. City Journal, Summer 2021.)

If you’ve been to Seattle recently or read articles about homelessness across the nation’s biggest cities, you know that this is an issue that has not been solved. It’s only gotten worse, especially on the west coast. There is one city though, Houston, in conservative Texas, that has cut homelessness by 50 percent since 2011.

Progressives insist the problem is national and federal, yet homelessness has decreased in 40 states. According to Rufo, homelessness decreased nation-wide between 2009-2019 by a 10 percent rate in all but three states: California, Washington, and Oregon, which have a third of the nation’s homeless.

According to Rufo, 75 percent of homeless are mentally ill, and 78 percent have some form of addiction. They are 100 percent more likely to commit crimes and be booked into jail than the typical citizen. They have a different mindset than the middle class.

The chronically homeless migrate to the most permissive cities. As a local example, 51 percent of Seattle’s homeless have migrated there from some other state; 15 percent came to get access social services, 10 percent came to get legal marijuana, 16 percent were “visiting or traveling” when they set up a tent camp. Added to these reasons, there is a defacto legalization of street camping, drug consumption and property crime in Seattle. The homeless commit property crimes to pay for their drug consumption, knowing they won’t be arrested.

The problem is not rising rents. Rufo agreed with an oft-cited progressive claim that there is a strong correlation between rising rents and homelessness. But as the saying goes, “correlation does not necessarily mean causation.” In that same report was the statement that “the research shows that homelessness remained flat or decreased, despite rising rents….”

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, is a Democrat, but his rhetoric on homelessness is very different from that heard in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. “It is simply not acceptable for people to live on the streets; it is not good for them, and it is not good for the city,” Turner has declared. “We will tackle this complicated issue, and we will do it humanely with a meaningful approach that balances the needs of the homeless and the concerns of neighborhoods they impact.”

Houston’ mayor has chosen the policy of compassionate enforcement. He has worked to build permanent housing for the chronically homeless, teaming with private aid groups and asking the state for more services for mental health and addictions. He launched a campaign to discourage panhandling and public camping. The west coast cities have all done the same things, yet Los Angeles’ homeless rate increased by 15 percent, and Seattle’s increased by 25 percent. Between 2011-2019, Houston has decreased its homeless population by 54 percent.

The difference between L.A. and Seattle and Houston is that the Houston mayor enforced the law.

According to Rufo, progressives have three blind spots that have resulted in increased homelessness in the western states:

1) They discount the need for authority, being skeptical of the need for law enforcement (think “defunding the police”).

2) They excuse the filth of street camping, trying to stop the “street sweeps” through lawsuits. Their concern is more about caring for “curbside neighbors” than sanitation and health issues. A major part of the problem is that progressives take “an optimistic view of human nature and of human perfectibility.” Human nature cannot be changed, it can only be adapted.

3) They make no distinction between the native homeless and foreign homeless, calling those who object “xenophobic” and “homeless-hating”. All of these attitudes have and will continue to cost these west coast cities billions of dollars.

Rufo concludes, “If the homeless-services apparatus continues to prioritize political convictions over practical plans, it will waste billions on programs that fail to address the need for both compassion and enforcement.”

Cities like San Francisco, L.A. and Seattle may eventually be forced to face reality over their impractical belief systems. As in almost all cases dealing with complex human issues, balance and moderation provide the best solutions. Compassion is important, but the law must be enforced. Homelessness will not be ended with either/or thinking.


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