Which came first: the tent or the drugs?

The New York Times had an interesting book review the other day. A guy has written a book blaming San Francisco's appalling homeless crisis on mental illness, drugs, and wiseguys who like squatting because it frees them from most or all societal rules. The Times's book reviewer attacks the author at every turn, asserting that the real problem is that the city has been "stymied from building shelters, permanent supportive housing and affordable apartments by years of federal and state defunding, astronomical construction costs, rampant manipulation of the state’s environmental and zoning laws by special interests and a general lack of political will by city residents and their representatives."

One interesting argument is whether more available housing would actually solve the problems of the street people. The reviewer says:

According to experts, as many as 30-40 percent of San Francisco’s unhoused may suffer from some form of mental illness, but addiction and mental illness are often the result of homelessness, or are greatly exacerbated by the stress of living on the streets, not its root cause. When asked to self-report in a city survey, 25 percent of unhoused respondents cited job loss as the primary cause of their homelessness, 18 percent cited substance abuse and 13 percent eviction; only 8 percent listed mental illness. 

Whatever the value a self-reporting survey might have, the fact remains that a substantial segment of the homeless are not suitable for a nice little apartment. In their current state of mind, they'd destroy it and make life miserable for everyone else in the building.

The guy who wrote the book may be overstating his case, but to my ears, he's right about a lot of things. The reviewer mocks the ideas of "aggressively criminalizing encampments, expanding the powers of the state and family members to involuntarily commit drug users and the mentally ill, and creating a goofy superorganization he calls Cal-Psych, which would institutionalize people who shoplift or defecate in public." I vaguely remember when those things used to be called "society."

The fantasy that you could close the poor farms and insane asylums and everything would still be okay is now quite obviously over. A thousand points of light, my eye. It would be nice if someone with some common sense would take the reins and start us down the path to where we're going next.


  1. When the Fed can print money out of thin air, keep interest rates at virtually zero and then loan out this free money to your banker/investment buddies, is it any wonder that we have a totally broken society? Focusing on the end result will never solve any of these problems. Most people are poorer in real terms and have been for decades. The people at the edge of society have no chance to recover- regardless of how much more money we spend.

    Presidents have died fighting the bankers, but it is a fight worth fighting. Get back control of our money and give everybody a fair break to make good. When was the last time you've heard anybody even address this core issue? Certainly not the current crop of "life-time" civil servant grifters.


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