X Close

The rise of California’s vanlords A new class of landlord is exploiting the homeless

'For as long as the vans have been a presence and a problem in Oakland, they’ve also been a mystery.' (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

'For as long as the vans have been a presence and a problem in Oakland, they’ve also been a mystery.' (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)


June 13, 2024   11 mins

For outsiders experiencing it on YouTube, homelessness in San Francisco has a sort of up-close profile — overdoses and open drug deals, vacant and filthy faces, bodies sprawled on dirty concrete or, sometimes, just standing, bent incredibly in half, forehead between knees, in the telltale posture of someone who shot up fentanyl and forgot to sit.

Where I live, across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, the homelessness has also become a favourite subject for YouTube video sleuths. But instead of capturing it at ground level, from the juddering view of a camera held by a pedestrian, or through the window of a car moving along a curb in voyeuristic slowness, these videographers often do their thing while moving at the speed of traffic, panning hungrily along a blighted street, or they send up a drone to gather a vast scene in an aerial sweep. San Francisco homelessness is defined by depressing human detail. Oakland homelessness is captured in aggregate terms, by visual reference to its physical scale.

Until the city dismantled it in 2023, the vast Wood Street encampment in West Oakland was our most notorious emblem of homelessness, and a favourite subject of videos shot from the sky. When the Mosswood encampment in North Oakland reaches its maximum population — which it does periodically before it’s cleared again — one makes sense of it while driving past at 30 miles an hour. This perspective shows you something that Google Maps identifies as a park but what looks to you like, well, tents, just a wide field covered by tents. 

The most familiar and ominous form of homelessness in Oakland, however, has become the vehicle encampment. A few small clusters of vehicles have gathered in my North Oakland neighbourhood, lines of dirty campers and battered cars seeking shade under an elevated freeway, but poor East Oakland has it the worst. There, such encampments have taken over long stretches of busy street, visiting already-distressed neighbourhoods with huge living sculptures of ugliness and disorder — cars filled with clothes and junk; hulking RVs parked for months at a time, drug and sex deals conducted streetside; trash gathering around and between the vehicles, and lots of new crime. Recently, the city had to replace traffic lights at an East Oakland intersection with stop signs, because people, presumably from the vehicle encampment close by, were constantly stealing the cables to sell the copper wire inside. 

These urban nightmares provoke understandable calls for the city to show some leadership and clear the bigger, more dangerous, more embarrassing encampments, but Wood Street offers a cautionary lesson that, in turn, places the larger problem of homelessness in an unhappy, if clarifying, light. When the city cleared Wood Street, it hoped to move many residents into shelters but many of the homeless, and many of the vehicles that could be started and driven off before the tow trucks and bulldozers and forklifts arrived, just moved themselves to other parts of West Oakland. When officials clear the encampments in East Oakland, we can expect the same thing to happen. This highlights a troubling problem with homeless people that no one has managed to solve — their insistence on being somewhere rather than nowhere.

The attempt to solve this problem of where the homeless are is what brought the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, before the United States Supreme Court in Grants Pass v. Johnson. Two local ordinances in Grants Pass prohibit “camping” on public property — one applying to living and sleeping outside, the other to living and sleeping in a motor vehicle. A lower court has ruled that the Grants Pass ordinances, and other laws that make it illegal for homeless people to camp and sleep in certain places, amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” — as proscribed by the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. The underlying legal notion the lower court fixed upon is the distinction between “status” and “conduct”. Court precedent holds that it’s reasonable to enjoin people from doing something, but it is unreasonable to punish them for being something, for their status, a condition they can’t control that to some extent defines them. The court argued that if shelter is available for the homeless, then the “camping” in question is conduct, something chosen, which it’s reasonable for a city to prohibit. If no shelter is available, then this sort of camping is not conduct but simply a necessary entailment — necessary because everyone needs to sleep — of the status of being homeless, which it’s unreasonable to punish.  

The court will be making these careful distinctions between status and conduct, what civic measures are and aren’t reasonable. But in 2013, Grants Pass city council president Lily Morgan made clear that the underlying concern of the ordinances is the one I mention above, not so much the existence and metaphysical nature of homeless people but their location. “The point,” Morgan said, “is to make it uncomfortable enough for them in our city so they will want to move on down the road.” It’s better for the homeless to be there than here. Most people agree.

But not all people. In San Francisco, for example, non-profit executives, public health academics, and government bureaucrats who serve the homeless don’t want to send the homeless on down the road. These influential figures work to portray the homeless as genuine residents of the city, to defend their rights to be where they are, wherever that is. This approach may sound humane, but over the long run it may be as ineffective, and indeed as inhumane, as the other approach of sending the homeless down the road.  

This matter of where the homeless are from has become very salient in San Francisco, especially in the city’s notorious Tenderloin District, where the open, obvious, unashamed daylight commerce in and consumption of drugs provokes understandable questions. Might it be that – sort of like the hippies in the Sixties who flocked to the city for its freewheeling atmosphere — a good number of these drug-addicted homeless people aren’t actually from San Francisco? 

For the city’s influential homeless advocates, to raise this suspicion is — in the words of Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness — to engage in the “othering of unhoused people”. And she’s right. Many people really do make an “othering” sort of distinction between those who met misfortune in their city and became homeless there and those — those others, if you will — who came to their city and live on its streets because they wanted to use drugs there. These people would like to move some of San Francisco’s homeless on down the road.

In any case, official data roughly, apparently, support the idea of which Friedenbach is so protective — that San Francisco’s homeless are mostly San Franciscans. For example, a 2022 survey shows that 71% of San Francisco homeless became homeless while they were San Francisco residents, and only 17% had been in the city for a year or less. Homeless advocates cite these numbers in a peremptory spirit, as if they simply settle the matter, but they actually invite a fair amount of questioning and scepticism. For example, homeless people are viewed as being from the city if they were living there “at the time they most recently became homeless” but this phrasing pretty much forces you to wonder how much prior homelessness in other cities is hiding in this 71% number. 

