Sam and Marc,
Some thoughts interspersed with your comments below...
This is definitely a winning issue for San Francisco Libertarians and one that we should push. It might actually get some of us elected.
Yes, many San Franciscans want to see homeless people off the streets. However both their desire (to have these people removed from public spaces) and the means they would employ (a taxpayer-funded government effort of one kind or another) are un-libertarian. We need to find a better approach.
I travel all over the country and nowhere have I seen nearly as many obviously homeless people sleeping on the streets or pushing shopping carts etc. as here.
New York City used to have a big homeless problem with thousands sleeping on the street every night, especially in the Bowery area. Now, it has been years since I saw even one. (They do still sleep in the subway cars, however, in spite of police efforts to chase them out.)
I do not know where the homeless went, but we should study this and do the same thing.
How can we know that we should do the same thing, if we don't know where they went, or whether it was voluntary? Imagine someone in Austria in the mid 1930s writing, "Berlin used to have a big problem with Jews all over the place, but on a recent trip to Germany I could hardly find any, except in the railway cars. I do not know where the Jews went, but we should study this and do the same thing."
I'm not saying homeless people in the U.S. are being sent to concentration camps, or that you'd be okay with that, only that we should be very careful what we embrace without knowing the details.
Of course the source and cause of the problem is all these bleeding-heart liberal programs to "Help the Homeless".
I would say that the main source of homelessness are government rules and programs that create and perpetuate poverty -- zoning laws, prohibitions on various types of economic activity, anti-development rules, employment regulations, taxes, etc.
When they find out all these wonderful programs to help the homeless, they come here for all the free benefits they get. The San Francisco Bay Area does more to help the homeless than any other place, and therefore we get more homeless people here than any other place.
I'd like to see a comprehensive list of those benefits, and how they compare to benefits used by middle class people, like college loans, home loans, Medicare, etc.
I wanted to share this commentary by Malcolm Greenhill, which was just sent to those who follow his investment ideas. He correctly points out that the prevailing belief that government should be responsible for helping the homeless diminishes support for (often more effective) private assistance efforts. A few years ago, I heard that SF was spending $200 million per year on services for the city’s homeless. Undoubtedly, the lion’s share went to a few thousand street people who we constantly see in the parks and commercial streets.
You really think the lion's share of that $200 million a year (or whatever the amount is) went to "a few thousand street people"? I think you're dreaming. I'll bet the lion's share of that money goes to well-paid people working in government and in non-profits that get government funding.
I believe there are two incremental measures libertarians should support to reduce the number of people living on the street:
(1) Property tax credits for donations to charities that help the homeless. The idea is that if you contribute $1000 to a charity that provides social services, you could pay $1000 less in property taxes. The size of the credit would be limited to only the percentage of property tax that finances social services in SF. If a significant number of people used the credit, the social services budget would be cut proportionately.
That would be a good libertarian reform.
(2) Outright privatization of sidewalks in commercial areas (this is already the case in the area around Embarcadero Center) or allowing businesses in a given area to form Business Improvement Districts which could enforce code of conduct rules, like no shopping carts and no sitting or lying on sidewalks. SF already allows Community Benefit Districts, but they lack policing power.
In other words, handing over public assets to the rich and powerful, to better enable them to discriminate against the poor and homeless? No thank you. Actual aggression by the homeless -- aggressive panhandling, urinating on the street, stealing shopping carts, etc. -- is already illegal. Libertarians should NOT be seeking to criminalize people for simply using carts or for sitting or lying on the sidewalk.
I suspect that a lot of people in SF are fed up with the homeless situation and it is a clear case of governmental failure. Seems like a great issue for the SFLP, but not one that has gotten much attention.
Yes, a lot of people in San Francisco do not like seeing homeless people on the streets, or being asked for change. A lot of them don't like seeing chain stores, either. If there is a "sacred cow" in this discussion, I think it is the idea that it's okay for government to use aggression to discourage peaceful behavior which many find annoying or "inappropriate".
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
P.S. - I generally agree with Malcolm Greenhill's observations below, except I don't think that religion has to be part of the equation for successfully helping the homeless, any more than I think it has to be part of the equation for recovering from alcohol addiction. Having some kind of moral/spiritual framework undoubtedly helps, however I don't think the metaphysical component is the one that matters.