Monday, December 24, 2018

Christopher F Rufo: "Seattle Under Siege" (On The Homeless Crisis)

This is nuts.
   Over the past year, I’ve spent time at city council meetings, political rallies, homeless encampments, and rehabilitation facilities, trying to understand how the government can spend so much money with so little effect. While most of the debate has focused on tactical policy questions (Build more shelters? Open supervised injection sites?), the real battle isn’t being waged in the tents, under the bridges, or in the corridors of City Hall but in the realm of ideas, where, for now, four ideological power centers frame Seattle’s homelessness debate. I’ll identify them as the socialists, the compassion brigades, the homeless-industrial complex, and the addiction evangelists. Together, they have dominated the local policy discussion, diverted hundreds of millions of dollars toward favored projects, and converted many well-intentioned voters to the politics of unlimited compassion. If we want to break through the failed status quo on homelessness in places like Seattle—and in Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, too—we must first map the ideological battlefield, identify the flaws in our current policies, and rethink our assumptions.
   Seattle has long been known as one of America’s most liberal locales, but in recent years, the city has marched even further left as socialists, once relegated to the margins, have declared war on the Democratic establishment. Socialist Alternative city councilwoman Kshama Sawant claims that the city’s homelessness crisis is the inevitable result of the Amazon boom, greedy landlords, and rapidly increasing rents. As she told Street Roots News: “The explosion of the homelessness crisis is a symptom of how deeply dysfunctional capitalism is and also how much worse living standards have gotten with the last several decades.” The capitalists of Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Boeing, in her Marxian optic, generate enormous wealth for themselves, drive up housing prices, and push the working class toward poverty and despair—and, too often, onto the streets.
   On the surface, this argument has its own internal logic. Advocates point to Zillow and McKinsey studies that show a high correlation between rent hikes and homelessness in Seattle, for example. But correlation is not causation, and the survey data paint a remarkably different picture. According to King County’s point-in-time study, only 6 percent of homeless people surveyed cited “could not afford rent increase” as the precipitating cause of their situation, pointing instead to a wide range of other problems—domestic violence, incarceration, mental illness, family conflict, medical conditions, breakups, eviction, addiction, and job loss—as bigger factors. Further, while the Zillow study did find correlation between rising rents and homelessness in four major markets—Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C.—it also found that homelessness decreased despite rising rents in Houston, Tampa, Chicago, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Diego, Portland, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Riverside. Rent increases are a real burden for the working poor, but the evidence suggests that higher rents alone don’t push people onto the streets.
My own little college town suddenly has beggars everywhere, especially at intersections. (We also recently shifted from red to blue...coincidence?) I used to agonize over whether to give beggars money, until an extremely sharp/wise friend of mine--a liberal Republican who put in a lot of time at the Chapel Hill soup kitchen--told me that, without a doubt, giving them money is making things worse, as they invariably spend it on booze and drugs. (Though, per Bill Barr: whaddaya think I was going to spend it on?). Now I barely give it a thought. When I give to such causes, it's directly to the local food bank. (And ours gets like a 99% rating for efficiency.) On the one hand, my libertarian side thinks that people should be able to camp pretty much wherever they want, ask people for money if they want, etc. My relatively new conservative side tends to think that the practical problems associated with such things are just too obvious.
   When I was a kid, bums--as we used to, politically incorrectly, call them--used to hop off the train sometimes and ask for food, which my grandma would give them. I remember standing there as a kid watching a guy silently eat an egg sandwich. In my memory, he's a paradigm of a clownish hobo. Wonder what he really looked like?
   Anyway, I got nothin' on this problem.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"On the one hand, my libertarian side thinks that people should be able to camp pretty much wherever they want, ask people for money if they want, etc"

Have you been to Seattle or SF recently? I lived in SEA as the homeless problem was exploding, and while it's easy to say live and let live when there's only a smattering of homeless, when homeless people are on virtually every corner and take over almost every public park, it's, well, a bit more tragedy-of-the-commons-esque.

Also, from what I remember, the compassion brigades are the much more significant problems, and are much closer to ordinary progressives (dialed up to 11). They have far more power, and are somehow even less effective than the socialists. It's strange how useless compassion as a tool to appear compassionate can be.

10:01 AM  

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