But the numbers aren’t great even if you believe them. Even if fully 71% of the city’s homeless are “from San Francisco”, 29% of the city’s 8,323 homeless people is still a lot of people. At the lowest estimate, 2,413 of San Francisco’s homeless people came to the city already homeless. And 17% means that 1,414 of the city’s homeless people are newly arrived. That’s a lot of newly arrived homeless people in a fairly small city. 

From there it’s a reasonable assumption — given the current drug epidemic and the city’s vigorous “harm reduction” infrastructure, which dispenses free drug paraphernalia and exerts serious political and legal pressure to minimise enforcement of crimes associated with drugs and homelessness — that drug addicts are overrepresented among these thousands of recent arrivals. That is, it’s likely that at least hundreds of drug addicts from other places are coming to the city every year, and especially to the drug-ridden and drug-tolerant Tenderloin. Anecdotes from the neighbourhood support this modest assumption — such as San Francisco’s police chief noting that, in a recent drug crackdown in the Tenderloin, only three of 46 people arrested were from San Francisco, and the series of very affecting YouTube interviews called “Soft White Underbelly” whose Tenderloin subjects very much paint a picture of the district as a drug destination for outsiders.  

These drug migrants to the Tenderloin may account for a small or even marginal portion of the city’s overall homeless population, but from the standpoint of its lawfulness and civic order, and of the survival of its small businesses and its tourism industry, and of the security and pride and happiness of its citizens, it’s not marginal at all. It’s central. The Tenderloin is in the centre of the city. 

Activists and academic commentators often portray any concern with this aspect of homelessness as morally shallow and politically nefarious, a desire to render the homeless “invisible”. But the wishes of shopkeepers trying to keep their little businesses alive, and parents whose children have to pass those appalling scenes on the way to school, are not abstract or hypothetical. These people aren’t shills of international capital. It’s not to erase the needs and suffering of the homeless to consider the humble interests of these everyday citizens when we decide where to encourage the law-breaking homeless to pitch their tents and sell and use their drugs.

We’ve travelled to an interesting place, culturally and politically, when not wanting to step in human faeces on city sidewalks is considered morally frivolous. To put it another way, it’s possible that harm reduction is good for the drug-addicted homeless in the Tenderloin and bad for the city of San Francisco, and what we have is a political conflict, in which open contestation and compromise are necessary, rather than the dogmatism and language policing of the city’s homelessness functionaries. Then again, people seem to get a lot worse once they’ve been in the Tenderloin for any length of time. Encouraging more people to join them doesn’t seem like harm reduction. If bureaucrats and non-profit executives can be deceptive about homeless in-migration and blithe about its bad effects, their opponents can generate a tunnel-visioned portrait of homelessness that also hinders a clear understanding of the problem and its possible remedies — which threatens to leave us choosing between maintaining the homeless where they are and merely moving them from place to place, rather than reducing their number. 

“We’ve travelled to an interesting place, culturally and politically, when not wanting to step in human faeces on city sidewalks is considered morally frivolous.”

California contrarian Michael Shellenberger, recent candidate for governor and author of San Fransicko: How Progressives Ruin Cities, has built something of a movement from pointing out the folly of Left-wing approaches to homelessness, and of progressive governance more generally. Shellenberger argues that homelessness is not, as progressives will tell you, a problem of poverty. It is, he says both in his book and in a growing number of online videos, a problem of drug addiction and mental illness. This latter claim is substantially true, but only within his very narrow framework. That is, his implicit comparison (I say “implicit” because his work contains little if any systematic demographic comparison) is between the homeless and non-homeless in cities — especially Los Angeles and San Francisco — already characterised by high rates of homelessness, as well as by nice weather and progressive governance. Within this framework, individual pathologies such as addiction and psychosis account for a lot of variation between who is and isn’t homeless, and thus seem to explain homelessness per se. And progressives, occupying safe seats of influence in these places, are easily blamed for their undeniable failures of vision and policy, the squalor and madness they seem happy to tolerate, if not actively curate. But the framework itself is conceived in a way that isolates individual variables like addiction and psychosis, and leaves broader economic ones to the side, barely considered.

When, instead of comparing individuals within high-homelessness cities with progressive power structures and Mediterranean climates, we compare rates of homelessness across different cities or regions in the United States, a very different set of variables rises to the surface, or a very different variable: housing costs. Yes, being psychotic or addicted to a powerful drug, along with being recently incarcerated and newly unemployed and disabled and a victim of domestic violence, increases your chances of becoming homeless wherever you live in America. But it increases these chances a lot more in some places than in others.

That is, when we compare rates of homelessness across different cities and regions, the differences do not correlate with levels of drug addiction and mental illness in these places. West Virginia, for example, has very high rates of drug addiction and very low rates of homelessness. These differences do, however, strongly correlate with housing costs. Drug addiction and psychosis are far more likely to cause homelessness in and around expensive San Francisco or Los Angeles than they are around more affordable, and progressive-led, Chicago and Detroit, or warmer-weather cities like Houston or Charlotte, North Carolina. Boston has one of the highest rates of homelessness in America because, though quite cold and snowy in winter, it’s a very expensive place to live.

This claim might seem counterintuitive to people who’ve zeroed in on mental illness and drug addiction as the obvious causes of homelessness. How can psychotics and drug addicts make rent? But New York housing analyst Stephen Smith, who posts as @MarketUrbanism on X, gives an illuminating gloss on how it applies at the individual level. “Fun fact,” Smith tweeted in 2021, “homeless people with mental illnesses and drug addictions are humans who can interact with the housing market. They often have families who can take them in (if they have room), and are eligible for housing subsidies (if housing is available).” 

