Homelessness, What Is The Answer?

I see Senator Diane Feinstein thinks that one can reduce or “cure” homelessness by redefining who is considered homeless.  Several political pundits seem to believe that the Federal Government through HUD (Housing and Urban Development) should be able to deal with the homeless problem if only they had more money.  Well, that has always been the answer whether one is a progressive liberal, socialist, or Politician.  Money is always the answer and more of it cures every problem forever.  Perhaps Ms Feinstein might like to contribute the millions her position in the US Congress and US Senate have helped her husband accumulate.  The latest deal that Feinstein’s husband and his firm and associates will do with HUD should be worth billions and net a very healthy return for all.  I doubt that making Senators, Congressmen, and their immediate families members of the one percent is the best way to approach the problem of homelessness.  In fact, it is the worst way.

There are really two vectors to the problem of homelessness.  The first is lack of an income.  Simply put, if one does not have employment or some other means of income such as a pension or other payments, then one simply cannot afford a place to live.  We will exclude minors and those who by reason of some health issue (usually a form of mental illness) for the moment, these are special cases and subject to different strategies and solutions.  Unemployment by itself is not a real problem unless one is single or the sole support of a family with only one adult.  A parent with dependent children and little or no support from the spouse will have a difficult time finding appropriate housing for the family.  Of course an individual or a family without an income will find that such things as the consumption of foodstuffs, basic necessities such as toothpaste, baths and soap, laundry, all those daily activities we, who are employed or have incomes take for granted.  If one is a child one should expect that a responsible adult such as a parent of relative should provide all the basics of living.  Children are not suppose to exist as if they were modern day Oliver Twists.  But the adult who is either alone or part of a family group has a different story.  One can only be independent if one has an income of one’s own.  Having a claim on the income of another for whatever reason still places one in a dependent state.

So we confront the problems of society, gainful employment.  What is gainful employment?  Earning enough income for the basics of life.  That is, food, lodging, and a bit of clothing and other necessities.  Everything else is a luxury.  That includes cell phones, iPads, and all the other non essential electronic items or other goods.  I am amazed at how many homeless individuals have cell phone service.  I guess so that they can tweet about their experience.  But these are choices that we as individuals and as members of families often make.  The fact that one may need a vehicle more than a permanent residence gives us some clue to what is important.  Back in the turn of the last century, there was some public transportation that could be used for travel to one’s place of employment and back to one’s domicile.  But those days have long since disappeared, as much as forty or fifty years ago.  My memories of my own youth recalls that very problem in multiple cities.  I am not stranger to the problems of low wage work and higher than normal rents.  What we see is often a matter of priorities.  One can always sleep in one’s car, but one can’t ride one’s apartment to the job site.  Now we are seeing something of the complexity of the problem or problems, since there are many that most of us have never experienced in out lives.

Well, unemployment and underemployment, meaning having to rely on part time work rather that full time employment are part of the cause of our homeless situation.  The other is the lack of housing, adequate or not, depending on your definition of adequate.  Prior to the 1960s, one could rent a room in a private residence, live at the local YMCA (providing they had such accommodations, I know I did in a couple of different cities), or otherwise find cheap housing.  One only needed a room with a bed, access to a shower or bath, and a decent meal or two.  There are very few rooming houses left in this country, most individuals are loathe to rent rooms in their houses to strangers, and the local YMCAs no longer have rooms to rent.  Any shared rental is spotty and catch as catch can.  In San Francisco, if one could even secure a $10 an hour job one could not afford to live in that city and the commute would consume most of one’s after tax income.  The availability of something called affordable housing, which really means housing that is cheap because it is, perhaps, substandard in some degree, is often a luxury for the working poor.  So many urban areas are going through or have gone through gentrification and renewal that there is almost no substandard housing left.

Why should this be?  Well, for one, well meaning progressives and liberals and socialists keep insisting of rent control.  This is unfortunate since it keeps those who would normally seek smaller quarters due the reduction of their family or individuals needs for doing so.  If I have been renting a three or four bedroom apartment in a city for the past twenty years and my children are grown and now living elsewhere, why should I trade a low cost rent controlled apartment for a one bedroom apartment that will cost me at least twice as much?  This is the problem with rent control, it refuses to let the marker reallocate living quarters based on need rather than price.  In cities where there isn’t rent control there is no shortage, per se, of affordable living quarters.  In cities where there is rent control the new rents are exorbitant and the property prices are exceptionally high.  Compare rent to property prices in San Francisco in the early sixties to today’s values and tell me my assertion is not true.  Rent control is partly to blame for homelessness.  The other factor is property tax.  As property taxes increase they price out the median and the average income earner.  High property taxes contribute to homelessness in a very real sense.  It makes living in that urban area prohibitively expensive.  No wonder the one percent can’t get good help at even slightly higher minimum wage.

How will the various HUD programs and the Federal Government help?  Oh surely you jest.  Why would buying crappy apartments and then trying to allocate the spaces based of worthiness (need may not enter into the equation) help the situation?  The government would need to buy twenty five percent of the multiply dwelling properties in San Francisco to house all the low wage earning individuals and families.  The cost would be at least five fold, better that such individuals live elsewhere and work elsewhere.  Actually, the government would be ahead of the game to buy much cheaper property in outlying suburbs and buying the busses to transport these individuals to work in the city.  As it is, only the one percent will gain any advantage from the homelessness solutions, which are solutions, only permits to raid the public treasury.

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