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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Okay, Now What?

The NYT recently published a story on homelessness, Rights Battles Emerge in Cities Where Homelessness Can Be a Crime*

If ever there was a Gordian Knot — save for the part about simply scything through the thing — this is it.

Growing numbers of homeless encampments have led to civic soul-searching in cities around the country, from Philadelphia to Chicago to Seattle. Should cities open up public spaces to their poorest residents, or sweep away camps that city leaders, neighbors and business groups see as islands of drugs and crime?



For those on the streets — who have lost their jobs, have suffered from drug addiction, mental illness or disabilities — crackdowns on homeless camps are seen as tantamount to punishing people for being poor.

Activists and homeless residents like Mr. Russell are waging public campaigns and court fights against local laws that ban “urban camping” — prohibitions that activists say are aimed at the homeless. The right to rest, they say, should be a new civil right for the homeless.

Fair enough, as far as that goes, and anyone with a shred of empathy would be hard pressed to argue otherwise.

But that isn't nearly the whole knot.

But camps have become a particularly acute problem in the West, where soaring housing costs and a scarcity of subsidized apartments have pushed homelessness to the fore in booming towns like Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco.

As new clusters of tents and sleeping bags pop up along river banks, on city sidewalks and in parks and gentrifying neighborhoods, they are exposing deep divisions about how cities should strike a balance between accommodation and enforcement.

In Seattle, where violence has flared in a homeless camp known as the Jungle, beneath a freeway, there was a fierce response to a councilman’s proposal to allow the city’s 3,000 unsheltered homeless residents to camp in some parks and on undeveloped public land.

That, right there, is the rest of it. We must have sympathy for the plight of the homeless, yet we must also have sympathy for the users of parks, and those who live near undeveloped public land. After all, park users and homeowners have interests, too. The camps are dangerous their occupants and anyone who lives nearby. They bring with them a plague of trash and feces.

How have we gotten here? The Rue de Rouen. Which doesn't translate as Road to Ruin, but should. Starting in the early 1970s, the US started deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill:

Deinstitutionalization (or deinstitutionalization) is the process of replacing long-stay psychiatric hospitals with less isolated community mental health services for those diagnosed with a mental disorder or developmental disability. Deinstitutionalization works in two ways: the first focuses on reducing the population size of mental institutions by releasing patients, shortening stays, and reducing both admissions and readmission rates; the second focuses on reforming mental hospitals' institutional processes so as to reduce or eliminate reinforcement of dependency, hopelessness, learned helplessness, and other maladaptive behaviors.[1]

According to psychiatrist Leon Eisenberg, deinstitutionalization has been an overall benefit for most psychiatric patients, though many have been left homeless and without care. The deinstitutionalization movement was initiated by three factors:

  • A socio-political movement for community mental health services and open hospitals;
  • The advent of psychotropic drugs able to manage psychotic episodes;
  • Financial imperatives (in the US specifically, to shift costs from state to federal budgets)

Boiling that down to a few words, instead of warehousing the mentally ill, often in horrible conditions, we now do catch and release, often in horrible conditions. Warehousing was a disaster, so is dumping.

And while it might be tempting to point an accusing finger at heartless rightwingers who are continually disappointed at not having nearly enough poor people to step on, Europe is no shining example. There are easily enough beggars and people living rough in Düsseldorf. Not nearly as many as in Honolulu, though, which must have the highest number of addicted and mentally ill of anyplace I've ever been. Besides the congenial climate, it might have something to do with municipalities on the mainland deciding one way airline tickets were far cheaper than every other option on offer.

Instead of warehousing, we have the mentally ill and addicted destroying wherever they congregate. Instead of warehousing, we do warehousing by other means — cycling in and out of jail.

Now what?

34 comments:

erp said...

Well, strangely enough, the homeless are only as issue when a Republican is president. Apparently if we elect only Democrats, the problem will go away.

Hey Skipper said...

erp, I don't think so. Homelessness has been a perennial problem for decades. It isn't as if the homeless are packing up and heading back to their ranch houses in the suburbs the moment a Democrat takes office.

And, as it happens, I suspect the problem is worst in Democratically run cities, and not due to any evil intent on their part.

erp said...

