Restoring Anatole France

by on June 14, 2014 at 6:03 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

Tesco has agreed to remove the anti-homeless spikes from outside one of its central London shops after days of protest.

The inch-high steel studs provoked outrage when they were spotted outside the supermarket’s Regent Street branch and in the doorway of a block of luxury flats near London Bridge.

As protests against the spikes gathered pace this week, managers at Tesco insisted that they were designed to prevent antisocial behaviour rather than to deter homeless people from sleeping nearby.

Homelessness charities described the studs as inhumane. Jacqui McCluskey, director of policy at Homeless Link, said: “It’s shocking to see the use of metal spikes to discourage rough sleeping and hardly helps to deal with the rising number of people who are forced to sleep on our streets.

The full story is here, the France reference is here.

In general, I do not think that the answer to the problem of homelessness involves raising the costs of being homeless.  But if that ever were to be the case, even one percent of the time, who would be willing to do it?  Furthermore, if we regard the current homeless as “low-elasticity” (e.g., raising the costs of being homeless will not much lower the number of homeless), is that a compliment to them or an insult?  Does citing “bad luck” automatically connect one to the low-elasticity view, or can bad luck and high elasticity coexist in the same explanation of homelessness?  It seems to me that the exonerative bad luck explanation and the low-elasticity view are packaged together in discourse, although not necessarily for any strong analytical reason.  For instance, it is bad luck if my car breaks down, but if that cost me my life I would buy a more reliable car or maybe cease driving altogether.

Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 6:54 am

Well why don’t some behavioral economist design an experiment to measure such elasticities? I think the Hollywood portrayal of insane asylums where involuntary lobotomies were performed is probably responsible for more homeless on the street in the USA than anything else. Compare to Switzerland.

dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 7:36 am

I like that “compare to Switzerland”–as if the only difference between the U.S. and Switzerland were the portrayal of insane asylums in movies, making this a valid illustration of your point.

Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 10:12 am

Do you think the Swiss of yesteryear–I’m talking the 1950s, 60s, 70s–were influenced as much by Hollywood as Americans? If so, your point is well taken. Even today I bet the Swiss youth are different from US youth. They’re probably into Lederhosen or something. I bet Filipino youth are more “American”.

dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 1:40 pm

You appear not to understand the concept of confounding.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 7:28 am

Who said the purpose is to reduce the quantum of homelessness? Is not the purpose to direct vagrants elsewhere (for conceivably defensible reasons of public order and hygiene). There are in a free society going to be people who fall through every set of slats. The best you can do is provide austere in-kind benefits for them so they do not starve or freeze to death. The problem is discrete enough and of such dimensions that the churches can handle it with some supplementary assistance from the local police.

dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 7:42 am

Or, you could say it is not necessarily anti-homeless to provide a place that allows sitting and not lying down.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 7:50 am

Of course, the discrete problem is not handled by churches and local police. Not even close.

Z June 14, 2014 at 8:06 am

A person with the least bit of curiosity would wonder why a problem that used to be handled by private local charity is no longer handled by private local charity. But that’s not you.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 9:27 am

I’m just saying it is clearly not handled by the churches and police. You are incorrect that it was ever enough, and it isn’t enough now. It’s much easier to assume the problem is solved, or that X “ought to be enough,” but it’s not. I understand you automatically want to make this a big government thing or some such nonsense, but that’s you.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 11:17 am

Jan, if I take the old Urban Institute estimate at face value and extrapolate for population increase, there are 700,000 vagrants in this country. If I take the Census Bureau figures from that era, fewer. Providing sustenance and night shelter for that many people (with volunteer labor, by and large) is well within what is possible with private donations in this country. Private donations to philanthropic concerns generally amount to about 2.5% of personal income, or over $300 bn in today’s economy. Less than 1% of that sum can provide the necessary nutrition. The shelter would cost more. Extra police presence would be advisable because many such people are unpredictable. These people’s problems may be socially-mediated, but they are neither systematic nor tractable; they are not optimal candidates for state-administered solutions.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 11:21 am

Jan, there are no ‘solutions’ to this type of problem, merely adjustments to it. And, yes, there is a sum which is ‘enough’ so long as the outlay (of shelter and nutrition) does not generate more vagrancy. Yes, I am assuming that the supply of vagrants is inelastic and not sensitive to incentives.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 12:06 pm

