Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Give 'em Shelter

Good news for the homeless.
by William Tucker

Selected Excerpts:

  • At a remarkably underreported conference in Denver in May, advocates for the homeless met to discuss a pattern of falling homeless populations across the country. In the past six months, New York has announced a reduction of 13 percent, Denver 11 percent, Portland 20 percent, Miami 30 percent, Philadelphia 50 percent. The story merited squibs in the Denver Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Rocky Mountain News. The New York Times ran a page 19 story almost a month later. Beyond that, silence.

  • One factor now motivating local officials is a realization of how much the homeless are costing them. "In San Diego, researchers tracked a population of 20 homeless people for almost two years, measuring what they absorbed in free medical care, ambulance services, emergency-room hospital visits, and law enforcement," says Mangano. "They were astonished to discover that every individual was costing the city an average of $200,000 per year. For that kind of money, the city could have bought them each a penthouse apartment. The most dismaying thing was that in the end the people were right back where they started."

  • "Housing First" has now returned to the original idea--that housing is the problem--with a twist. The problem is not that the federal government is not building public housing. The real problem is that cities have been very efficient in eliminating bottom-rung housing through building code enforcement, zoning restrictions, and (in cites such as New York and San Francisco) rent control. All these "reforms" were supposed to upgrade "substandard" housing and improve opportunities for the poor. In fact they worsened conditions for the very poor.

  • "We made progress that is visible, measurable, and quantifiable," says Mangano, anticipating that Ph.D. students will soon be lining up to study this rare public policy success story. Now if only the press will pay a little attention.

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