Do homeless people have a “right to camp” wherever they find it most convenient? That’s the discussion taking place in Seattle right now, where hordes of homeless individuals have set up makeshift tent cities (for those able to come up with a tent) on public property. As you might expect, this has led to increased problems with violent crime – including two murders this year – as well as drug and alcohol abuse, theft and sexual assaults in these essentially lawless enclaves. There’s also the issue of public land being overrun and left in an unsightly mess.
But liberal advocates say that clearing the camps out is not only inhumane, but unconstitutional. (Time Magazine)
[I]n Seattle, the debate over how to address the rise in homelessness has reached a rarely seen level of vitriol. Some politicians are seeking what has been called a “right to camp” that critics say would allow those without shelter to live in nearly all the city’s public spaces. Others want “zero tolerance” for camping in unauthorized spaces like city parks. Mayor Ed Murray has tried to navigate a middle ground, pledging $59 million for homeless services and housing solutions while continuing to clear out some unauthorized encampments. That means homeless residents, who sometimes choose to live outside rather than go to shelters that have restrictive rules and too few beds, are still routinely being shoved from the spaces where they sleep. Many have been swept without the legally required 72-hour warning and ability to retrieve their confiscated belongings afterward, civil liberties groups say.
The biggest challenge here is the fact that Seattle doesn’t have nearly enough beds in shelters to accommodate everyone even if they can be persuaded to come inside. So what do they do about it? Taxpayers tend to take a dim view of these tent cities popping up in their parks, near their homes or in the vicinity of schools, no matter how generous in spirit they may be. The community is supposed to be able to set their own standards for what they will or won’t tolerate, but the ACLU and other organizations now apparently feel that nobody has the right to remove anyone from “camping” wherever they wish.
It’s a challenge to be sure, and you can bet there will be solutions offered which involve simply dumping more money into housing. But another new trend in social engineering holds that you shouldn’t even be allowed to deal with the “issues” that many homeless people have in terms of substance abuse or crime before setting them up somewhere. This is the “Housing First Not Issues First” approach.
Then, in 1992, Sam Tsemberis, a psychologist who for years worked with the homeless and mentally ill, decided to reverse its logic. He founded Pathways to Housing, a New York–based nonprofit that helped homeless people find housing first and tackle other issues later. “We made the assumption that housing would actually stabilize people,” he recalls. Tsemberis soon discovered his hunch was right. Once people had housing, more often than not, they kept it.
Two decades and many success stories later, this approach, dubbed “housing first,” is facing what may be its toughest challenge yet: curbing homelessness in America’s biggest cities.
Housing for the homeless is yet another social safety net problem which we seem to be grappling with more and more, even when the country is presumably doing better economically and unemployment is down. And like any welfare program, it’s something everyone seems to want to do in order to help out those most in need and at risk, but there are limits to it. You can’t simply give an apartment or house to everyone who doesn’t have a home. Eventually the well runs dry. That may sound cruel, but it’s the old school reality of how many people can ride in the cart before those pulling it simply give up.
I think most cities could do a better job in offering some sort of out of doors options for the homeless who either can’t or won’t go into a shelter, but by the same token you can’t force all of the people who actually had to work and earn money to get a place to live to put up with an unlimited exposure to threats posed by these conditions either. I don’t know what the best solution is for Seattle and the rest of the cities wrestling with this issue but they’d better think of something soon.