It’s theoretically possible for private concerns to sufficiently feed and do more for the homeless. The point I’m making is that it’s not happening and of course there is no way to make private groups do this. Further, I agree you can’t totally solve this situation, but compared to how much worse we do this issue compared to many countries, we have lots of room to improve. As to police, their numbers have already increased substantially in many cities with high levels homelessness. But increasing the number prisoners is hardly a solution.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm

You keep asserting ‘it’s not happening’, but I see no numbers out of you. I could have given you the names of three private providers within walking distance of my old inner-city apartment. If I rummage through my e-mails, I can find you the name of the one operating in Canastota, N.Y. whose ambo is the whole county. Apart from that there are informal arrangement made through the better sort of church congregation. Private initiative is pervasive in this realm and can pick up the slack if you do not crowd it out.

You have the state, you have philanthropies, and you have families. You need them operating within their proper realms addressing problems which are within their vocation. The main reason to have federal provision (or state provision) would be to place the operation under the direction of public employees with social work degrees. Forget that. That’s just unnecessary overhead.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 12:41 pm

But increasing the number prisoners is hardly a solution.

No, but having beefy cops on the premises persuades difficult people not to start something. While we are at it, more prisoners is a solution to the problem of common assault.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I think if you arguing that there are enough services for homeless people, you are on shaky ground. I’m not aware of any national assessment of private groups’ ability to meet the needs for temporary housing and food–it would be a tough study to conduct. But all you need to do is look at the reports from last winter. People were literally freezing to death and shelters, public and private, were saying they were over capacity. Mayors of 25 large cities say it is getting worse, not better. With this much demand, crowding out would not seem to be a problem.

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/7/record-low-tempsmeanunprecedentedchallengesfornationshomeless.html

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/11/nation/la-na-mayors-homelessness-20131212

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Come up with a serious study, not some reporter’s sob stories.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Nope. In the absence of evidence — a “serious study” — anecdotes and widespread agreement of leaders in cities with the most homeless is what we have. Feel free to show me research showing the needs are being met.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Actually, I found one. It shows that homelessness has decreased a bit in recent years, which is great news, and some other promising developments. But the capacity of emergency shelters is at 99% on average. The total homeless population on a given night in 2013 exceeded the number of beds by 184,000 beds. 35% of the homeless population were living unsheltered, like on the street.

http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-2014

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Jan, an advocacy group produced that.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 6:11 pm

You do realize that policy decisions will and are being taken on this topic, and that those decisions must be based on the evidence available, right?

To summarize, we have mayors from across 25 large cities across the country saying this is a huge problem, veterans groups highlighting the need for improvements, widespread media coverage of the terrible state of homeless services this past winter, and a national assessment. I haven’t seen any numbers backing your thesis that private groups have this covered, other than an old email you say is available from your inbox. Nor have you produced any evidence that there is crowd out of private services for the homeless. I am totally unconvinced by your argument.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Your not from around here, are you Jen? Inner-city mayors have been telling the central government they need more swag since about 1965. The newspapers have copy and a worldview to sell; the stories are sufficiently stereotyped over time that they get difficult to tell apart and invariable run at a more frequent clip when Republican Administrations are in charge. It all gets like that Bullwinkle movie after a while, “Hey, Rocky, haven’t we been in this town before??”.

No, I offered you some statistics on the dimensions of the problem, derived in part from the Urban Institute and Census Bureau studies done at a time when this problem was more obtrusive. Your shelter statistics are actually smaller than either of my extrapolated figures. Per the Bureau of Economic Analysis, non-profit institutions received $296 bn in private donation and endowment income in 2012 (and that does not account for income from sales). You’ve got 700,000 people to provide for. The University of Rochester is expending $13,600 per student on room and board. If you were to expend that much per capita on vagrants, it comes to a sum of $9.5 bn out of $296 bn. You’re telling me that the philanthropic sector cannot manage that?

Jan June 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm

The point is that they are NOT covering it — not even close. So snap your fingers and make it happen if you think it the can be convinced. We were not arguing over what is theoretically possible.

