by C.J. Carnacchio (Original here)
Back in the 1980s, homeless advocates were often fond of telling their media lapdogs that there were anywhere from two to three million homless in the United States. But, both the Urban Institute and the U.S. Census Bureau estimate the number of homeless to be in the neighborhood of 300,000 to 600,000. Despite this hard evidence, many American still believe that there are millions of homeless and consequently there is a “homeless crisis” in the U.S.
Liberals and homeless advocates have succeeded in manufacturing this so-called crisis not only by exaggerating numbers but also by distorting the truth about the roots of homelessness. The media has served as an all too willing accomplice in the advocates Machiavellian charade. In his book Rude Awakenings, Richard W. White Jr. points out that “homelessness became a crisis to most Americans after the media introduced the term and labeled it a crisis. Before then it was not a crisis or even a problem.” Reporters never questioned the statisitic or the claims of the homeless advocacy’s propaganda.
Both advocates and the media portray the homeless as simply ordinary Americans down on their luck; victims of cruel economic forces and a housing crisis. They delight in telling us that we are all just one paycheck away from living ont he streets. But the pure down-on-my-luck group is relatively small; about 15 percent. They are highly visible in media stories about the homeless because advocates learned long ago that this group elicts the most support for their cause.
Ignored is the prominence of substance abuse, criminal behavior, and mental illness which highlights the majority of the homeless. Advocates and the media neglect to tell us that seven out of ten homeless have been institutionalized at one time or another; this includes mental hospitals, detoxification centers, and prison.
Advocates and the media always argue that it is external forces, not individual choices, that lead to homelessness. Personal repsonsibility is never an issue. They place the blame on face-less corporations, evil Republicans, and a selfish society.
Consequently, many homeless have become more offensive and even violent in their behavior as they have come to believe that everyone who passes them owes them something. They used to beleive that their plight was their own fault but as White observes, “Now, because of what they [homeless] hear in protest songs, read in newspapers, see on television, hear from advocates, or learn from the social system, they think that their condition is someone else’s fault. Some act as if they are morally superior to people who work and raise a family.” But, the fact is, that in the majority of cases, the homeless are either directly repsonsible for their plight or some individual-based problem is at work.
Advocates refuse to acknowledge that there is a certain percentage of homeless who CHOOSE to live that way. They are not willing to assume the responsibilities associated with maintaining a job and a permanent residence. They prefer the mythical “freedom” of the streets and turn down shelter even when its offered to them.
Next, current estimates indicate that roughly a third or more of the homeless are drug addicts or alcoholics. Homeless advocates argue that substance abuse is a result, not a cause, of homelessness. They reason that such substances are used by the homeless to escape the reality of their wretched lives thereby absolving them of any responsibility or blame.
But, as White points out, “In Los Angeles’ inner city, Paul Koegel and M. Audrey Burnam found that nearly 80 percent of alcoholics in their sample of homeless adults ‘reported that their first alcoholic symptom occurred before they were first homeless’ and that in 57 percent of the cases this occurred at least five years before their first episode of homelessness.”
Alcoholism and drug abuse are the result of individual choices such as a willingness to sacrifice career, family, and health in favor of getting high. Human beings are capable of both good and bad decisions, but no matter which road is taken, responsbility must always be assigned to the individual choice-maker.
Many homeless advocates have failed to see that their aid programs have in fact perpetuated substance abuse. As Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a clinical and research psyciatrist, pointed out, “When one is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the highest priority is to save as much money as possible to feed that addiction. Present homeless policies, which in some cities have guaranteed free beds and food for everyone who asks, have probably exacerbated rather than relieved the problem of homeless substance abuse.” These free services coupled with the homeless’ panhandling incomes (and in some cases welfare benefits) allow them to fund their self-destructive habits and perpetuate a cycle of dependency.