I was being sarcastic. Homelessness only becomes a public "problem" that urgently needs to be addressed when a Republican is president. When a Democrat is in the White House, the problem is no longer a public problem and the homeless are left to shift for themselves.

You are completely correct about deinstitutionalization. I was on the state mental health board in Vermont when this was going on and one of our best friends was the director of the Brandon Training School -- a model institution. Closing it and forcing the residents on the streets was a disgrace.

Harry Eagar said...

Yes, erp, it's much better to chain misdiagnosed teenagers to a bed in a mental hospital.

erp said...

Harry, that's all ya got.

Clovis e Adri said...

Well, Skipper, it it makes you feel better, down here we have many homeless people who are neither mentally disabled nor drug addicted.

They are only completely destitute.

Of course, living in the streets, even if you begin 'sane', ends up making you insane, so people can easily ignore those poor souls by discarding them as somehow mentally ill. I wonder how many of those US homeless people may also fall under the same trap.

erp said...

Clovis, the "homeless" situation here has been orchestrated. They are not destitute in the same way they elsewhere in the world.

Bret said...

erp,

Orchestrated? If by that you mean that some politicians take advantage of their plight, then perhaps.

It's an unsolvable situation. Most of the mentally ill and addicted homeless will be miserable whether or not they're institutionalized, in shelters, or on the street. There very existence is misery.

I think I agree with Harry. I think they prefer, for the most part, not to be institutions. I sure would if it was me. I used to work doing computer stuff for a researcher in a mental institution. Those folks are not gonna be happy and fulfilled pretty much no matter what.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Yes, erp, it's much better to chain misdiagnosed teenagers to a bed in a mental hospital.

erp, Harry is being a bit caustic, but he has a point. One significant reason for de-institutionalizing the mentally ill is precisely because people were being warehoused in often deplorable conditions.

Additionally, the advent of effective drug regimens for mental illness gave the appearance of it becoming an unfortunate, but effectively treatable condition, much as AIDS has become. Too bad it hasn't worked out that way.

[Clovis:] Well, Skipper, it it makes you feel better, down here we have many homeless people who are neither mentally disabled nor drug addicted.

It's good to have someone commenting here from another country: your experience of it is far different than ours.

In contrast to Brazil, I think virtually all our homeless are mentally ill and/or addicts of one kind or another. Here is an excellent long-form article about homelessness in Portland, Oregon:

About three-fourths of Portland’s homeless are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and roughly half have a mental illness of one kind or another, though many remain undiagnosed. “We see people with schizophrenia, depression, and trauma,” says Alexa Mason at the Portland Rescue Mission, another Christian nonprofit that provides food, blankets, and temporary shelter downtown. “Women on the streets are likely to be assaulted within 72 hours. Men get beat up. Just living outside is traumatizing. . . . When you add that on top of schizophrenia or dissociative disorders, people keep getting worse. This is one thing that everybody in government, social services, and the business community agrees on.”

Not everyone on the streets is mentally ill, and not all are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some just lost their jobs, slipped through the cracks, and found themselves in a maze from which they couldn’t escape. What almost all of them share, however, are weak social and family ties. “Almost everyone we help here is struggling without any support network,” says Mason. “A lack of family support is the one common denominator that unites almost everybody.”


Portland has some interesting approaches to the problem, but they, too, run into reality: some people cannot, or will not, change.

erp said...

I know quite a bit about this subject because all this was going on when our own kids were school age and we were very involved with the public schools. We also had relatives and friends living in various states who were in system as teachers, administrators, public officials, etc.

1. There is a big difference between mentally retarded and mentally ill. There is no treatment for retardation, but to a certain level they can live within the family unit as children and then go on to live normal lives as adults. Those more afflicted need institutionalized care.

2. You should read about the mentally retarded and Brandon Training School -- link in my previous comment. They were the state-of-the-art residential facility. Read the testimonials from the families of the residents. Yet public opinion and the state of Vermont's leftwing government forced it to be closed.

3. Another absurdity inflicted on families with retarded children was the movement about the same time to mainstream children with severe retardation into regular classes. Epic Fail for everyone, except perhaps the moonbats who thought it would work.

4. Emptying out the institutions for the mentally ill was orchestrated by left through Geraldo Rivera's horrible exposé on mental institutions.