These and related expedients for housing the hardest cases are much more accessible where there’s more, and thus more affordable, housing. They’re not ideal, but the gulf between even these marginal housing arrangements and living on the streets — especially if you want to keep the addiction and mental illness from getting much, much worse — is huge. As Smith puts it: “Sometimes you see somebody talking to themselves on the street (normal life thing), and sometimes you see somebody who smells terrible and has what looks like rotting flesh talking to themselves on the street (scary city thing). The difference is housing.” 

Somewhat depressingly, this is not a story of poverty or weak economies. It’s a story of affluence and economic vigour. American cities and regions with the highest rates of homelessness — such as New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and their environs — are all, or recently have been, “superstar cities”. They’re employment destinations, coastal cities that many people move to over short timescales. Many of these new people are highly educated and high-earning, and, when they arrive, they bid up rents and home prices. The superstar performance of these local economies may boost wages for their poorest citizens, but they drive up housing costs a lot more. 

The other part of the story is familiar to anyone who follows these issues: failure to build additional housing to meet the new demand. This, in turn, is largely a story of incumbent homeowners and their elected representatives using zoning, environmental, architectural and other pretexts and regulatory means to block new housing, especially multi-family housing, and thereby protect the inflated values of existing homes (like mine). Sometimes, as Shellenberger points out in San Fransicko, this reflects the hypocrisy of land-rich progressives in desirable cities, who put out social-justice yard signs and then make sure new homes for poor people don’t get built anywhere near them. But it’s also the work of conservatives, who invoke “local control” to defy state laws that oblige their roomy suburbs to approve a few apartment buildings. It’s fun to mock the limousine liberals of San Francisco and Santa Monica, but many of the most anti-housing members of the California legislature are Republicans.

“These are people who’ve made being deeply confused about housing markets into a guiding principle.”

For those who still want a solid reason to mock Leftists, a crucial anti-housing force at the city level is the teamwork of urban socialists and anti-gentrification activists, for whom landlords and real-estate developers have a sort of demonic status. These are people who’ve made being deeply confused about housing markets into a guiding principle. Given a choice between “no new housing” and “new housing someone might make a profit on” they consistently choose “no new housing”. Then, when rents go up and gentrification intensifies and more people end up homeless, they wave their hands and say capitalism did it.

One clear signal that housing costs drive much of the homelessness where I live comes from the vehicle encampments blighting my city’s streets, specifically the growing number of those trailers and vans and RVs that were built for people to camp in. For as long as those things have been a presence and a problem in Oakland, they’ve also been a mystery. People see them and wonder, “Why are they here?” “Where did they come from?” After all, owners of recreational vehicles are an unlikely class of people to be so conspicuously represented among the homeless.

But the people in those RVs don’t own them. They rent them, from people who’ve come to be called “vanlords”. These energetic businesspeople buy up old trailers and RVs and either drive or tow them to unfortunate neighbourhoods in cities like Oakland. There they enter into informal rental agreements with homeless people. These campers, and the people who own and rent them out, occupy a tier of the official housing market that should exist but, thanks to the efforts of high-minded urban fanatics and small-minded suburban Nimbys, does not. 

Their growing presence should also be a warning. If you think landlords are a bad influence on your city, just wait and see what vanlords have in store for it.


Matt Feeney is an writer based in California and the author of Little Platoons: A defense of family in a competitive age


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

135 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 month ago

More homes would be a solution to the homelessness problem.
These vanlords are basically the unregulated market finding a solution to a problem the regulations are causing in the regulated market.

Thor Albro
Thor Albro
1 month ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

No, “more homes” has nothing to do with mental illness and addiction that draws transients to deferential liberal cities.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 month ago
Reply to  Thor Albro

I did say ‘a’ solution, not ‘the’. A lack of homes is a factor in people not having homes. Homelessness is literally that. Sure, there are plenty of people with serious other issues for whom you could build almost any amount of homes and they’d still struggle.
But a very big problem with homelessness is affordability. Too few homes are being built – if you’re accepting half a million immigrants a year, that’s kind of how many housing units you ought to be aiming for, per year. It seems as though housing regulation and agencies see their job as being restricting the building of new houses – if you’re going to have people overseeing the market, then the obvious task they should have is making sure there are enough homes. But NIMBY-ism or just instinctive over-regulation means that they are not doing it.
Hence you get the market, innovative individuals, providing alternative solutions. If the regulated market was working properly, you wouldn’t get vanlords. It’s hard to see them as the or even a problem – I’d rather sleep in a van than a doorway.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 month ago

Surely the homeless activists can come up with a catchy pejorative for these monster vanlords, something to match the good old Robber Barons, Greedy Bankers, Economic Royalists of which we’ve heard tell.
I see from Google Search that LA is planning to crack down on vanlords. Yay! That’ll teach ’em!

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

Public officials cracking down on the last remaining market response to the consequences of their own previous incompetence.

It’s brilliant, isn’t it?

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 month ago

I always enjoy Matt’s articles. Gritty first hand experience allied with good research and non-tribal analysis.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago

“That is, when we compare rates of homelessness across different cities and regions, the differences do not correlate with levels of drug addiction and mental illness in these places.”
This might seem like a minor point, but is this author statistically literate?
The homeless represent a small – if not vanishingly small – proportion of any population, anywhere. Likewise, the fraction of mentally ill people who are homeless is, though likely higher than among the general population, still very low. Mathematically, it would therefore be impossible to obtain a high correlation between the two variables in question.