The frequency of criminal behavior is another aspect of the homeless population advocates fail to mention. In his book Without Shelter: Homelessness in the 1980s, Peter H. Rossi found that 42 percent of the homeless, catalogued in 16 studies, spent some amount of time in jail or prison. Again, advocates argue that desperation forces the homeless into criminal activity. But a 1986 study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 61 percent of homeless’ jail time occurred before their homelessness and even “suggested that [unsuccessful] crime leads to homelessness.”
Experts also estimate that another third of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness. While clearly this is not the result of bad individual choices, it is still a problem confined to the individual and not in anyway society’s fault. But, advocates argue that it is the stress of homeless life which causes these mental problems. But, in the book Homelessness, Health, and Human Needs, the Institute of Medicine found that severe mental illnesses “are unlikely to result from the trauma of homelessness.” In fact, few psychiatrists still subscribe to the notion that menatal illnesses such as schizophrenia can happen to anyone given the right environmental conditions; no matter how stressful.
The mentally ill homeless should either be institutionalized, put into the care of family members or legal guardians, or forced, as a condition of being allowed into society, to take the necessary medications to control their illness. Many of the homeless could function in society if only they took their medication. But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union will not allow these measures because they would infringe upon the homeless’ civil rights.
But, as psychiatrist/columnist Charles Krauthammer retorted, “For the severely mentally ill, however, liberty is not just an empty word nut a cruel hoax. Free to do what? What does freedom mean for a paranoid schizophrenic who is ruled by voices commanded by his persecutors and rattling around in his head?” The ACLU is more interested in defending their right to sleep in parks and bus terminals than actiully salvaging their lives. It is precisely this kind of feeble thinking that has led to the idiocy of the “homeless rights” movement.
People who pay taxes to support the streets and parks ought to be able to enjoy them in relative safety and comfort. But Supreme Court decisions such as Papachristu v. United States, which delcared vagrany laws unconstitutional, and a New York City judge’s protection of panhandling as a form of free speech have taken away the ability to maintain order. Public places have been surrendered to people who take no responsibility for them or themselves. New York columnist John Leo observed the result: “Sandboxes become urinals. Swings are broken. Evey park bench seems to be owned by a dozing schizophrenic. When the cycle is complete, the community withdraws, serious druggies and criminals move in.”
Contray to popular belief, it is not selfish to demand the unharassed use of public facilities. The exercise of individual liberties in public places is not unlimited. It is in fact contingent upon the maintenance of public order. Others must be free to enjoy the commons in peace. But, groups like the ACLU have shown little interest in relating rights to responsibilites.
As William Donohue stated in his book The New Freedom, “Push one person’s rights too far and the result is the emasculation of someone else’s rights. Elevate rights to a status of an absolute and the result is the destruction of other values.” Rights must always be balanced by responsibilities; individual liberties with the commonweal.
One last point that homeless advocates and the media fail to mention, is that much of the homeless population is a testament to the failure of liberal government housing policies. These so-called reform have destroyed the majority of the single-room-occupancy-hotels or “flophouses” the homeless used to live in.
While these places sometimes lacked bedding, heat, and water and were not very comfortable, they did provide a night’s shelter for a very low cost. Sociologist Ernest van den Haag summed up the reforms’ results: “Policians, bureaucrats, and bleeding hearts waxed indigant about the deprivations people suffered in cheap lodgins which lacked amenities. Their solution? Get rid of these cheap lodgings. The former customers, unable to afford more expensive lodgings, now have to sleep on the streets. In effect the government decided that it was better for people to have no roof over their head than to live in places that do not have hot water.”
All things considered, the Left has no real interest in an honest and frank discussion about the true roots of homelessness or the role of personal responsibility. Why should they? The homeless provide them with living political symbols of what they claim is the failure and injustice of capitalism coupled with the cruelty of the wealthy. They are paraded before the media as vicitims of evil Republican policies. Such images fuel feelings of guilt in many voters who consider themselves well off by comparison. This guilt transaltes into calls for increased State action which in turn generates a larger electoral base for the Democrats and the further growth of the behemoth State. By all accounts it is to the Left’s advantage that the homeless stay homeless. Compassion indeed.