If you have lived in the Northwest for the majority of your life like I have, you’ll notice the swelling in the amount of homeless in our major cities. It seems every street you walk down, every tree you look under and every park bench has someone with a makeshift sign asking for some money. These people have led to a rise in crime, and a fall in property values, doing real damage to their “neighbors” even if it’s not intentional.
With a few exceptions, it seems the homeless population is broken into 4 groups; you have addicts, the mentally ill, the victims of circumstance, and the lazy. Addicts are driven to homelessness because of alcohol, drugs, gambling, or some other issue that has taken over their lives and has become the focus of everything that they do now. The mentally ill have no, or a diminished ability to hold a job or pay bills or do other things average adult life requires. We have victims of circumstance, those
who I believe most need the help, these are people who’ve been laid off, or got sick or for some reason really out of their control they lost their jobs and homes, and are trying to get back on track but need a hand to do so. Of course, there are also the just plain old lazy, those who don’t have homes and jobs because it means work, and they don’t want to work.
Currently, the majority of Northwest cities are dumping tens of millions of dollars a year into programs that are meant to handle their homeless problems. For example, Portland’s mayor Ted Wheeler just approved a $31 million budget for the city-county “Homeless Services” office. Imagine that, $31 million dollars. I have a personal gauge I use to tell me if I think something is worth the government spending on it. I tell myself, “If all of the taxes I will ever pay went to this thing, does it help enough to be worth all the work I will do?” According to a recent Forbes article, the average person will pay about $350 thousand in taxes over their lifetime, so Ted Wheeler just approved spending the equivalent of almost 90 people’s lifetime taxes on the homeless and has little to nothing to show for it.
These city programs seemed to be focused on things like housing, and according to their website “administers contracts for services, conducts homeless street counts and one-night shelter counts, manages systems of care, oversees system reporting and evaluation, and writes proposals to and monitor funds issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care program.” Now as impactful as frequent surveys of the homeless population may be, I personally think this money needs to be spent on something more direct.
Here’s what I propose to these city governments, I think while the cities are taking these “surveys” of the homeless, they also ask a brief and easy round of questions of them, to not only survey how many homeless they have but also find out what homeless category each person falls into. Once we know where these people fit, it becomes much easier to make a budget to combat each specific category rather than develop a catch-all program which spins its wheels trying to deal with everyone in the same way.
For the addicts, we should set some of that 30 million aside for a drug and alcohol treatment. The mentally ill, need facilities that transition them off of the street to a hospital/facility that can help them heal, or learn the life skills they need to function on their own. The victims of circumstance, these are the people who need traditional homeless services, they need housing assistance, job assistance, and whatnot to help them get back to work and on their own two feet again. Then we have the lazy, they need nothing, they are a sponge taking advantage of the system and don’t need or deserve a thing and as long as they are getting assistance, the people who are truly worthy and really need the help are being shafted.
Every year these budgets get bigger and bigger but the homeless problem continues to grow. The solution of throwing money at housing, and shelters while it might be a minor stop-gap solution to this problem isn’t reaching the root of the issue and because of that won’t help. We need to find a way, even if it means creating new laws to help combat the homeless. Yes, compassion has its place in society, yes, people who are living on the streets, eating out of trash cans and using curbs as pillows should receive help. If we aren’t going about helping in the right way, however, we’re just wasting money.
As a society, we need to make tough choices, even if that means taking the choice out of people’s hands and choosing for them when their mind isn’t in a solid enough place to make the decision. As a society, we need to look again at giving police, and people the ability to commit their family to treatment facilities even if it is against their will. The cost we all pay has become too great to let homelessness destroy our cities. These short-sighted, weak-willed leaders throwing our money down the drain because they don’t have the spine or foresight to do what must be, and held accountable for how they spend our paychecks.
EDIT: I realize after several messages and emails that I didn’t make my intent for this article, and some of the things I wrote clear, so I want to apologize for the miscommunication and clear some things up.
Firstly, everything that I have suggested here is just a possibility, I’m not saying that they are the only option by any means, or that even they are correct options, but I believe that if you have a complaint about the way things are being handled, you need to try and come up with some alternatives.
The thing I received the most questions and comments on was my suggestion the police be able to commit people with mental issues. I apologize for not being more clear, and not expanding on what I meant when I wrote that. I don’t at all think the government should have sweeping power to take a person and commit them because the mood strikes them, America had that until the 1960s, and that led to exploitation, abuse, and all manner of awful human rights violations, and that is nothing that I advocate or support.
What I do support, since the city is using their budget to combat homelessness to survey the amount of homeless, we should also be drilling down to the bedrock reasons as to why people are homeless while they conduct those surveys, and when they come across someone who appears to have mental issues that are keeping them out on the streets, starving, sick and living in filth, the police working with doctors, patient advocates and experts with experience working with the mentally ill should be able to look at these people and put them in a treatment center or hospital if that is what they need.
I am not suggesting the government take people out of their homes, nor do I think someone should be pulled randomly off the street. However, unless someone is an “imminent danger to themselves or others” it really limits what police and healthcare can do to help someone if that person really needs help but isn’t currently threatening suicide or an assault to another person.
I’ll give you an example, I work downtown Portland, in a skyscraper called the PacWest Center, there are homeless people who gravitate around my building, and I see them daily. One of these people is mentally challenged, and because of the heat has been walking around the building recently without a shirt, showing deep, bleeding, and what appear to be necrotic wounds. I am not a doctor, so I don’t know if the wounds are life-threatening, but unless he goes to a hospital by himself, he may get worse and worse until he dies. No one can make him get treatment, and his mental issues could be what is keeping him from seeking help. These are the type of people I am talking about police stepping in for, the ones who have no family, no home and no support, whose mental issues are hurting them, but the current laws are keeping anyone from stepping in and helping.
There are other things I’ll address, over the coming weeks as I intend to create a few of these columns and delve deeper into this topic to try and to get people thinking about responsible government spending, but I felt with the emails and comments I received from readers that I wanted to clear up the confusion. Again I apologize for the miscommunication and I hope this makes my thoughts on this issue a bit more clear. Thank you for reading, thank you for your time.