Thomas June 16, 2014 at 5:55 am

Jan wouldn’t accept private solutions to homelessness if every bum were given a perpetual stay at the Ritz. You’re barking up the wrong tree, AD.

zbicyclist June 14, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Isn’t there a confusion here in thinking that churches are private, in the sense that the funds for many of the programs are private? If you check the balance sheets of church groups such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army you find there is a lot of governmental support.

For example, page 5 of this link
http://www.catholiccharities.net/Portals/0/Media/Publications/Catholic%20Charities%20of%20Chicago%20-%20Financial%20Statements%20-%206.30.2013%20-%20FINAL%20-%20SHORT%20FORM.pdf
shows that for Catholic Charities in Chicago out of $174m in revenue, $152m came from government sources. (Compare this to $1.4m from United Way pledges, for example — or the $20m in contributions and bequests, which are counted as support rather than revenue)

Now (1) it may be more appropriate, or more efficient, for churches to run these programs and (2) I am not saying these are all programs for the homeless — they aren’t. I’m just pointing out that many people don’t quite realize how much church and state are intertwined in the charity business.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:00 pm

BEA enumerates government grants to non-profits at $22 bn. The big money is in Medicaid re-imbursement, I guess.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:04 pm

An sluiced subsidies from things like student loan guarantees.

BC June 14, 2014 at 8:54 am

Yes, it seems to me that the issue is not about raising the costs of being homeless to deter homelessness. The issue is that the cost of dealing with homelessness is being borne disproportionately by Tesco instead of society as a whole.

There’s a cognitive/behavioral anomaly at work here. If we were to levy taxes on a small subset of randomly chosen people, or even corporations, to pay for homeless shelters, most of us would consider that to be unfair. It would be considered similarly unfair if the government were to randomly choose households that would be required to allow homeless to camp on their lawns or front porches. However, when homeless people “naturally” cluster around Tesco’s stores, it is considered “inhumane” for Tesco to not want the burden of dealing with the homeless to fall solely on their shoulders. I suspect that very few of those criticizing Tesco are volunteering their own homes to house the homeless.

Another related issue is how we allocate social spending. Does it really make sense to spend dollars (or pounds) on broad, middle-class entitlements when there remain such truly indigent? Beyond the indigent being more needy, there are far fewer of them (thankfully), which means that the same number of dollars can be concentrated on helping a smaller number of people and having a far more significant impact. I see that in the US some senators are now proposing to “reform” Social Security by expanding benefits and raising taxes to complement Obama’s expansion of college loan forgiveness. Such compassion for the poor and needy.

Mike W June 14, 2014 at 9:11 am

+1

The Anti-Gnostic June 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

Does it really make sense to spend dollars (or pounds) on broad, middle-class entitlements when there remain such truly indigent?

Yes it does, because the middle class is the glue. If the government is going to subsidize anything it should be bourgeois values.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 10:42 am

I agree with your first point. However, if you sacrifice some entitlement programs you end up creating more poor, only for them to need more serious services once they have become truly indigent.

I think you underestimate the impact Social Security has on its beneficiaries and how many who receive it are still truly poor. They may not be homeless, but this program is often the only thing that helps many people avoid that outcome. 15 million SS beneficiaries actually live in poverty and it is nearly the only source of income for about 1 in 5 elderly. Take that away and you have a much bigger problem on your hands.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

Another related issue is how we allocate social spending. Does it really make sense to spend dollars (or pounds) on broad, middle-class entitlements when there remain such truly indigent?

It makes sense to spend tax dollars to address systemic defects in the manner in which market processes distribute income. Vagrancy is not derived from market processes nor is it plausible that impersonal and bureaucratic procedures are necessary or efficacious to address the problem of vagrancy. Vagrancy is a small problem that might benefit here and there from small initiatives which are not scalable. You do not need scale to assist vagrants. You need cunning, commitment, and caritas.

Floccina June 16, 2014 at 10:42 am

+1 to this:
Another related issue is how we allocate social spending. Does it really make sense to spend dollars (or pounds) on broad, middle-class entitlements when there remain such truly indigent? Beyond the indigent being more needy, there are far fewer of them (thankfully), which means that the same number of dollars can be concentrated on helping a smaller number of people and having a far more significant impact. I see that in the US some senators are now proposing to “reform” Social Security by expanding benefits and raising taxes to complement Obama’s expansion of college loan forgiveness.