David B
David B
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

However, we could ask, “given that a person is a drug addict, what is the probability that they are homeless” and, “given that a person is homeless, what is the probability that they are an addict”, comparing each to their corresponding prior probabilities.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  David B

That’s true.
And then you could ask, “given a person is an addict, does the probability of being homeless vary depending on cost of rent at that location?”
And even if the answer turns out to be yes, the question of confounders persists: does high rent correlate with policies that attract/encourage drug use or homelessness? Equally: does the measurement of homelessness itself vary depending on the rent levels or the policies in that area?
I have no dog in this game, merely to point out that the answers to these questions is a lot harder than people might think.

laura m
laura m
1 month ago
Reply to  David B

Far more relevant is matter of untreated SMI,Serious Mental Illness among the chronic homeless addicts.

laura m
laura m
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Agreed. Feeney also ignores key legal policies used to treat/ house the most troubled mentally ill, AOT, assisted outpatient therapy. AOT is effectively administrated in NY, while in CA counties vary widely. He is dismissive of Shellenberger’s healthy skepticism of Housing First and focus on missing legal/treatment systems, such as the loss of drug courts. As an east bay resident for 4 decades, I have been involved in community policing and homeless policies issues, I find his suggestion of the rise of vanlords dubious.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  laura m

Do you have a solution to the homeless problem in the East Bay?

laura m
laura m
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

the biggest shift: Shelter First Housing Earned, Expanded AOT, increase psych beds and detox options, repeal prop 47, defund problematic non-profits undermining progress, create REAL shelter plus care programs, bring back drug courts, police and prosecute drug trafficking using a targeted strategy.
Follow the Treatment Advocacy Center research and advocacy specific to each state. such as vote on CA SB 1184 next week.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

No. It’s a staristical mystification. It sounds like a profound point but actually says nothing. Most Leftists statistics contain confirmation bias because the ends justify the means. They don’t practice anything resembling rigorous deduction. They just posit a claim and then work back toward an intended conclusion.

Jack Martin Leith
Jack Martin Leith
1 month ago
Reply to  T Bone

Most Leftists statistics contain confirmation bias

Data?

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago

Its not a statement that can be subjected to data. Thats the point. If I used data, I would have to cherrypick the variables and make up an official definition of Leftism and then study every existing article that applied utilitarian principles to an abstract concept.

I’m making a simple observation that can be argued but not completely proven or disproven. Feeney is trying to take abstractions and make them concrete with incomplete data. That is unscientific.

Its one thing to have an opinion. Its another to make your opinion seem indisputable with unreliable data. One is far more harmful than the other.

nadnadnerb
nadnadnerb
1 month ago

Thoughtful piece. Thanks.

Terry M
Terry M
1 month ago

It’s fun to mock the limousine liberals of San Francisco and Santa Monica, but many of the most anti-housing members of the California legislature are Republicans.
The Donkeys have a super-majority in California and SF, in particular. They have ALL the power needed to do whatever they want. And yet, this idiot, blames the powerless Reps for the problem. Completely biased.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry M

Indeed, how great it is to be able to blame the ‘progressives’ for all the ills of society!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

When their ideas inevitably cause certain ills, who should be blamed? Let’s see: crime is run amok in one blue city after another. Those cities have the worst public schools in the country. America is being overrun by illegals who are allowed in by this administration. And California’s approach to homelessness has created more of it. When those are the results of one side’s ideas, tell me who should be held accountable if not the people behind the ideas.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Taking drugs is always presented as a solitary,quiet and meditative activity and maybe it is in itself but the fact is most drug users,the rich ones who live in mansions with high walls are an exception, actually they are not,it all just happens more privily,but most drug users come with an entourage. Like medieval kings.
The entourage consists of pals,also users,also dealers,they are the same people,the dealers are also pimps who control prostitutes,the girls attract more men often users to,then alcohol is around as it usually is at,lol,social gatherings,and this is a social gathering. It’s not for you in the apartment you work hard to pay for and in which your children are immured as it’s not safe for them.to play in the Park down below. This is why Portugal and Amsterdam.are seeking to cut back on the liberalism and reduce it a lot. In Amsterdam many Dutch folk want their city back,or the oldest,most historic district with the cities oldest.church

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

If the shoe fits wear it.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

So why are all the idealistic progressive creatives of Portland Oregon gone to live in Portugal and France,and most of them on my You Tube channel,once the ideal city of complete freedom of Millennium Year came to its inevitable fate. Even Walmart.has left town I hear.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry M

Terry, I’m sure your mother still loves you. Click on the embedded link, butt head.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry M

Try clicking the link in the article. Also let’s leave the partisan nonsense to one side and discuss the issues raised in the (politically neutral) article shall we?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly. Feeney was even careful to place the balance of the blame on progressives or bleeding hearts of the “hands-off compassion” camp. But the fact that he dared to say there is blame and hypocrisy on the Republican side too ignited a series of knee-jerk, defensive responses. Bye-bye goes worthwhile discussion, at least for now.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

It’s a shame, but the message board has been heading that way for a while. Most of those with nuance or differing views have been chased away, so now we’re left with an echo chamber wailing about the Dems/Libs and equating anything left of centre to the gulags

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Welcome to reality. For instance there is an argument attached to the beef. You ignored it. If you want discussion try addressing it.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Because you’re very openminded and fond of good-faith exchange? I’m still allowed to commiserate with a fellow dissenter from the herd norm here. It’s not a deep dive from me in this instance–but neither is your dim sloganeering: Welcome to Reality!!
Perhaps you can point out the “argument” in the superlative-laden rant above that so captured most of the “ALL” here. I’ve said plenty of sincere and substantial things on this comment board, whether you agree with or grant any merit to them or not. What are you trying to say?
[My initial, longer comment was delayed for 18 hours; maybe you can tell me why]

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I can serve as an interpreter. See my message I just made.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 month ago

“As Smith puts it: ‘Sometimes you see somebody talking to themselves on the street (normal life thing), and sometimes you see somebody who smells terrible and has what looks like rotting flesh talking to themselves on the street (scary city thing). The difference is housing.’” 
Housing costs are not what puts a person with rotting flesh on the street; his or her own pathologies and behavior do that all by themselves.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

I am no expert but it does seem that housing costs are a key factor in putting people on the street, and once they are there then the path to ‘rotting flesh’ is easily taken. I doubt that you will find ‘rotting flesh’ as much of a causal factor in making people homeless in the first place.

