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Throwing Money at Homelessness Is a Failed Strategy

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler hopes to spend $31 million next year addressing homelessness. This is ten percent more than Portland is spending this year. According to the Mayor, the goal is to help place people in permanent housing.

Of course, ending homelessness has been a goal of Portland mayors for decades. They never solve the problem because they conceptualize the homeless as an amorphous blob. But every person who lacks housing has a unique set of circumstances, and that background has to be understood.

It’s much more complicated than simply building more housing. Some people don’t want to live in a traditional home. They may have a psychological need to be outside. Others don’t want the responsibilities that come with home ownership, such as maintaining a yard and paying taxes. Some people have drug addictions that prevent them from earning enough income to afford housing.

While specific facts change, certain principles don’t; and the most important one is that simply giving people free stuff doesn’t work. Everybody deserves a hand up; no one benefits from a handout.

Before spending another $31 million, the Mayor should tell us what will be different this time around. If he can’t answer the question, he shouldn’t get the money.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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2 Comments

  • Kent Byron

    Exactly on the button, John. Simply throwing money is NOT the answer. I was homeless for three months in the latter part of 2015. I observed that many of the homeless were thrown on the street because the landlords wanted more money. Greed can backfire, however.

    Mayor Wheeler is another case of the idiotic notion that money solves everything. Warehousing the homeless is just as stupid.

    How did I extricate myself out of homelessness? I was living in my car–thank heaven for that–and I found a place to warm my heels at the Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton. I made some friends there and one of the elderly there rented me a very small room in his trailer. He asked me to leave after a year and I found a very nice room in Salem thanks to my friendship with the Local Secretary (a,k.a. President) of Oregon Mensa. He had a friend in Salem who had a room for rent. Turns out that it was a much better deal than that in Beaverton. So the real key: friends.

    Things are looking up for me now. I am considering a run for the Presidency of the United States. (Keep that under your hat for the time being, please.) Mr. Trump has proven to be an abominable Chief Executive. I did not vote for him or Hillary the Hooligan. I voted for the one person I know can make the WORLD great again: me.

    Kent Byron

    • 9:52 pm - May 4, 2018

  • Bob "Elvis" Clark

    Thanks, John. In my City of Milwaukie, the City Council is dabbling in the”regional housing/homeless issue.” The way that Milwaukie is seen addressing this issue among other things is to tax new residential construction and put these monies back into subsidy for housing for folks with up to 80% of median income. This City Council is also considering “land banking,” whereby government buys land for later affordable home development. But these among other local government housing policies are mostly nothing more than moving shells around. For instance, 30% of the construction tax monies goes to a state housing bureaucracy. Then there is a discouraging effect on the building of new housing suppy when you tax it. And the government operates on partial information. Many at the 80% income level are in this income bracket only for a year or two (young urban professionals who will quickly gain enough experience and get a higher median income).
    All the while why the City Council considers throwing more planners at Housing affordability and Climate “change,” neighborhood roads haven’t been paved in decades and are being held together by pothole patches. It’s obvious we need more people with shovels and paving equipment than social engineering planners.
    But what is really telling is government makes hundreds of millions of dollar decisions based on incomplete, even sometimes erroneous, data.
    Sadly, I think it is almost hopeless to overcome this latter problem. Only if the electorate wakes up one day and says to itself: limited government is the answer.

    • 10:45 pm - May 4, 2018

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