Homelessness is a national disgrace, a humanitarian disaster of national proportions. Yet it has been foisted on to the meager resources of cities and states. There seems to be no discussion, no media attention to the role, the duty of the Federal Government to address this crisis. Our state and municipal budgets are already overburdened with the needs of schools, transportation and health-care and the taxing abilities of states and cities in particular are severely limited. This is an issue that deserves to be moved to the head of the National agenda, ahead of the hysteria over Russian interference in our elections, president Trump’s personal indiscretions and other such distractions.
Critics of the Seattle unpopular, failed head tax offer no solutions, no alternatives to solve or even alleviate the city’s growing homeless problem. They fail to recognize or consider the clear humanitarian need. Seattle faces a financial dilemma: where is the money coming from to meet that need? An income-tax tax won’t work (it’s illegal for cities to adopt); regressive sales taxes are as high as they can go; property taxes are already overburdening tax payers, especially the elderly. There are no viable options. As objectionable and as burdensome as the head tax is to Seattle businesses, they can afford it and should have to tolerate the burden as Seattle’s last and the only available choice until something better comes along.
Homelessness is the result of the failures of the free market system. Housing costs have sky-rocketed because of excessive demand, mainly from young, well educated, well compensated tech workers and professionals. Most homeless people are unemployed or underemployed because jobs are not available or the jobs that are available do not provide a living wage and housing is unaffordable. Most homeless people are in that predicament because they are poor. Poverty is single most invariable ingredient of homelessness. Another ingredient is — approximately one third of the homeless — who are are afflicted with drug addiction, alcoholism or mental health issues. All of these situations present us with a moral responsibility to provide suitable jobs, housing and addiction and mental healthcare services for those who have fallen into this economic morass.
The free market solution to excessive demand is to increase the supply. Availability of low cost permanent housing instead of shelters will bring all prices down. The lack of affordable housing is at the heart of the problem. This is where massive municipal, state and federal resources must be concentrated. Shelters are a wastefull stopgap. If permanent affordable housing is created by government investment most of the other problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction and mental issues can be handled. At the present federal housing programs are inadequate, yet no attention is paid to this glaring shortfall. The daunting personal and economic problems facing the homeless can’t be solved for people living on the streets or in tents. The tremendous expense for permanent housing will save us money in the long run.
One solution proposed by Seattle Times editorial writer Brian Dudley in the July 29, 2018 editorial page which tries to get at the heart of the problem — availability of affordable housing:
There’s one fairly simple move Seattle could make to provide more affordable housing without burdening average residents, but it requires elected officials to show more spine.
Seattle should increase affordable-housing requirements placed on developers. For developers who opt to pay fees instead of provide affordable units, the city should increase the fees.
Another solution is for the government to provide the homeless with jobs. If the city’s can’t do that the federal government can and should. There is so much work that needs to be done on our roads, bridges, parks, schools, public buildings and more. Many of the homeless are available to do it. The city of Seattle, for example, has spent millions on trying to provide bicycle lanes. Why can’t the homeless be employed to help paint stripes on the pavement and flag motorists? So, instead of creating a mess the homeless should be employed to clean up the mess around our streets, bridges parks and neighborhoods. They could also be employed to help build their own housing units with the city providing the materials, the land, the expertise, plans and supervision to construct modest small housing units that would be a great improvement over living in tents and cars.