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Why the homeless crisis is only getting worse

“If any would not work, neither should he eat.”
—II Thessalonians 3:10b


True or False?: “Whenever government funds a behavior, the more of that behavior it will get.”
Such an axiom comes to mind in the current homeless situation where government’s attempt to “fix the problem” – mostly by way of redistributing massive amounts of money in the name of compassion – may have only made the problem far worse.

Is Seattle the epitome of misplaced compassion?

There are anywhere between 16,000 and 55,000 homeless people living in King County, the largest of Washington’s districts, according to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA). Ari Hoffman of KVI Talk Radio shares the frustration of many Washington residents in hearing that the homeless problem is getting better, when in reality it’s getting worse year by year – and the government’s expensive “solutions” aren’t fixing the problem.

“Around here in Seattle we keep hearing ‘the homeless problem is getting so much better,’ well if the homeless problem is getting better, then how come it ain’t getting better?” Hoffman asked on his radio program. The discrepancy in data provided by KCRHA compounds the confusing situation of why government officials are saying the problem is getting better, when residents can clearly see with their own eyes that it is not. “[KCRHA] has been notoriously bad at providing data to the public, in fact, last year they didn’t even count the unsheltered population of homeless people in King County,” shared Caitlyn McKenney, a Program Coordinator at Discovery Institute. That gap in data can be seen in the graphic, provided by KRCHA, below:

“If the number has gone up 23% – if the number has gone up 50%, 100% – we just have no idea,” Hoffman said. “I’m old enough to remember when they said we were going to have a homeless emergency here, and that was for a grand total of 3,000 people. Seems like after all the [money] spent, they’ve only made it worse.” (emphasis added)

But why is it that after so many years, so much money, and so many alleged solutions, we’re seeing the problem worsen? It is, undoubtedly, because Washington officials are taking the wrong approach. The “Housing First” ideology, introduced by the Obama administration as a federal housing policy in 2013, offers free housing to the homeless with no requirements for treatment. The Obama administration claimed the policy would end homelessness by 2023.

Millions of dollars are appropriated by Washington officials every year to put toward this “Housing First” plan, with no consideration for the underlying causes of homelessness, ultimately exacerbating the problem. “They are viewing ‘number of people put into housing’ as the sole metric for success and we know that’s not successful, that’s not treating the underlying causes that are making people homeless and keeping people in homelessness. Addiction and untreated mental illness are absolutely a part of that picture,” McKenny stated.

At FPIW, we agree with the influence of addiction and mental illness. More broadly, we delineate these core ideas:

  • We believe elected officials must recognize the Church’s role in taking the benevolent part of homelessness (individuals’ right to give or not give freely) and the government’s role in stewarding the illegal behavior surrounding homelessness.
  • We reject any form of the “Homeless Industrial Complex,” where industries make massive amounts of profit from taxpayers with little results in solving the homeless issue.
  • Furthermore, we firmly believe that our homelessness crisis is coupled with a serious drug crisis which, in turn, has led to rampant homelessness.
  • Yet fundamentally, both the homeless and drug issues are often external expressions of deeper internal spiritual problems, a poverty in the soul from things such as trauma, sin, lies, immaturities, or a lack of loving relationships. Providing shelter to those actively using drugs, without addressing their addiction, nor their spiritual poverty, simply leads to drug-infested housing complexes that are rife with crime, sex trafficking, and blight. 

The modern approach to solving the homeless problem looks to government for a solution, yet such an approach lacks an element of moral and spiritual goods to address economic problems often rooted in a “poverty of soul,” as Marvin Olasky writes in The Tragedy of American Compassion (1992). Spiritual troubles often cause moral troubles, and moral troubles often cause economic troubles; thus the one giving help must understand the spiritual and moral dimensions and be deeply involved in the life of the one needing help. But today the demand from government is an extorted and impersonal “delegated compassion” via forced taxation and then wealth redistribution (after the government keeps a portion of tax dollars).

The description to Olasky’s book summarizes a profound shift to what the term compassion really means:

Can a man be content with a piece of bread and some change tossed his way from a passerby? Today’s modern welfare state expects he can. Those who control the money in our society think that giving a dollar at the train station and then appropriating a billion dollars for federal housing can cure the ails of the homeless and the poor. But the crisis of the modern welfare state is more than a crisis of government. Private charities that dispense aid indiscriminately while ignoring the moral and spiritual needs of the poor are also to blame. Like animals in the zoo at feeding time, the needy are given a plate of food but rarely receive the love and time that only a person can give. Poverty fighters 100 years ago were more compassionate – in the literal meaning of “suffering with” – than many of us are now. They opened their own homes to deserted women and children. They offered employment to nomadic men who had abandoned hope and human contact. Most significantly, they made moral demands on recipients of aid. They saw family, work, freedom, and faith as central to our being, not as life-style options. No one was allowed to eat and run. Some kind of honest labor was required of those who needed food or a place to sleep in return.

When Seattle takes the above to heart, its heart for the homeless will make great progress, rather than seeing many years of the problem getting exponentially worse. And only then, will beloved Seattle be safer, cleaner, and far more loving.

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If you agree with this view, and want to do something about the problem of homelessness you are witnessing in your community, we strongly encourage you to join our team of DEFENDERS, who are dedicated to solving issues just like this one.

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