Geraldo was accused setting up some of the most horrible scenes and from what we subsequently learned about Geraldo's M.O., it's probably true that he did so. Anyway, they got what they wanted and the institutions were closed.

5. The unfortunates have been on the streets for the last 40 years. That they were no better and mostly worse off didn't matter. Mission was accomplished because now they're handy to be trotted out whenever the Republicans are in office -- you may have noticed, they haven't been in news much in the last eight years. Odd that.

6. There are no reliable treatments as has been demonstrated in a graphic way by the recent deaths of very wealthy entertainers who had multiple stays in outrageously expensive spas and rebab facilities where presumably the latest and best treatments are available.

7. Families with members who are mentally ill either either for genetic conditions or substance abuse are the victims. Most are torn apart in heartbreaking ways.

Our next door neighbor, a lovely woman who has been divorced twice because of alcohol abuse has been in rehab repeatedly. She tries hard, but from junior high school simply can't control it. She is now 67 years old and her family has heard it all before and simply are unable to cope with it anymore.

We've been dealing with it too, but only since her last husband left her 20 years ago. The heartbreak is that when she's not drinking, she's a wonderful person, but when she starts drinking again, she a falling down drunk who at the moment is in some kind of a hideous neck brace -- a couple of months ago it was a shoulder brace.

We keep our eye on her, but there is no solution.

7. Harry, how would you handle violent people bent on hurting themselves and others? I know restraint or stupefying drugs are beneath your sensitivities. So how 'bout it Harry? What would YOU do.

On a lighter note, even Geraldo didn't have the nerve to show them whipping the inmates. s/off

Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] 5. The unfortunates have been on the streets for the last 40 years. That they were no better and mostly worse off didn't matter.

There lies the rub. There should be no way to confine people who don't want to be confined, but have not committed any crime. We may think, and at a rational level, be entirely correct that they would be better off in an institution, almost no matter how lousy it might be. However, that isn't our choice to make.

But what to do about the very real costs they impose wherever they end up? San Francisco's homeless problem is atrocious -- if you own a business in downtown, be prepared to remove human waste from in front of your door. If you have to park your car on the street overnight, don't be surprised to find a window smashed in search of something to steal. Don't be surprised if all the park benches are taken up by drunks.

Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

[Bret:] I think I agree with Harry. I think they prefer, for the most part, not to be institutions.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to matter what the rest of us prefer.

erp said...

However, that isn't our choice to make.

How not????

My son has lived in San Francisco for almost 25 years, so I am very familiar with the homeless. Their plight is heartbreaking, but allowing them to live in the streets with all that entails isn't fair to the rest of us.

Of course it's our choice whether we wish to allow our public areas to be used by those who can't or won't conform to basic civilized behavior.

There used to be public drunkenness and vagrancy laws. Police would pick up "bums" asleep in doorways and put them in jail overnight. Those laws were repealed for the same reasons the institutions were emptied.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erp said...

Alert: Dreaded double comment attack.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

---
There used to be public drunkenness and vagrancy laws. Police would pick up "bums" asleep in doorways and put them in jail overnight. Those laws were repealed for the same reasons the institutions were emptied.
---
I don't think you would have jails for them all.

And more importantly, I don't think people - particularly Republican voters - would be willing to pay for all the extra jails and asylums necessary to bring back institutionalization.

erp said...

You have missed the thread completely if you think Republicans would be the ones to object to the costs of taking the homeless off the streets.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

I sure did. I can't compute how they are ever in favor of less taxes and still want to pay more for that cost. Something doesn't add up.

erp said...

Clovis,

If by Republicans you mean non-lefties, we are the only only who pay taxes. Lefties through their many avenues are the recipients of our generosity. We gladly pay our share to keep our republic up and running. What we object to is the confiscation of our hard-earned money to pay for crony capitalism like that of Tesla and many many others, counter-productive programs like the EPA, agencies, unions, propaganda machines, etc. lefties sweet-talked our mis/uninformed citizenry into believing is the function of government and the responsibility of the taxpayer to fund.

Too many of the above to mention here.

