A favorite pastime for some conservatives is to post images online of homeless people in cities where Democrats run governments, particularly on the West Coast. The implication is, see, liberals are allowing their streets to be overrun with indigent people. They don’t know what they’re doing.
These posts offer no solutions to the homeless problem. They’re only intended to mock progressivism and, indirectly, those unfortunate people who find themselves in desperate straits. There’s no empathy or compassion, only the suggestion that the homeless somehow deserve their fate.
Homelessness is a horrible state to be living in and one many low-income people face; lose your job and you could be joining the homeless in short order. Thus, it’s a societal problem, one exacerbated by a booming economy that’s leaving far too many Americans behind.
In the conservative publication Federalist last year, John Daniel Davidson profiled homelessness in San Francisco, claiming that the city’s liberal policies have “hollowed out” the middle class because the thriving tech sector there has driven up the cost of housing, leaving only the very rich and the very poor behind.
It’s a lazy argument. How are liberal public policies responsible for the incredible success of tech companies in the Bay Area or the subsequent economic fallout? Davidson doesn’t say. He also fails to explain what a conservative government would do about San Francisco’s homeless problem.
Seattle is one of the fastest-growing, most prosperous cities in America, yet, many there find themselves living in tents or under highway bridges.
“Seattle’s homelessness crisis has been years in the making, and its roots run deep, touching racial inequity, economic disparities, mental health treatment, rising housing costs, mental health, addiction and so much more,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “We have a responsibility to be honest that this crisis won’t go away overnight. Lasting, meaningful progress will take years. But we still must act — and are acting — to improve life in Seattle.”
In 2018, Seattle spent $78 million in direct aid to the homeless, including emergency response, shelter, hygiene and outreach services, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and diversion services.
In Los Angeles, the Homeless Services Authority said the number of homeless people jumped 12% over the last year to a total of nearly 60,000, according to a June 12 ABC News report. Mayor Eric Garcetti calls it a “humanitarian emergency” adding “Angelenos are becoming homeless faster than we can provide housing for them.”
“The homelessness budget in L.A. has increased to more than $460 million for housing and services, 25 times what it was four years ago and the city is ahead of its goal to build 100,000 new units of housing,” ABC News added.
“As your mayor, I take full responsibility for our response to this crisis,” Garcetti said. “And like everyone who has seen families in tents or spoken to a homeless veteran in need, I am both heartbroken and impatient.”
“If we were to house all seriously mentally ill homeless people in Los Angeles (and we should), homelessness would immediately become less evident,” noted a recent Los Angeles Times editorial. “But of the more than 100,000 people in the county who were homeless at some point last year, two-thirds were not dealing with serious mental health problems or addiction problems, but fell into homelessness because of the widening gap between wages and housing costs.”
Some leaders on the right actually do have an interest in finding homelessness solutions.
“Utah is the fourth most conservative state in the union, according to a January Gallup survey,” reported the American Conservative in 2014. “Yet the Beehive State is on the cusp of ending chronic homelessness using a new method that would appear to come straight from the Nancy Pelosi playbook — by giving away housing. … Utah may appear to be a bastion of ‘legalized plunder’ … But dig deeper and you find a pioneering effort that is, first of all, effective and, if viewed properly, honors the spirit and substance of conservatism.”
That last statement is rich in irony, but if the homeless get the help they need, I’ll be the first to applaud Utah conservatives. In 2005, the state initiated Housing First, a program that acknowledges homeless people can’t confront and overcome the problems that put them on the street without a roof over their heads. It has dramatically reduced the homeless population there since it was implemented, according to the American Conservative.
Taking a humane and practical approach to homelessness, Housing First is the brainchild of New York clinical psychologist Sam Tsemberis, whose Pathways to Housing organization has extended its Utah model into 300 cities.
“If we take for granted the feeling of seeing a homeless person and walking by, we have to shut down part of ourselves in order to tolerate the pain we’re walking past,” Tsemberis said. “In that, we are together in a shared suffering which actually can be alleviated.”