I would go even further the homicide rates in some areas in the USA is like that of a war zone and some of it is driven by territorial battles thus showing that our government is allowing wars within our borders and so is not really holding ground. The main reason we have government is to suppression inter human violence. Perhaps they should focus on that before trying to provide retirement money to the top have of the population by income! Get the basics done and then move on to other things. Also one might make a point about the slow growth policies that most local governments have, people need to live somewhere. Local governments like to make it hard on the homeless in hopes of driving them out to some other location.

freethinker June 14, 2014 at 8:03 am

are the spikes on the firm’s property? if so, what is the fuss about?

dearieme June 14, 2014 at 10:52 am

The symbolism. Of course if Tesco were to replace the studs by a couple of rubbish bins, people would now howl at that symbolism too. Only a few of the howlers, one can be sure, would offer the homeless a patch in their front garden to make an encampment. (But I suspect a few would – they’re not all acting in bad faith I hope.)

zbicyclist June 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm

If they put in prickly rosebushes, they’d probably get a beautification award.

I wonder how many of the people who are protesting actually shop at retail areas which have a lot of homeless hanging around them.

AB June 14, 2014 at 8:10 pm

There’s this recent instance of a church installing a sculpture depicting Jesus as a homeless person sleeping on a bench (on church property):

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthy-community

ThomasH June 14, 2014 at 8:06 am

The more important issue is what is the elasticity of homelessness (needing food stamps, Medicaid eligibility, unemployment) to measures taken to address or ameliorate the condition.

Michael G. Heller June 14, 2014 at 8:11 am

Facts, I know you guys like facts. This is per night:

the autumn 2013 total of rough sleeping counts and estimates in England was 2,414

this is up 105 (5%) from the autumn 2012 total of 2,309 and 37% from 1,768 in 2010 when the first equivalent count took place

London had 543 rough sleepers, which accounted for 22% of the national figure

this is the first year the number of rough sleepers in London has decreased (by 3%), however the number of rough sleepers in the rest of England has increased by 7%

Tesco said “move along”. As someone who has spent nights on the streets of London in my wild youth I can tell you it is not hard to find an alternative slice of pavement shelter without spikes.

prior_approval June 14, 2014 at 9:05 am

Recognizing that homeless and sleeping rough are not the same thing, the following information concerning America’s capital city region should be informative –

‘An estimated 13,205 homeless people live in the D.C.-metro area, making it the fifth largest homeless population in the country among large metro areas, according to a new report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The overall population in the D.C.-area is quite large — nearly 5.5 million people — so naturally there would be more homeless people here than in a smaller city. The Washington region ranks 21st when examining the rate of homelessness, a measure that controls for high overall populations. There are 24 homeless individuals for every 10,000 people living in the D.C.-area.’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/jp/d-c-area-has-fifth-largest-homeless-population/

Jeff June 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

I wonder if the number of public buildings and metro stops attracts them.

Z June 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

Disappointed. I was expecting caltrops, not those blunt little metal knobs.

As to the controversy, it just shows that homeless advocates have no interest in helping the homeless. It is all about being a pest for them. In their warped world view, preventing bums from sleeping outside is somehow inhumane. Incredibly, the city government is protesting the measure. It is their failure to maintain public order that is the cause of these measures. Maybe if Boris did his damned job instead of mugging for cameras, this would not be an issue.

Jonathan June 14, 2014 at 8:30 am

Thanks for teaching me a new word…

Yancey Ward June 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

LOL! I was thinking the same thing!

dearieme June 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

They must have told you about caltrops when you studied Bannockburn, surely? You can’t have been listening.

Hoover June 14, 2014 at 8:32 am

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

Z June 14, 2014 at 8:42 am

“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

–James Madison

prior_approval June 14, 2014 at 9:14 am

That’s because it is in the Preamble – ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’

Unless ‘promote the general welfare’ is as ignorable in today’s America as the Consitution’s prohibition against torture or killing American citizens secretly.