I could hardly sleep last night so upset am I that you guys think it's perfectly okay for people who have dropped out of society for reasons both within and out of the their control should be allowed, nay encouraged, to use our public streets, buildings, parks etc. as their lavatories, sleeping and eating quarters and that we are obliged to look the other way and clean up after them while simultaneously taking away from us the pleasure of our environment.

It's even come to our little previously little piece of heaven. The idiots elected by shop keepers, most of whom don't even live in town, have turned our town into a latter-day Coney Island/honkytonk tourist destination and some time ago as I stopped to pick up a friend, a young man of about 25 was urinating against the outside wall of the 7-11 convenience store located right along the shore road. Traffic and crime are rampant. Most permanent residents who fund it all avoid the beach now at almost all costs.

The boat launch area directly across the river from us has been turned into a homeless village, so people who previously used this tax-payer supported convenience for our residents, are now understandably loathe to leave their vehicles with boat haulers attached parked in an open space with no security populated with people who have little compunction about appropriating or destroying what others have worked hard to attain.

erp said...

This kind of meddling where government has no business to be, is why we non-lefties object to paying taxes.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

Please clear this one up for me: you do completely object a govt financed health care system, right?

But if said health care is about mentally ill and/or drugged people living on the streets, you are now in favor of it?

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] I sure did. I can't compute how they are ever in favor of less taxes and still want to pay more for that cost. Something doesn't add up.

Your assumptions are simplistic. Conservatives are in favor of constitutional government, one consequence of which is smaller government.

Not no government, smaller government. And conservatives are also in favor of balanced budgets. The single biggest tax/spending issue is entitlements. Something like 70% of the Federal budget entails taking money from people and giving it to other people, and the term entitlement is used because the recipients are legally entitled to the money they get (and the providers are legally obligated to hand over the money to give to the recipients).

That means 70% of annual federal spending can't be touched.

The other 30% is discretionary spending.

The annual federal deficit is typically quoted as percent of GDP -- in 2016 it was 2.5% of GDP. That isn't an invalid way of discussing the deficit, but it also tends to obscure.

Looked at another way, the federal government outlays are 20% more than revenue (in 2016, $3.9T vs. $3.6T).

If the federal government was forced to balance its budget next year, it would require a 70% hit on discretionary spending. (Indeed many cities are facing this very problem: entitlement spending is crushing Houston's budget.)

I'm not going to look it up, but IIRC the consensus among economists is that a government debt about 30% of GDP is the sweet spot. Government really can't operate in the black, because that would mean it start owning significant amounts of the economy. Maintaining total debt at 30% of GDP means the government can use counter-cyclical fiscal policies to dampen swings in the economy — there is room for more deficit spending, yet the total debt isn't so large as to present serious risk if interest rates increase.

Because, unlike numerically and conceptually challenged progressives, conservatives understand that out of control entitlement spending cannot go on forever. This, however, is a far cry from your simplistic view.

Dealing with the homeless should be a state responsibility, and I'd be willing to bet conservatives, unlike progs, don't believe there is any such thing as free.

Bret said...

Clovis,

Skipper is more logical than me. I'll just simply admit to being hypocrite in this particular area, and leave it at that. :-)

But I do at least agree with Skipper that the solutions to this non-solvable problem should probably be at state and local levels as opposed to imposed by the federal government.

erp said...

... as should every other issue not specifically assigned to the federal government in the Constitution which states explicitly that anything not enumerated defers to the states.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

Once upon a time, this was a blog with Libertarian tendencies. You should place my simplistic questions under that light.

I know, you were never much of a Libertarian - as your paragraph about counter-cyclical fiscal policies indicates, you buy the standard Keynesianism out there.

Those Libertarians who used to write here (AOG and Howard disappeared, Bret has been recoiling from Libertarianism for some time now) didn't look like to agree with you. And Erp, who doesn't have clear economic policy views, is silent on my question.


If you rule out the State (be it federal or state level) from Health Care, I don't quite get to your distinction where it still has a role in taking care of the health of a particular set of citizens - AFAIK, they deserve such distinction only because they stink.

Maybe that's so obvious to you that you don't think it deserves further explanation. Unfortunately, I am not as smart as you, apparently.

erp said...