Simon S
Simon S
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Exactly – this piece nails the principal problem behind homelessness being housing costs, which I heard Bobby Kennedy (who lives in SF) speak very eloquently on last year. The comparison here made with West Virginia (huge drug problem, low housing costs and no homeless problem) is very apt.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Our friends on the left will blame society every, single, time, instead of acknowledging that individual human suffering is almost invariably the result of individual human behavior. It’s baked in.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

OMG! Who are you?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Exactly.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

So not true. I lost my rent-controlled apt of 30 years in San Francisco because, by getting me out, my landlord could raise the rent into the thousands. I didn’t drive or have a car which makes it difficult to look for a place to live anywhere, and I knew I could never afford to live in the Bay Area again.
I reluctantly moved to Wisconsin for affordable housing, but it was touch and go -for a short time I was without a home, though not on the streets. So I think I’m a classic example of someone who could have become homeless on the streets, but for the grace of my wits and a helping human hand.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I think this raises the question: for those who feel that housing (free if needed) is a human right, do they also believe that people have a right to live anywhere they want, whether or not they can afford it?
I’ve heard from people who deal with high housing costs in an area (beyond what they can bring in by wages) by moving somewhere where there is a better balance. As you have reluctantly done.
Others are very dedicated to living in locations I could never afford to live in, despite being employed. From some of the interviews (eg: in the SF Chronicle, not some anonymous internet person), at least sometimes that’s because of lax enforcement and high benefits, rather than just love of the city (ie: if the same attractive city stopped the payments, they would find someplace else more attractive).
It’s a complex problem with many facets and one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

Amen. I’m in primary agreement with all of that, Zeph. I live here Cal-uh-for-nigh-A even though I can’t quite afford it either, even on the indoor and employed program.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

San Francisco was an attractive city because of the artists and other free spirits who lived there. Then silicon valley hit and, along with gentrification, the rents went through the roof making it unaffordable for most artists. Many were forced to flee to less desirable conservative states for affordable housing. One can only hope that those places have, in turn, become enriched by those immigrant, artistic, free spirits, just as San Francisco did a long time ago.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 month ago

Hold on, the cause of homelessness is not drug addiction and mental illness, it is the lack of accommodation which sufferers from those can afford; i.e. it is poverty that causes homelessness (overwhelmingly), it’s the causes of the poverty which need to be addressed, not moving people on constantly which solves nothing. I have read enough anecdotal stories of Americans reduced to living in their cars purely by lack of money to know that bad luck and the paucity of the welfare state are important factors.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

No. The anecdotal hard luck stories pale in comparison to the addicts, the mentally ill, and the class that actively chooses life on the streets. I know some people choose it because, in a former life, I had contact with a police dept that had a couple of officers who did routine welfare checks on homeless people. My former boss’ son chose to live that way, until he had enough and cleaned himself up.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Knowing a couple of people doesn’t make you an authority on the subject.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Did you ever get around to combing your hair?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Is Don Rickles your spirit guide?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Funny, thanks for that.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony Price

When one becomes addicted, all available resources tend to get allocated to drugs. That leaves no funds left for rent and food etc. When you get evicted for non payment, and your own family refuses to let you stay with them again, for obvious reasons and prior experience, you end up homeless.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

That’s a pretty common tale. But in California there are many homeless people who are working and not abusing any substance–at least at first. I acknowledge that many unravel their own lives and place themselves beyond meaningful help–at least for the time being–often through a combination of addiction and mental troubles. Yet many can return to sanity (or “normal-range insanity”) with temporary extra help.
I suggest a program of three free (or welfare-adjusted) months inside a very basic form of public housing, with minimal conditions like: no sustained shouting, no being a public addict, don’t damage the property. After that, more contribution to rent would be expected for another 6 to 9 months, with standards for some combination of work, treatment, education, or training built in. When that term expires, many could move into an independent or at least less-dependent situation, one hopes. I think they’re gonna try something like that in San Jose, where I live. Seems worth a try. The current “model” (more like chaotic failure) carries a huge monetary and social cost of its own.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

That sounds like a sensible hypothesis to test, and if San Jose does that and has success, I would hope that it gets replicated elsewhere.
One size does not fit all. The unhoused population has diverse contributing causes. I suspect that a certain fraction would do well with the program you suggest – whether it’s 20% or 60%. The “just down on their luck temporarily” subset might thrive.
Alas, I believe that the most problematic cases, the ones that cause neighbors to complain and demand relief, will also be the least responsive. So any program like that has to have a plan for how to deal with the ones who do not become productive citizens through it’s interventions, or the most problematic cases will still remain on the streets, and will still be causing trouble.
I’m not saying that makes your proposal worthless – helping the ones who can be helped is a very positive outcome! Just that it must also address the problem of those who do not respond well, or the political pressure to do more will not abate.
The other problem is that in very expensive areas, unless housing and the cost of living can be dramatically reduced, it’s very hard to afford to pay your own rent without a high skill job. So even for somebody who is willing and able to work and pay rent and avoid addiction and has no mental illness, but doesn’t have the skills to hold down a high paying job – it may be near impossible to afford to live there. As a gainfully employed person of many years, with some useful skills, I could not afford to live in San Francisco. If I tried, I’d be homeless. So I live elsewhere, and I can pay my bills. What I’m getting at is that some expensive cities can only maintain certain economically marginalized people as residents by heavily subsidizing them, EVEN IF they are willing and able to work. And there is going to be a limit on how many people they want to subsidize.
So your program might also want to also support helping the trained (and perhaps rehab’d) graduates live somewhere they can afford, if they don’t have enough skills to pay their way in the city (and the city subsidized residency programs are full).