Or one believes what Prof. Williams has written – http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/wew/articles/fee/constitution.html (Though why Prof. Williams did not use Madison or Jefferson quotes to defend chattel slavery and decry the limits of power of Congress to promote the general welfare by abolishing chattel slavery as also being beyond its enumerated powers is an interesting question.)

The Anti-Gnostic June 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

Yes. Transfer payments to provide shelters for homeless people – that’s exactly what a bunch of landed men of letters were thinking when they wrote “promote the general welfare.”

Yancey Ward June 14, 2014 at 10:40 am

Yeah, what in the hell would James Madison know about the US Constitution!

karl June 14, 2014 at 1:02 pm

It seems that, in context, Madison wasn’t against public charity. He was worried — in the case at hand (assistance to Haitian refugees), if not generally –about a slippery slope (or mission creep):

“Mr. Madison wished to relieve the sufferers, but was afraid of establishing a dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity. He acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right of Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

dbp June 14, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Promote and provide do not mean the same thing.

Brandon Berg June 14, 2014 at 11:06 pm

The meaning of “promote the general welfare” in Article I Section 9 was discussed at length in Federalist 41. The upshot is that it’s merely a statement of the general principle behind the specifically enumerated powers, and does not grant any additional powers to Congress or the Federal Government generally.

There was at the time opposition to the ratification of the Constitution on the grounds that the phrase “general welfare” might be interpreted as you’re interpreting it here. Madison’s response was that this was so obviously ridiculous that the antifederalists could not possibly believe it and were just spreading FUD against the Constitution.

Citing the preamble is more ridiculous still. The response in Federalist 41 still applies, of course, but the fact that you’re citing the “general welfare” in the preamble instead of the one in Article I Section 9 tells me that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 9:47 am

“To provide employment for the poor and support for the indigent is among the primary, and at the same time not least difficult cares of the public authority.”

-James Madison

Z, your quote above is a bit misleading, as Madison does say the states have more general powers related to charity that the feds do not. Do you think most care for the homeless is funded by private groups states and localities, or the federal government?

Jan June 14, 2014 at 9:50 am

Not that I fetishize every statement of every Founding Father like some do, but there is so much material there, your opponents can play your game.

Thomas June 16, 2014 at 6:02 am

“not least difficult”

Yet, every proposal you would support is so easy: more money, more money, more money. Look’s like you’ve missed the point, Jan.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I think that introduces a new issue local to the United States and muddles some of the discussion. In a federal system, certain functions are properly devolved (and a formal requirement here, never honored). In a country the dimensions of New Zealand, less so.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I missed where ‘Z’ said that common provision through philanthropy was objectionable; he may believe that, but he did not say that. That’s not the question at hand. The question at hand is whether a restauranteur is obligated to provide for vagrants in-kind in the form of rough-and-ready sleeping quarters. The spikes seem cold, but they free the restauranteur from a dilemma – tolerating nuisance confrontations between his custom and vagrants or having petty and unpleasant confrontations between vagrants and his staff. The restauranteur can contribute to the community food cupboard with his earnings. If he’s out of business, he cannot.

Jan June 14, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Yup. Attacking this particular store for not wanting homeless on its doorstep is unfair and misses the bigger picture.

Z June 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

As I wrote elsewhere, I’m a localist. If the town of Derry NH decides to build a vagrant shelter and forbid public loitering, I’m OK with it. I may even vote for it, assuming there’s a bum problem that requires it. A sane and civil society should expect the government to keep the streets free of piss-drunk bums sleeping on the sidewalk.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Suggest a county government function.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 11:33 am

I think you’ve nailed it. We need shelters, soup kitchens, and community food cupboards. In the States, improved planning and zoning and building codes might help to generate a wider array of housing options and assist marginal populations make the jump to the commercial flop house or no-frills rented room (see Mark Hinshaw on this point). People might benefit from a demonstration that any one of them is the rich man and someone else is Lazarus, but commercial enterprises are not commonly in the business of providing such reminders.

Ed June 14, 2014 at 8:38 am

It depends on what measures we are talking about when we “raise the cost of being homeless”.

There’s a fine line between the protecting the homeless and indulging/encouraging anti-social behavior. And different communities seem to have different standards – what’s OK in San Francisco would probably not fly in Peoria.

