Do we love our homeless countrymen and women enough to insist that as we provide roofs over their heads, they also diligently engage in programs to restore themselves to lives of dignity and personal self-respect?
We often hear about what “we” — i.e., society —owe the homeless. But we rarely discuss what the unhoused owe us. It’s time for that to change.
This is a matter of great urgency. Some of our (once) most prosperous and beautiful cities — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc. — are imploding under the pressure of squalid homeless squatter camps, populated largely by openly drug-addled or mentally ill people who befoul the sidewalks with human waste, litter the streets with needles used to shoot up drugs, and generally create such a threatening atmosphere that once thriving downtown centers are becoming “no go zones.”
The homelessness crisis has many individual causes: untreated mental illness, drug addiction, domestic violence, economic hard times. But bad public policies, particularly a misguided approach to helping the homeless known as “Housing First,” must take a large share of the blame.
Housing First has a nice-sounding name. After all, what do homeless people need foremost? A roof over their heads. But that isn’t all they need. Alas, Housing First should be renamed Housing Only as it was designed in a way that almost guarantees to make the crisis worse instead of better.