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

Excellent thoughts. I don’t have time to give a proper reply at the moment but I appreciate all that you’ve said. I’ll try to respond at greater length and depth soon.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Wait until you get back to work so you can do it on government time.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Another hack-comedian cheap shot.
It’s hard to read character in typed characters, but you come across as one mean S O B, which perhaps you’ll take as a compliment. You definitely seem quite proud of yourself, for wrong reasons.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

One wonders what your hatred is all about.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

A j Mac’s suggestion might also work well as a kind of triage. Those who don’t respond positively – because they are either really ill or just criminal – could then be put in hospital or jail.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

When did “unhoused” replace “homeless” as the euphemism de jur? My guess is “roofless” will be next.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

About 5 years ago. I normally don’t use it in reference to people who are “domicile challenged” or whatever euphemism we might pick.
I think “unsheltered” makes some sense because it refers to the subset of homeless folks who are sleeping rough.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I think I know who you are now. You are an actual standup comedian, and a pretty mediocre one at that. Right?
If so, I’m way funnier than you, in addition to being less dumb than you. I respect the fact that you can stand on stage and try to deliver but you’re a childish, simplistic hack. No wonder most of your posts sound like lowbrow comedy!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I don’t think they are any form of comedy.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

It’s mostly insult humor.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I don’t find it humorous.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

Well here in SJ the mayor is trying to pass and move ahead with legislation that allows for quick-build “long term temporary” dwellings that are comparatively cheap and not regulated to the gills because they are “temporary”. Then rules against sleeping in parks, creeks, vehicles or other “non houses” will be enforced. With a big “safe park lot” for the in-car homeless. That’s the plan*.
So some people could live there for a few years and after a time possibly upgrade to regular places, rent-subsidized or not. But I agree that the urban centers are too expensive for many, and that can’t be fully or quickly changed. People would need to be skillfully re-located to relatively non-exorbitant places like…I was gonna say East Palo Alto but even that’s very expensive now.
And I completely agree that some can’t be helped much, especially without some major increase in their own will to change. That would basically require, for many, an inner transformation or spiritual conversion experience. That kind of thing, of course, can’t be legislated or successfully faked for very long.
I’d estimate that the number of currently reachable individuals is somewhere near the middle of your 20-60% range. Let’s say it’s one-third: that would be a huge societal and human harm reduction. And maybe some of the rehabilitated minority would give back and help some of their still-outdoor neighbors. Wishful thinking, I admit. But not impossible, I don’t believe.
*The budget for this plan was just approved. So we’ll see.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

San Jose is a very desirable place to live, much more so than San Francisco. A much better climate for one thing.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

You don’t like wind and fog? I thought you were English!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

A well-thought-out response.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

Give me a break. California has spent years pretending to address homelessness through a variety of programs at great public expense. The result has been to create even more homelessness. A cynic would think that perhaps that is the intention. Because that’s how activists operate. They have no interest in resolving issues, just in perpetuating them, because the perpetuation gives them a platform and an income. If homelessness was resolved, what would they for a living tomorrow?
Don’t blame “vanlords” for a problem that govt created. The need to scapegoat people who had nothing to do with creating the underlying problem is disingenuous and intellectually lazy. These areas have seen more street people because they’ve allowed it to occur. They continually erect barriers to preventing it from happening. Most of the homeless are what they are due to insufficient housing. They are what they are because they are drunks and junkies, they have chosen that life – and yes, some people actively choose to live on the streets, or they are mentally ill.
That last group deserves our sympathy. Those are the people failed by society, but you can’t have it both ways with them, either. We take a dim view of institutionalizing people against their will, but regarding them as feral creatures is not helping anyone. Not them, not the rest of the community.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There is a huge overlap between addicts/drunks and people with mental illness. I agree that the most chronic population needs to have some of their choices removed: no more long-term public unravelling or wallowing. Or much less of it anyway.
But the part about runaway housing costs and rent-gouging is valid. There are junkies and lunatics in every American city–not that we Yanks have a monopoly on them–but areas without exorbitant rents don’t see as many of them wandering their streets in a stupor or volatile haze, nor clogging their parks and waterways. And many down-and-seemingly-outers have worked before and can do so again. But the recovery numbers for people who end up spending years homeless are far worse than for those who lounge-roughing it on sidewalks or in derelict vehicles for around six months or less; there’s some pretty solid data on that difference according to duration.
I know whereof I speak (not that you don’t) because I live, in effect, at the corner of Gentrified and Homeless in San Jose, maybe 45 minutes from Feeney. I talk with many of the (many) tenuously housed or unsheltered people that populate my neighborhood, when they are not asleep in public or having arguments with themselves (and occasionally even then). I was also once homeless myself, for a few months about 20 years ago. I think that makes it easier for me to see more of these people as my neighbors than many do. And a sizable minority are fit to be sent to forced treatment or incarceration, at least for an extended “timeout”.
However, most will be released back “into the wild” of our streets at some point, and we’d damn well better offer more and better options for housing, work, training, and education than we currently do for the appalling, inexcusable number of people who’ve fallen through the cracks of our brittle society. None of that means that you ought be permitted to be a public bum who uses drugs openly or never bathes, let alone one who menaces people, steals, or commits actual violence.
I strongly believe that more of the down-and-out or dropped-out or spaced-out among us can return to some version of decent citizenship, with a little more productive, conscientious help–less indulgence, less condemnation.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thank you for that thoughtful response. Of course, the question still remains what’s to be done.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Very much so. I wish I truly knew.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

In my life one or another person has sometimes said to me “what right have you got to have ..that..” whatever it is. And I’ve never yet replied to them,because I f*****g worked my ass off when I was younger,because I pay my rent,that’s why I’m not homeless (seeing as no man who doesn’t like me has ever bought me a house – the comedy definition of marriage – find a woman you dont like and buy her a house) because I walk two miles with a shopping trolley and schlepp food items back to my home. Because I make all sorts of useful things. Whats your problem with all that. If I gave in to mind weakness and couldn’t compute my finances and by careful juggling pay all my bills you’d show no sympathy for ME whatever. You’re envious and jealous because youre the COOL ONE yet I’m.the one with the stuff.Because one way or another I worked for it and paid for it but you think life should just bestow in on you and you’re too lazy and stupid to get it for yourself.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

Ouch!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

OMG! What a nasty, cynical, simplistic way of viewing a complex problem. What would you do to resolve the problem? Please explain.