When there already is virtually no “cost” to being homeless, a store owner keeping people from sleeping in his window sills really doesn’t change anything. There’s plenty more places to sleep for free in London, I’m sure.

The Anti-Gnostic June 14, 2014 at 9:09 am

Homeless? In the land of social democratic milk and honey?

Next thing you’ll try to tell me is there’s a behavioral component to poverty that no amount of welfare spending can redress.

Chip June 14, 2014 at 9:26 am

In my more idealistic youth I volunteered at a homeless charity, writing stories on local rough sleepers. One of my heroes at the time was a woman who had spent 20 years running a shelter and generally being a local Mother Theresa.

One day when I was railing at the injustice of it all, she put a hand on mine and said “it’s not about money or compassion.” She said for most, living on the street was all that they knew to do, and most took pride in it. It was a way of life.

So while we can certainly do something about some homeless, especially kids, you would literally need to force others off the streets.

Like most social problems, it’s complicated.

Z June 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

In the States, most homeless are either mentally ill or addicts. Our robed masters decided to fling open the doors of the asylums and leave the insane to their devises on the city streets. Addicts are probably the biggest share, at least according to most studies. That’s says If it were simply a matter of providing three hots and a cot, America would not have a homeless problem.

It is, as you say, complicated. The average period of homelessness is two years which means homelessness is a consequence of defects further up upstream. Still, making it unpalatable to sleep on the street versus in a shelter is the basis of good policy. That means making the shelters safe, and rousting the bums who refuse to go into shelters.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 11:44 am

No. There were 850,000 people in state asylums in 1955 (as a share of the population, 1.6 million would be the equivalent today). There are fewer than 100,000 today for many reasons, but the vagrant population is a modest fraction of it. A generation ago, students of this problem used to contend that half the ‘homeless’ population were ‘mentally ill’. Well, if all would have been candidates for the asylum two generations back, that would amount to 360,000 people, not 1.5 million people. A mess of other things have happened in the interim to reduce the asylum census:

1. You can manage schizophreniform disorders with outpatient care (not invariably, but most of the time).
2. Tertiary syphilis has disappeared.
3. The asylum census has been repartitioned among an array of more specialized institutions – e.g. group homes and nursing homes (esp. memory care units therein).
4. The advent of Medicaid financing of long-term care has allowed the efflorescence of private facilities.

The judiciary stuck their thumbs in it in New York in 1974 and the public interest bar is typically up to no good, but liquidating asylums has been a project of state legislatures undertaken in the context of changes in financing and ambient public health. The availability of public finance and insurance makes it not-strictly-necessary to maintain asylums by public agencies bar as auxiliaries to the penal system.

Z June 14, 2014 at 1:40 pm

No, I was not claiming the homeless problem is caused solely by the closure of asylums. A lot of people who were committed against their will are now treated in more humane ways, as you suggest. Some portion end up in the prison system. According to the Feds, close to a million people in prison are mentally ill. Even assuming that is a gross exaggeration, it explains your numbers almost completely.

The bottom line is these people are not fit to make decisions for themselves. Accordingly, they should be picked up and dropped off onto appropriate facilities. As a localist, I’m biased toward local government and charities to handle the care and feeding of the indigent.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm

The state and federal prison population is currently 1.6 million. The notion that 60% of them are ‘mentally ill’ comes from relaxing the definition of that term. You certainly do not have 1 million people in prison addled by schizophreniform disorders, tertiary syphilis, senile dementia, and mental retardation.

Z June 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm

According to the most reports, the number in jail is 2.3 million. Regardless, the one million figure seems like a stretch to me too. Let’s say it is a third of that. It is not hard to see where the asylum population is now once you start looking for them. Some portion, probably a third, are in proper treatment. Another third is in prison and the rest are under a bridge.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:03 pm

That’s the prison and jail population you’re quoting. There are 700,000 in county jails and federal lockups.

The Anti-Gnostic June 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Somewhat OT:

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, the homeless people I saw were older whites and a few hippies. I don’t recall ever seeing a black male vagrant, though there were undoubtedly some. Then, starting in the 1990’s, the homeless I saw were (and are) overwhelmingly black men in their 20’s thru 40’s, and usually schizophrenic.

