In the latest 5-minute video for PragerU, Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, breaks down what we can do about “one of the most vexing public policy problems” in the United States: Homelessness.
To tackle the problem correctly, we have to identify a few facts about it. First, argues Rufo, the homelessness problem isn’t primarily a housing problem; It’s a human problem, of which drug addiction and mental illness are the major contributing factors.
Second, homeless people make “rational decisions about where they want to live,” and unsurprisingly, “move to the most permissive environment they can find,” says Rufo.
For example, the Venice Boulevard underpass between Los Angeles and Culver City has a massive problem with homelessness — but only on one side. The Culver City side, which has policies they enforce against public camping and drug consumption, is empty; Meanwhile, the Los Angeles side, which decriminalizes these behaviors, is full of tents.
In Seattle, Washington, more than fifty percent of the homeless people in the city moved there after becoming homeless somewhere else. Of these homeless migrants — in one survey — 16% said they were traveling when they decided to stay longer, 15% said they moved for the homeless services, and 10% said they came for access to legal marijuana.
Many of the homeless who stay in Seattle are regular offenders of property crimes, says Rufo, who notes that few of them are held accountable by the criminal justice system.
So, is the homelessness problem destined to only become worse?
“If our goal is to make life as attractive as possible for the homeless, the answer is yes. If our goal is to actually help the homeless, the answer is no,” argues Rufo.
One big-city Democrat who has handled the homelessness problem well, says Rufo, is Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston.
Turner’s approach involves housing for the homeless, collaborating with non-profit organizations, and lobbying the state for mental health funding. However, Turner also enforces anti-camping policies, and discourages residents from giving money to panhandlers. There are also consequences for aggressive panhandling and obstructing.
“Over the past eight years, Houston has reduced its homeless population by 54% while it has skyrocketed in West Coast cities. Different policies, different results,” says Rufo.
As Rufo notes, this success can be attributed to a mixture of “compassion” and “common-sense enforcement.” It’s a strategy Turner calls his “tough love”approach.
“If cities stop allowing public encampments and open drug consumption and start prosecuting property crimes, they will have much more success redirecting the homeless away from a life of self-destruction and toward a life of hope through mental health treatment, drug rehab, and job training,” says Rufo. “That’s what we all want, isn’t it?”