In his column, Bramson attacks his critics. He writes: “The rhetoric machine likes to foment discord with the general public. It’s either that nothing is being done or it’s being done the wrong way. We need to criminalize, blame the individual for their shortcomings, complain about costs, or find a way to protect the community first, which almost always means putting the needs of the most vulnerable people last.”
It's difficult to imagine an approach that's more naïve, more corruptible, or more counterproductive. When it comes to giving people free housing with no conditions, the more you build, the more people will come. Free housing is not only a magnet for the indigent, but it also breeds indigence. And yet Housing First has been the governing principle in homeless policy for nearly 20 years—precisely the period in which rates of homelessness have exploded.
California’s homeless industrial complex isn't populated by idiots. They ought to know that if you don’t put behavioral conditions on subsidized or free housing, you will never stop attracting people to avail themselves of your service. In some cases, the offer of free housing will even corrupt the character of individuals who are teetering between becoming unproductive and letting the system take care of them, or trying harder to maintain sobriety and personal independence.
When Bramson accuses critics of the homeless industrial complex of being a “rhetoric machine” that likes to “foment discord,” he’s being more than a bit hypocritical. Whenever public meetings are held about where to site subsidized apartment buildings in peaceful neighborhoods, objections from the local residents are overwhelmed by well-organized and belligerent homeless activists who don’t live there, who shout them down, calling them privileged, racists, and NIMBYs (an acronym that stands for "not in my backyard"). The comments that followed Bramson’s column, overwhelmingly skeptical, offer an authentic perspective from the community:
“How about actually treating severe mental illness and substance abuse as opposed to putting chronically homeless people in the wrong programs with the wrong interventions while not addressing root causes? This is the Housing First model defined—and people like you aimlessly support it, while never questioning why the issue has gotten worse, a lot worse, over the last 10-years,” one commenter, who goes by Time to Be Honest, writes.
“The homeless around my home have dehumanized themselves by defecating in my yard and bushes, burning down tree after tree, stealing water and power from my porch, creating and leaving piles of putrefying waste everywhere, screaming and yelling constantly, parading around without pants, etc.," a commenter named Bob writes. "I’d be more than happy to pay taxes to reopen the state’s mental health system, but no politician is trying to do so. The theory that more housing will reduce homelessness is laughable when one actually comes into contact with the homeless people currently occupying all the encampments. These people don’t want housing, they want to just be left alone to do as they please.”
These comments are evidence of a failed scheme. Housing First costs too much, takes too long, creates its own inexhaustible demand, corrupts individuals who might otherwise get their life in order, cannibalizes funding for mental hospitals and shelters, and it has created a monster—the Homeless Industrial Complex—a coalition of organizations in California that have already collected and spent tens of billions of dollars to execute a scheme that has only made the problem of homelessness worse.
It's an opportunistic lie for defenders of Housing First to claim that critics of the Homeless Industrial Complex don’t care about the less fortunate, or that these critics haven’t done their homework. In speaking with people running homeless shelters from San Diego to Sacramento, and asking them what has to be done, every one of them ultimately gave the same answer: At least two-thirds of the homeless are either alcoholics or drug addicts, or are mentally ill, and they must be treated, and the only way to treat them is to incarcerate them.
Shellenberger is right. For their own sake, homeless people need to be moved off the streets, sorted according to their afflictions, and placed in shelters. These shelters can be located on less expensive real estate, and the money saved can be used to treat them.
There's nothing compassionate about letting substance abusers and psychotics live on the street. Housing First, a policy cooked up by HUD during the Obama administration, has created what's now an extremely profitable scam for public bureaucrats, powerful nonprofits, and politically connected developers. But it isn't working for anyone else.