Last time, we talked about the problem of situational homelessness. Chronic homelessness is a different story, and the financial cost of the folks who live on the streets for years at a time is staggering. According the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, each person living on the streets costs taxpayers about $40,000 per year. Outliers, like the famed Million-Dollar Murray, can cost way more, depending on the hospitalizations, jailings, emergency shelter, and and emergency services that this person encounters, it could be lots more.
It turns out that ending chronic homelessness has a pretty surprising fix: give them free homes. It’s cost effective and manages to get help people who are pretty broken overall.
But that’s not what this post is about. This is about the knee jerk reaction people have when they hear about this plan.
If you look at the published articles about the program, they are all pretty glowing. Even conservatives like it. But ask people on the streets and you’ll get some heavy push back. When I first heard about it, I mentioned it to the person I was dating at the time, and they said it was disgusting. She couldn’t even believe that I could find this idea the least bit interesting. Not even worth talking about why she found it offensive.
The thing is, she had experienced a bout of situational homelessness herself and was at that time building a small business. So the idea that you would give away homes to drug addicts and losers for doing absolutely nothing is absolutely offensive to someone who built themselves up from nothing.
She’s not alone. Check the comments section at any article about this or this Imgur post and you’ll see the rage over someone putting something over on them. Here’s a quick sample:
- “Did that include the long term effect of motivating people ‘above the cutoff line’ to quit and be homeless to get a free house?” -Imgur user twozerooz.
- “Well the nonprofiteers (sic) and their friends and families are certainly getting rich. The developers too. The drunken drug addicted trash that get the fancy housing. Well they are still drunk and addicted. They do ruin neighborhoods though. The one thing they seem to do well.” – User David Brown at the American Conservative.
- “That’s basically the central premise of homelessness. It’s a lifelong game of moral chicken that the craven vagabonds are willing to wage until their last dying breath. Utah lost the game of chicken to what is essentially a class of extortionists. Or are they blackmailers? One or the other. I say hook up stationary bikes to generators and make these moral racketeers contribute to the greening of America, 50 hours a week minimum, in order to keep a roof over their heads.” -User Jack Wheeler at the Washington Post.
For people who disagree with outright giving people homes, it’s not because the program doesn’t work; it’s because the homeless are con artists and “trash,” people looking just to get money for nothing. It’s tax money, so that’s our money! Don’t just give it to them! Wait until they are arrested or hospitalized for something, and then spend the money.
It’s true that a lot of chronically homeless people use and abuse drugs and alcohol. It might even be the number one reason people become homeless. But it’s also something people do to cope with living on the streets. America has little compassion for addicts and fewer options for treatment. In fact, some people go to jail in order to get clean.
But the kicker, the real crazy talk here is that this is some sort of shell game to the homeless. That this is a scam they are running in order to get free stuff. And that some people will decide they want to opt out of the working world and get that sweet homeless ride. This is insane. Living on the streets is incredibly dangerous. Exposure, assault, and theft are all ready threats, not to mention the long term changes to your self-image the constant insults and uncertainty cause.
It boils down to class anxiety. The American Dream says that everyone should have a shot at working hard and bettering themselves. People who get something for nothing – welfare, unemployment, housing first – are getting a leg up on the rest of us busting our humps like honest folks. And these honest folks see themselves working harder and harder just to make ends meet.