Should America Outlaw Homelessness?

“Housing First” is a the solution that has been embraced by countries around the world. Time to repudiate the failed Reaganomics experiment and take it seriously again here in America.

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America has a massive homelessness problem. We could solve it in a decade or less with a simple solution that has worked very well in Japan, Denmark, Singapore and even parts of Canada.

Simply outlaw homelessness.

Not as in “make homeless people outlaws”: we’ve already done that. It hasn’t worked particularly well.

What I mean is to mandate the federal government end homelessness. And the easiest way to do that is to house the homeless and insure that others don’t fall into homelessness because of health or economic crises. 

Homelessness, after all, simply means people without homes. The solution? Give them a place to live.

Anyone old enough to remember can tell you that before Reagan cut funding for public housing and Section 8 subsidies by half in the first year of his first term, there wasn’t much of a homelessness problem in America. Reagan justified this and subsequent cuts in a speech saying that homelessness in America was a choice.

But, prior to Reagan, homelessness was so rare in the US that, as Henry Graber noted for Slate:

A 1976 history of low-income housing in America made the impossibly foreign observation that “the housing industry trades on the knowledge that no Western country can politically afford to permit its citizens to sleep in the streets.” The word homeless, in those days, was used mainly to describe persons displaced by war or natural disasters.

Reagan famously cut taxes on rich people (the top 74% income tax bracket dropped to 35%) and homelessness exploded. And the taxes haven’t gone back up, and homelessness has gotten worse.

Today a third of homeless people in New York City, for example, are families with children. One-in-three of those homeless families include an adult who has a job.

Finland just declared they intend to end all homeless in that country over the next six years. They’re giving rooms, apartments and homes to homeless people — without preconditions that they get a job, get sober, or anything else. They just get a home. Everything else follows that.

It’s an international movement, in fact, called Housing First, kicked off in the 1980s by Canadian psychologist Sam Tsemberis, that has been adopted in cities and towns on three continents.

The Finns estimate that simply giving homeless people housing will cost the country 15,000 Euros per year per homeless person less than the current cost of jails, emergency medical services, courts, crime, etc.

Housing the homeless in America will require building or acquiring housing for homeless people who are capable of taking care of themselves, and providing mental health services and institutions for those who are so impaired they can’t care for themselves.

The problem here is that having government house the homeless involves the government spending money, which means we’d have to raise that money by increasing taxes, which means that the billionaires who control the political systems of most of America loudly object.

Morbidly rich people, after all, don’t have to interact with homeless people on the streets or worry about homeless people peeing in their yards or breaking into their houses in search of food or things that can be sold to acquire food. 

This isn’t rocket science. 

Just give people housing. And run our economy in ways that working people at the bottom of the economic ladder are making enough money to be able to afford to live in the communities where they work.

Wealthier democracies around the world have largely done it by purchasing or building those homes and apartments and providing housing to people who have none.  

We did it here in the 1960s with LBJ’s Great Society programs that cut poverty in this country about in half in a decade. Until Reagan destroyed them.

We talk about homelessness in America as if it’s a normal state of nature or the predictable outcome of the human condition. It is neither.

Homelessness is the consequence of greed, pure and simple. Greedy wealthy people who the Supreme Court allowed to own politicians and then refuse to pay their fair share of taxes.

If we could just get past that Republican obstacle, we could end homelessness here in the US, too.

People who are homeless because they are mentally ill or addicted need a place to live and mental health services. People who are homeless because of poverty need housing and either a good job or a reasonable subsidy.

Yes, it may involve directing money and resources to a few people who are “unwilling to work“ and thus would be deemed by Republicans as “parasites.”  A healthy society can afford a few such people; the quality of life for everybody else will improve so much it’s actually a great investment, as the Finns have shown.

“House the homeless” and “Make sure working people can afford a place to live.”

It’s a simple solution that has been embraced by countries all around the world. Time to repudiate the failed Reaganomics experiment and take it seriously again here in America.

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If you’d like to do a deeper dive on these topics, I’ve written a series of small, quickly-read books breaking them down. 

The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment describes that Amendment’s roots in the Southern Slave Patrols and how American policing grew out of that and is used today as a violent system of control against marginalized people.

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America lays out how a corruptly-stacked Supreme Court is the principal instrument that brought us here. 

The Hidden History of the War on Voting describes the processes through which oligarchs corrupted the Republican Party and the American political system. 

The Hidden History of Monopolies describes how the oligarchic class, exploiting weaknesses within our political system, managed to seize control of virtually our entire economy, giving them massive political power. 

The Hidden History of American Oligarchy reveals the two previous times in this country when we almost tipped over into oligarchy [the Civil War era and the attempts to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt] and exposes oligarch efforts to pull it off again today and how we can stop them. 

And The Hidden History of American Healthcare shows how the most important and central function of government — maintaining the health and well-being of its people — has been co-opted and seized by a small group of “healthcare oligarchs” and how a Medicare For All system can overthrow much of their power and end their plunder of the American middle class.

All are available through your favorite bookseller.