Clovis, you are wrong. I have a very clear view of economics -- it's nonsense.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] I know, you were never much of a Libertarian - as your paragraph about counter-cyclical fiscal policies indicates, you buy the standard Keynesianism out there.

Depends on the day. I suppose as a general matter I think Keynesianism isn't entirely wrong. If I was head dude what's in charge, and there was an economic downturn, I'd shove federal money towards infrastructure maintenance at the federal level, and in block grants to the states to do the same at the state level. (And I'd also get rid of that hideous Davis-Bacon act.) That's the sort of thing that needs doing anyway, doesn't involve out year expenditures (unlike so much of what Obama did in 2008), so it can be rolled back as the economy improves.

And you are right, I'm not much of a Libertarian. Unlike, say, Harry, I think all problems should be approached from a Libertarian direction, knowing full well that won't be sufficient. Harry is a collectivist through and through; that's where his reasoning starts and stops. My biggest issue with Libertarianism is that it is utterly at sea when faced with free-riding.

If you rule out the State (be it federal or state level) from Health Care ...

I have heard it said there are three quality metrics in health care: quality, availability, and cost. It is impossible to have more than two of them. If the government runs healthcare, it will be widely available, suck, and be expensive. If health care was left to the free market it would be outstanding and relatively cheap, but there would be people who couldn't afford it.

But that is a different topic for another day.

I don't quite get to your distinction where it still has a role in taking care of the health of a particular set of citizens ...

There is probably an essay to be written about the characteristics of problems government is best situated to solve, and those that it isn't. The homeless impose particularly upon the functional poor, and secondarily upon city dwellers. It is quite certain that if a homeless camp was set up next to a city park in a wealthy part of Portland, smug liberals (and everyone else in the area) would get loudly upset.

As the City Journal article pointed out, the problem homeless have no family support structure. In a sense, they have fallen out of society. They are a problem that, like other commons problems, are probably best solved by local government. Portland knows a heck of a lot more about its problem then does Washington.

Also, the health of that subset of citizens probably can't be taken care of. There will be no cure, no recovery. The only attainable goals are mitigating the damage they do to themselves and others.

erp said...

The only attainable goals are mitigating the damage they do to themselves and others.

Yes and at some point, one must admit to oneself that if people are bent on destroying themselves, there's little to be gained by trying to stop them. Not in favor of euthanasia by outside agencies, however.

Hey Skipper said...

Clovis, this is what has small-government conservatives exercised.

The burning question is why it doesn't have the singular attention of everyone else, too.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

I guess you didn't get the memo. Now Republicans control both houses and the executive branch: deficits are no longer important. They only matter when Democrats get the WH chair -- just like homeless people are back in the news right when Republicans have their turn, per Erp's complaint.

erp said...

Clovis, you don't understand. Trump is not a Republican and those in congress calling themselves Republicans are RINO's -- not to be confused with conservatives, libertarians ...

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] Now Republicans control both houses and the executive branch: deficits are no longer important.

There is absolutely no reason for you to know this, but there is a new-ish acronym in these here parts: GOPe.

The "e" stands for establishment. Some say the only meaningful distinction between the Democrats and the GOPe is that the latter are less enthusiastic about killing babies.

I happen to agree with your point though: when they are in power, Republicans are much less enthusiastic about reining in deficits. But I wasn't referring to Republicans, but rather conservatives.

... just like homeless people are back in the news right when Republicans have their turn, per Erp's complaint.

I disagree with erp on this: the homeless are too visible, and disruptive, to not be in the news. I'm certain that if I was to search for articles on the subject by year, there'd be plenty of hits, no matter to which party the President belonged.

erp said...

Skipper, to quote your oft repeated request of Harry, links please showing a parity of homelessness being the issue when Democrats are in power.

Hey Skipper said...

Fair point.

The NYT is the cabin boy for the left. I googled [NYT homelessness] with the date range 1/1/2008 to 12/31/2016.

Plenty of hits.

erp said...

Skipper, thanks for the link. I was too lazy to do it myself, but I took the time to look them over. They don't exactly confirm my theory, but they don't disprove it either.

Most of the articles are dated 2015-16 and those earlier ones are human interest -- one actually extolling Obama's record on reducing veteran homelessness.

None are screaming headlines and none at all are dated during Obama's early years and only a couple in his later years.