Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Homelessness in Boise

Idaho Values Alliance isn't happy about a Boise City Council decision:
The city of Boise last night set aside $2 million in surplus funds (read “overtaxation”) to implement a 10 year plan to deal with homelessness. On the grounds that you always get more of what you subsidize, expect Boise’s homeless problem to be worse, not better, a decade from now.
The December 19, 2007 Idaho Statesman reports:
The Boise City Council spent $2 million Tuesday to ease homelessness in the city.

During a citywide summit on homelessness a year ago, city officials embraced a new direction for solving chronic homelessness called "housing first," which emphasizes finding permanent housing for those in need and bringing in intensive social services.

Last month, the Boise City Council adopted a "10-Year Plan to Reduce and Prevent Chronic Homelessness," born of that summit and philosophy.

Earlier this year, the city sold the former Community House shelter to Boise Rescue Mission Ministries for about $2 million. City officials set aside the money from that sale with the intent to use it for homeless issues. The council made it official Tuesday by including $2 million to fight homelessness when it voted to approve spending nearly $12 million in end-of-year surplus dollars.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told the council $2 million would be used to establish a trust fund that would be parceled out, likely $100,000 each year, to fulfill elements of the 10-year plan.
Now, I can agree that if the money isn't spent sensibly to deal with the root causes of homelessness, there is a real risk that increased funding to help the homeless might increase the number of homeless in Boise. But there's nothing improper or immoral about trying to alleviate suffering. It may be ineffective, if the city spends that money on measures that only alleviate the suffering of the homeless one night at a time. But at least this news account doesn't indicate that is the plan.

It may well be that the social programs that they intend won't solve the problem. A significant fraction (although not a majority) of the homeless in Idaho are in that state because of mental illness. There's not much that Boise can do to solve that problem. It will require the state to take steps to correct our current system of institutionalization.

A large fraction of the homeless in Boise, from what I can find out from talking to people who have worked at the Boise Rescue Mission, are there because of alcohol and drug abuse problems. There are people whose drinking, meth, marijuana, and other drug problems take precedence over having a place to live. These are tragedies, but I am unclear what social programs are going to fix this.

There are children who are homeless because Dad disappeared, or is in prison, and Mom has no job skills, or has a substance abuse problem of her own. There is some hope that some of the social programs that Boise wants to spend that money on will be helpful. Of course, teaching young people to make moral and responsible decisions about sex, children, and marriage would help as well, but obviously, Boise isn't going to be doing anything like that. (The ACLU would doubtless file suit to prohibit anything that even slightly smacks of religion or self-restraint with respect to sex.)

We can argue about whether particular policies are pragmatically effective, and at what point governmental assistance crosses the line from "necessary for their support" to "you don't really need this." But in a place like Boise, where it drops below freezing part of the year--and darn cold for several more months--no one should be required to sleep in a refrigerator box, under a bridge, or in a car.

We can argue about whether government is the most effective mechanism for providing assistance. In small towns, such as Horseshoe Bend, it appears that voluntarism is alive and well, and working well. In big cities, it is often a different situation, and as much as I would prefer the government not be in the charity business, it may be necessary. Why? Because there are a lot of people who take advantage of the diffuse nature of private charities, moving from one to another to get what they can, rather than confront substance abuse and laziness problems.

Let me close with one very important point: America was originally thought of as a Christian commonwealth. As I pointed out a while back, Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England recognized that while the law did not require equality, there was an obligation of the community to provide at least the necessities of life (which would include medical care):
THE law not only regards life and member, and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor, of which in their proper places.
There are certain moral obligations of a Christian commonwealth, and Blackstone captured it well.

Liberals will doubtless be cheering about this--while ignoring the rest of the moral obligations that go with it. There are a great many social problems that we are facing today that are the results of liberals refusing to promote or encourage morality.

1. It is not okay to be encouraging the sexualization of children. A 12 year old--or even most 16 year olds--is not capable of making particularly rational decisions about whether to have sex.

2. It is not okay to be encouraging the bearing of children out of wedlock. Marriage isn't a perfect solution to the problems of impoverished single mothers and their children, but it is an improvement over the "Baby Daddy" problem of males (I hesitate to call them "men") who impregnate teenagers and then disappear.

3. It is not okay to tell young people that there is nothing right or wrong--that everything is culturally relative. There are so many pressures encouraging misbehavior even among those who know that they are doing wrong. Telling young people that right and wrong are utterly meaningless terms removes one more restraint on misbehavior that is socially and personally destructive.

No comments:

Post a Comment