Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Homelessness Paradox

If a city has 300 homeless people, and it provides housing for all 300 of them, how many homeless people will the city have?

In response to my post yesterday which outlined a mock housing program modeled on the Affordable Care Act (see Affordable Housing Act), someone mentioned that similar housing programs had been successful. He wasn't referring to a program that had an individual mandate, but to case studies showing that providing the homeless with housing is cheaper than letting them live on the street and consume emergency services (hereherehere, and here). The studies all show that if the most costly of the homeless are given homes, their financial burden to the city decreases.

The question that should arise is: if these more humane practices are proven to be cost-reductive, then why aren't cities jumping all over it? Almost every city is desperate for breathing room in their budgets. Are the cities adverse to more social programs? Highly doubtful, as the cities with the worst problems of homelessness tend to be the most liberal. Places like Portland, San Franciso, and Chicago. It's simply inconceivable that the cities would refuse a helpful social program that reduces expenditures.

That brings us back to the question. How many homeless people will there be after housing has been provided to the city's 300 homeless people? The answer: more than 300.

In some ways homelessness is an occupation. (Don't scoff, I've read accounts of former panhandlers who described themselves as providing a service so that people could feel better about themselves. They provide an outlet for altruism.) A city can only support so many homeless people. It only has so many shelters, soup kitchens, charity provisions, change-providing citizens, and locations for squatter camps. Springfield Missouri couldn't support the homeless population of San Francisco. The homeless people shift to fit the available resources. Many move from city to city (sometimes cities force or bribe away their homeless), and there is a bit of seasonality to it. If a city can support 300 homeless then odds are they will find themselves with 300 homeless. If they house 300 homeless then, assuming all other resources are unchanged, 300 more homeless people will eventually emerge. But probably even more than that, as people will prefer the city so they can be on the list to get the next batch of free housing. The programs give incentive for homeless people to move there.

The Housing First studies show that housing is cheaper if homelessness is reduced at a 1-for-1 rate. That is unlikely to be the case. In the one city that has adopted such a program, Salt Lake City, homelessness hasn't abated, despite city proclamations to the counter. Perhaps more telling than the article itself is this comment from an SLC citizen:
I live in Utah part of the year when not in the UK or elsewhere. The state duped all the news outlets that have reported on the drop in homelessness. The homeless population, including the chronically homeless population, has exploded here over the past three years. It is now at staggering proportions, with countless numbers of people not bothering to go to shelter at all. They sleep all over the streets, in parks and they occupy any abandoned buildings they can find their way into. They break into occupied older apartment blocks to sleep in laundry rooms, hallways and basements.
The greater downtown area of Salt Lake City has hundreds of homeless panhandlers on virtually every corner for square miles around. They also approach patrons of restaurants and shopping zones repeatedly for money, often aggressively.
The population of Salt Lake City proper is slightly above 190,000 according to 2014 figures. Police have told me that it is estimated that as many as 3,000 to 5,000 homeless filter in and out of the city at any given time depending on the season. This makes Salt Lake City one of the most chronically affected metro areas in the United States as it relates to homelessness.
Drug dealing is open and rampant on the streets. Violence is common. A man who lived in a condo adjacent to Pioneer Park downtown was stabbed to death at random walking through the park to his home by a homeless man. Another homeless man beat and stabbed a customer at a downtown McDonalds restaurant for refusing to give him money. It's a crisis.
NPR did correct its erroneous reporting once it realized it had been suckered. Utah officials at the state level are not known for their honesty on any number of levels. The state legislature is controlled by a vast Republican/Mormon white male majority that conducts its business in closed caucus. Essentially, Utah is run by a secret government that has no problem putting out blatant lies to gloss up some very serious problems.

That is exactly the eyewitness testimony I would predict. Homelessness hasn't decreased tit for tat in response to free housing, but has "exploded."

Effectively Utah is taking the burden off other locales. They've become a premiere destination for the homeless. I can hear the liberal solution already: "Well if there was a national policy then there would be no incentive for them to move to one certain city." Which will be a great argument if you hear it, because it will be them affirming the proposition, welfare benefits will attract a migration of the needy. The counterargument quickly follows. If America offers universal free housing to the homeless, what will happen? Remember these same people resolutely reject immigration control. So they will have to accept the mantra that I preach frequently:

You can't have open borders and a welfare state. You can choose one at the most. (0 also being permissible). Because most cities, even very liberal cities, are not adopting the policy of providing free housing to the homeless, they are implicitly agreeing to that claim.

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