T Redd
T Redd
1 month ago

Good article, but as Bill Mahr’s book explains the reason for no housing in CA and in most of these loser cities is red tap. Look at the free toilet for SF that a builder tried to do- with all the red tape and fees it was 1.7M…CA and other glossy cities are full of red tape and grafters that wanna get a piece of the action…14% of our country works for govt so red tape is their job. It is why we do not run pipeline from water rich areas to the west – red tape. Why out CA high speed rail went nowhere. Why Boston’s tunnels took how many years and how many people got a slice of that pie? Read Bill Mahr’s new book and do not eat almonds that CA grows – 1900 gals of water per plant for a few almonds…and it is only 2% of the States money but eats most of its water….est. Saudi’s own that land and cut the deals….. Sell CA to Mexico and relocate a few high tech shops….When MX gets CA then iPhones will be cheaper …

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Not mentioned in this article is the impact that rent control, a favorite of liberal leaning cities, has on the supply of housing. Clearly this issue is multifactorial, but as Shellenberger has pointed out the American version of ‘harm reduction’ doesn’t square with the European version that provides for housing while requiring both addiction treatment and job training.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
1 month ago

“Given a choice between “no new housing” and “new housing someone might make a profit on” they consistently choose “no new housing”.
I congratulate you on seeing the actual problem. It must be legal to build housing which people can actually afford.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Talia Perkins

I congratulate you on having at least one compliment to give, Talia. This could be a sort of breakthrough for you. 😉

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

Back in the ’70s, Mayor Joe Alioto took advantage of a newspaper strike (they were mildly left then, not totally woke like today) to have the police sweep the Haight-Ashbury streets free of the barefoot Flower Power bums. Some were bused down the Peninsula to the fury of the cities there and others simply told not to come back if they knew what was good for them. It worked amazingly well until he was replaced by George Mosconi, who was farther left and attracted to black prostitutes beaten up afterward to relieve his Catholic guilt. Then he got murdered in office by an ex-cop and it’s been downhill ever since for the city where the cable cars climb halfway to the stars.

Paul Rodolf
Paul Rodolf
1 month ago

I believe the NGO’s involved in the “unhoused” crisis exist not out of a sense of compassion for the people they purport to serve but simply because the money is just too good to see the problem solved.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul Rodolf

All those charities are money magnets and most of it goes in back pockets. They have NO INCENTIVE to end or cure homelessness or dereliction do they,think about it.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul Rodolf

They are vultures.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul Rodolf

Being “not for profit” can mean they are not trying to make money for shareholders, but a not-for-profit can sometimes be very interested in paying themselves – the executives and employees. In other words, not serving shareholders is not always the same as primarily serving the public good.

William Brand
William Brand
1 month ago

Many cities have a servant problem. Too many rich people drive up housing costs. The working class that services them cannot afford to live nearby. Either they have a 2-hour commute that clogs the roads, or they build tents on the sidewalks. These tent cities attract human vermin such as drug users. Such cities need to build apartments for respectable workers. The cheapest solution is to remove the rule requiring all apartments to have a window. This causes high rise buildings to maximize surface area instead of volume which raises the cost of apartments. High rise buildings should be shaped like cylinders or cubes rather than dominoes. A major cost of building apartments results. Use of poor doors, restricted elevators and corridors as well as restricted parking floors can separate social classes and provide cheap interior apartments as well as expensive ones on the buildings surface. Servant problem solved.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  William Brand

Is this sarcasm?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr E C

I believe it’s satire, of a pretty arch and nuanced kind.
I sure hope it’s not nostalgia for servant’s quarters, tradesmen’s entrances, or workhouses (that were often de facto deathhouses).

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You were expected to pull your own weight back then. Not a bad way to look at things.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

The good old days, pre child labor laws and Emancipation Proclamation?
It’s not a bad way to look at things unless you think you (the general “you”) can throw your weight around in gold and silver, to the detriment of neighbors who have their own human weight and burdens to carry, not all of which show in their faces, work history, or bank statements.
Or, for a more specific example, if you oppose welfare programs in principle–putting aside for the moment their always imperfect and often bad implementation–but are generally fine with what might be called corporate welfare, or with Big Industry disregard for the state of the air, water, and soil.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No, not that far back. Be reasonable unless you are a welfare hustler or work in the field.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Man, I’m plenty reasonable*. Try not to resort to your bumper-sticker logic and hack-comedian put downs. You’re the one who elsewhere seemed to endorse Ford’s braindead slogan “History is bunk” and then just now came back in defense of the good ol’ workhouse days (mid-19th century), at least indirectly. Then again, who can tell where your half-serious, get-off-my-lawn nostalgia ends and something more sincere begins?
Admittedly, some of your cracks are funny but they mostly seem cheap and mean**.
*Most of the time
**I’m not above cheap shots and mean swipes either, as you might have noticed

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You never said what side of the dole you’re on, recipient or handing out at the front counter.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I’m off the dole now and slightly underemployed as a tutor in the “3 Rs”, mostly readin’ and ‘ritin’ but some ‘rithmetic too.
What is it that you do, old man?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Nice to, finally, know what you do!

