When George Bush won the 2000 election, many of us expected to hear a four- or eight-year litany of dire warnings about the homeless. We noticed that this particular story grew into a major national theme during the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, but dropped off the radar screen during the Clinton administration — despite increasing numbers. The issue never really caught fire as a political issue during the last eight years, though, and McClatchy reports why:
So began the Bush administration’s radical, liberal — and successful — national campaign against chronic homelessness.
“Housing first,” it’s called. That’s to distinguish it from traditional programs that require longtime street people to undergo months of treatment and counseling before they’re deemed “housing ready.” Instead, the Bush administration offers them rent-free apartments up front.
New residents, if they choose, can start turning their lives around with the help of substance-abuse counselors, social workers, nurse practitioners, part-time psychiatrists and employment counselors. However, residents are referred to as “consumers,” and the choice is theirs. …
The “housing first” strategy gets much of the credit for a 30 percent decline in U.S. chronic homelessness from 2005 to 2007. The number fell from 176,000 to 124,000 people, according to the best available census of street people.
Homelessness got pushed off the front page for a number of reasons. The 9/11 attacks forced the nation to recognize that war had been declared against America for the previous decade, and we needed to start fighting our enemies. The resolution of the 12-year standoff in Iraq and its aftermath sucked up most of the rest of the political oxygen. But undoubtedly, the improvement in homelessness in the midst of the Bush administration also helped — by silencing the redistributionists and stealing one of their political trump cards.
Was this one of Bush’s more liberal policies? I’d say yes. By providing a housing solution free of charge, federal and state governments had to cough up a lot of money. As McClatchy notes, though, that saved money that would have gone to acute-rescue efforts like shelters and crisis treatment centers. Housing gave the previously homeless an opportunity to seek employment, creating a net revenue gain rather than a funding drain. Whether or not anyone wants to call it liberal, it certainly proved more cost effective than the other liberal plans in place during the previous generation.
McClatchy picks an interesting time to run this story. All during this election season, we keep hearing (from both sides) that the previous eight years have somehow gotten America off track. In fact, while the Bush years saw an expansion of the economy, the administration made unprecedented progress in using that expansion to significantly reduce one of the nagging social issues of our time. And all during that period, the people who screamed most about the issue during Republican administrations never bothered to give credit for Bush’s success.
Will the rest of the media report on this success? Or will they continue to ignore the sharp decline in the homelessness they used to highlight as a means to bash the GOP?