homelessness

Sad teen sitting in an alleyway all alone at night.

Washington State Police Reforms Fail the Mentally Ill

When Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a dozen new police reforms on May 18, he called them “a moral mandate” that would “create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation.” According to proponents, the new laws are intended to protect citizens from unreasonable uses of force and to hold police accountable when they step out of line. Such reforms swept the nation in the wake of last summer’s demonstrations after the death of George Floyd. But a Facebook post from the Sedro-Woolley Police Department illustrates the way these laws are neglecting some of the most at-need in the state’s communities. “The last Legislative Session in Olympia has resulted in multiple changes in how we do Read More ›

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skid row in los angeles, california
skid row in los angeles, california

The Invisible Asylum

The story of American deinstitutionalization has become familiar. In a long arc—from President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act of 1963 to the present—federal and state governments dismantled mental asylums and released the psychiatrically disturbed into the world. Read More ›
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Photo courtesy of Jonathan Rados at Unsplash.

Covid-19 Exposes the Roots of the Homeless Crisis in our Cities

“The coronavirus has started to reveal some long standing truths about homelessness, about addiction, and about mental illness,” explains Christopher Rufo director of Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. “For the past decade, policy makers have largely avoided these questions, or, largely been in denial about the causes of homelessness.” Read More ›
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Unconscious on the Street
Photo by Johnny Cohen at Unsplash

The Harm in “Harm Reduction”

As cities in the United States, including San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, and Seattle, consider opening their own safe-injection sites, they should understand the full consequences of these practices. Read More ›
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Chaos by the Bay

An odd pattern has emerged in San Francisco as the city responds to the Covid-19 pandemic. The world of the well-off has become tightly restricted by public quarantine orders, and the world of the poor increasingly resembles that of Mad Max — lawless, crime-ridden, and devoid of functioning authority. Read More ›
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Coronavirus Exposes How West Coast Progressives Failed the Homeless

The coronavirus has changed almost every facet of American life. It has disrupted work routines, sent children home from school, and stress-tested the global supply chain.

Medical researchers have warned for weeks that the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, is particularly dangerous to seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

But in West Coast cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, public authorities are quickly discovering another potential tinderbox for infection: homeless encampments.

This has caused significant political discomfort. Three weeks ago, when Seattle radio host Jason Rantz warned about the potential for an outbreak within homeless encampments, progressive activists slammed him as a “fascist” hoping to set up concentration camps for the most vulnerable.

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Photo by Mihály Köles

Plot Twist

In recent years, discussion about homelessness has been circumscribed around a set of premises acceptable to progressive opinion. The homeless were thrown onto the streets, we’re told, because of rising rents, heartless landlords, and a lack of economic opportunity. Activists, journalists, and political leaders have perpetuated this line of reasoning and, following it to its conclusion, have proposed investing billions in subsidized housing to solve homelessness.

But new data are undermining this narrative. As residents of West Coast cities witness the disorder associated with homeless encampments, they have found it harder to accept the progressive consensus—especially in the context of the coronavirus epidemic, which has all Americans worried about contagion. An emerging body of evidence confirms what people see plainly on the streets: homelessness is deeply connected to addiction, mental illness, and crime.

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Homeless man sleeping on a bench
Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.

What’s Really Driving the Homelessness Crisis?

The homelessness crisis in America’s West Coast cities is beginning to draw national attention. There are now an estimated 166,752 people on the streets in California, Oregon, and Washington, and sensational stories of human despair and the return of medieval diseases have captured the public imagination.

Even President Donald Trump has tweeted about the “very bad and dangerous conditions” in San Francisco and warned that leaders must take action “to clean up these hazardous waste and homeless sites before the whole city rots away.”

There has been remarkably little clarity, however, on the key question: What’s really driving the homelessness crisis in West Coast cities?

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Photo by Brandi Ibrao

The Moral Crisis of Skid Row

They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, but it seems that even here, within the five-by-ten-block area of Skid Row, the city contains an entire cosmology — angels and demons, sinners and saints, plagues and treatments.

Walking down San Pedro Street to the heart of Skid Row, I see men smoking methamphetamine in the open air and women selling bootleg cigarettes on top of cardboard boxes. Around the corner, a man makes a drug transaction from the window of a silver sedan, a woman in an American-flag bandana flashes her vagina to onlookers, and a shirtless man in a bleached-blond woman’s wig defecates behind a parked police car. Slumped across the entryway of an old garment business, a shoeless, middle-aged junkie injects heroin into his cracked, bare feet.

Skid Row is the epicenter of L.A.’s addiction crisis. More than 12,000 homeless meth and heroin addicts pass through here each year, with thousands living in the vast network of tent encampments that line the sidewalks. For decades, L.A. has centralized public services in this tiny city-within-a-city. The result: it’s become an iron cage of the social state, with the highest concentration of homelessness, addiction, and overdose deaths in Los Angeles County. Fire Station 9, which covers Skid Row, is now the busiest firehouse in America, responding to 35,518 calls for service last year, including a record-high number of overdoses and mental-health crises.

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