Something happened, but I don’t know what.

Mark Thorson June 14, 2014 at 9:59 pm

1955 was the year Thorazine was approved by the FDA, which greatly reduced the population of psychiatric institutions. It was the first effective anti-schizophrenia drug (other than drugs used to induce convulsions), and schizophrenia is the most common psychiatric disorder requiring institutionalization.

Clover June 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Drug addiction and alcoholism seems to be the main cause of those who are homeless and sleeping on the street. As we have seen with the prohibition of the former(massively increasing the price) and taxes on the latter, these’s people behavior is VERY “low elasticity,” they will buy drugs and alcohol before they buy anything else.

Donald Pretari June 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Many issues that have complex and numerous causes we try to deal with by funding one or two general policies or programs that help some people but leave many people out. It seems to me that we could make major inroads into these issues by being much more intrusive than we’re comfortable with or spending large sums of money that would necessitate pulling resources from other worthwhile issues. Even then, we won’t be able to help everybody.

Given that situation, we argue about policies or programs that are, by their nature, limited in effect. Given that situation, we should try any of these smaller attempts to see what might work and where. But it takes an honest interest in solutions, not appeasements to ideology, to see what works.

Øystein June 14, 2014 at 3:57 pm

They should have built a version of “Pay and sit: The private bench” to make some extra money on the top: http://vimeo.com/1665301

Mark Thorson June 14, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Uber for someplace to sit! Do a Kickstarter, then an IPO or get acquired by Google! This would work very well in Tokyo.

revver June 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm

And here I thought the Left was all for, what was it…nudges?

andrew' June 15, 2014 at 6:21 am

I wonder if the solution to homelessness is homes.

If microhomes with zero energy cost and high security were free would there be a homeless problem? What about almost free?

I have designed a solar shower that could be scaled up to the core of a microhome. Anyone got a million dollars?

Varados June 15, 2014 at 8:12 pm

This is a confusing article. The people who are against the spikes seem to be doing everything in their power to keep the homeless sleeping in doorways. I don’t get it. I also did not understand the part about raising the cost of homelessness. The doorways and window sills do not cost anything. That is why the homeless sleep there. The cost is zero. For the most part they are left alone. If you are homeless, and you seek shelter under somebody else’s roof, you are always aware of the the costs of living under somebody else’s rules, which may, or may not correspond to yours. If you sleep in a doorway, it is likely that you will be left alone. That changes, of course, if you have 250,000.00 in your checking account, and decide to offer a lift to a young lady whom you have never met, walking along the boardwalk, and transport her to your tasteful digs, ply her with liquor and a puff, and paw her senseless body as she snores on the Philippe Starck sofa. If the anti-spikers are actually interested in the homeless, is there some reason they have not invited them to stay in their homes?

Tom June 16, 2014 at 3:18 am

Modern society deals with homelessness very poorly, as both leftists and rightists tend to be more interested in using the homeless to promote their ideologies than in helping people.

Current systems generally work to some extent for people who lose their homes for purely economic reasons. They get into shelters or long-term publicly supported housing. The main problems of them are usually that the process is very degrading and depressing and they tend to be thrown together with people who are homeless for other reasons.

Current systems don’t work well at all for people who are mentally ill and/or drug/alcohol addicts. They don’t get quality care, especially not the mentally ill, who are often averse to medication and surprisingly skilled at gaming the system to avoid being forced onto medication, even if they’re lucky enough to have family pursuing that in the courts. America’s system for schizophrenics went from the One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest nightmare to Reagan abruptly closing those down and throwing tens of thousands of ill people out on the streets to having homeless shelters try to take care of them with extremely limited resources. It’s a horrible tragedy.

Michael Mouse June 16, 2014 at 5:32 am

Anatole France has a point, but is not entirely fair to the law in his famous quote. The law’s majestic equality also prohibits poor and rich alike from insider trading, establishing perpetual trusts, and deviating from GAAP in corporate reporting with the intention of reducing capital gains tax liability. (In most jurisdictions.)

Floccina June 16, 2014 at 11:08 am

Homelessness is a perplexing problem.
It is amazing how little housing middle class people need.
http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsule_hotel
I am not sure how to best help the homeless.

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