far away from us. According to this article by Scott Clifford and Spencer Piston in the Washington Post, that’s the explanation for the approach that cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland have taken towards the homeless. Rather than being motivated by compassion they are motivated by disgust:
In the spring, voters in Los Angeles decided to raise their own sales taxes to alleviate homelessness. Other large American cities — including not just Los Angeles, but also Seattle and Portland — have joined in declaring homelessness a state of emergency in the past couple of years.
But that concern is complicated by a quite different attitude: disgust. In a recent article, we show that disgust helps explain why even though many Americans support increased government aid to homeless people, they also support laws that effectively make homelessness a crime. What’s more, the news media’s approach to reporting on homeless people can activate disgust, increasing public support for policies that make it difficult for the homeless to pull themselves out of poverty and get off the street.
What would policies actually structured to deal with the problems of homelessness be like? I would suggest a four-pronged attack. First, we need a very different attitude towards mental illness. Something between a quarter and a half of the homeless are mentally ill. The mentally ill poor need safe, humane residential settings where they can receive treatment. The deinstitutionalization movement began about 50 years ago and was one of those rare confluences between compassion and cost savings. It’s time to recognize that we made a mistake and rectify it. The streets are a less humane solution than asylums not a more humane one.
The second prong is economic activity. We need more economic activity and the jobs that it brings.
The third prong is zoning. Zoning should be changed to require all new high rise construction to include some defined proportion of residential space. The cities that have done so, e.g. Toronto, have seen increases in the availability of affordable housing.
The fourth prong is demanding that every able-bodied adult of sound mind should work. Some proportion of the homeless are people who just like living rough and don’t want to work. That should not be tolerated.