K Tsmitz
K Tsmitz
1 month ago

“The other part of the story is familiar to anyone who follows these issues: failure to build additional housing to meet the new demand. This, in turn, is largely a story of incumbent homeowners and their elected representatives using zoning, environmental, architectural and other pretexts and regulatory means to block new housing, especially multi-family housing, and thereby protect the inflated values of existing homes (like mine).”
As a card-carrying NIMBY, I can assure you that the inflated value of my property is of secondary concern. The quality of living for my family is of primary concern, and multi-unit low-income infill projects do nothing to maintain or improve upon the safety, access to goods and services, sense of community, or pleasurable aesthetic of my neighborhood.
We need to stop talking about the supply-side of housing. It is time to move upstream and figure out how to manage the demand-side.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

This is a good article, The problems are systemic. Homessness is not even half of this deep problem. The rest is young working people who cant afford to start family. Not as obvious as homelessness but more tragic really. My sympathies are with them….the problem is housing has been monitised. The “free market” belongs to those with access to relatively cheap capital. Its not free in other words. We really need to move beyond kneejerk rightist positions and go a bit deeper here

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Right, throw more tax money at the problem. Never fails to fail as NHS proves.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Jerry: What do you propose beyond shaming people for their shortcomings and misfortunes?
Putting people in asylums and jails carries a huge price tag too.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Well said. Did you read Thomas Fazi’s recent article here: “Karl Polanyi’s Failed Revolution”? I just got the source text, Polanyi’s 1944 work The Great Transformation, which argues that a Free Market is not only a recent, but an essentially fictional notion. To the extent that markets have ever had brief periods of almost no restraint, the results have been horrific for society, as bad as almost any protectionist strictures, Left or Right. Wages cannot be raised enough to offset the exploitation and squalor that is quite certain to follow when basic limits on human greed and socioeconomic self-interest are removed.
I hope you’ll consider changing your screenname to something less generic, to distinguish you from the indefinite number of UnHerd Readers who often post on the same article.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

There is no (absolutely) free market. There is no (absolutely) democratic nation. There is no (absolutely) just legal system. No place is (absolutely) egalitarian. There is no (absolute) generosity, or objectivity.
That inability to reach perfection doesn’t mean that there are not locations which are higher and lower in each of those attributes. It’s a scale, not a binary alternative. The optimum place on such a scale may not be at either extreme.
I suspect that markets can be both over or under regulated. The interesting discussion is about the proper level, not about whether absolute freedom is possible or desirable.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

Agreed*.
*The originality and value of Polanyi’s argument can’t really be summed up with any justice. And I’m still reading the book in question, while contending with my minimal understanding of the so-called dismal science of economics–I’m more of a history, biography. literature, and music guy.
But his central argument is that there was no such thing, even in concept, as a Free Market until about 1834. And that the hocus-pocus faith that many place–and did even in 1944–in its supposed self-regulating powers is badly misplaced.
And that some of the bad overreactions of the Marx and M usollini variety were occasioned by the hideous disruptions of runaway Industry and Capital.

G M
G M
1 month ago

Drug addiction and mental illness are major factors in homelessness.

The addicted care more about getting their next ‘fix’ than about trying to get a home.

The mentally ill don’t have the mental acuity to know how to get a home.

The solution for the drug addicted is to give them a choice – to jail or to drug rehab.

For the mentally ill they should be forced into care facilties, off the street, and be given care to treat their mental illness.

Living on the street should not be an option.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  G M

Try to get care if you’re mentally ill. Impossible.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Do you mean free care or any care even if you or your insurance can pay?
Who is in political control of the locations where mental illness help is not available? Is that characterization true for locations under both parties? What’s your explanation of why?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

Nothing is free. Mental health care facilities that insurance pays for have long waiting lists.

Thor Albro
Thor Albro
1 month ago

What nonsense. Sleeping in a ditch is not a rational response to your rent going up, any more than killing yourself is a rational response to losing your job. We correctly identify suicides as a sign of clinical psychosis, not an indictment of capitalism. For the .01% of the population who CHOSE to life on the streets (however deranged that choice might be) there are dozens of reasons to look at before we get to that tired, neo-socialist, cop out of “housing costs”.
Hell, I can’t even afford to live in downtown SF! But I didn’t move into a tent in the Tenderloin. An hour almost any direction from these hotspots of “homelessness” will find you housing for half the cost. It’s not like these sad folks are employed. So move to a little town with cheap rents. Oh, but you won’t find a corp of activists to enable your dysfunctional existence. So you head downtown for the Progressive amenities…

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Thor Albro

Rubbish.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Please explain, Clare?
His hypotheses seem to be (attempting not to straw man them):
For the tiny portion of the population that he believes choose to live on the street, there are many other explanations beyond “housing costs”. One might agree or disagree and could describe why.He believes that people who choose to live in an expensive location where 90-95% of the working population could not afford to live, choose to do so in order to benefit from the progressive inclination to support their lifestyle. Again, you could agree or disagree and say why.
I’m considering these hypotheses with a mixture of open mindedness and skepticism. Reasoning and evidence are much appreciated. Just calling it rubbish is entirely unhelpful to rational assessment. I suspect you could do better.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

To be fair, his own comment begins “what nonsense”. And he speaks in “tribal” shorthand (“corp of activists”, “Progressive amenities”) to a favorably disposed commentariat. There is some validity to much of what Thor says, sure, but it’s also mean and reductive. I’m curious: Given your intelligence and fairmindedness, why do you seem exclusively to go after moderate and left of center comments?
Also, I’ve never see you commit to a single viewpoint of your own.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

An hour in any direction will not find you affordable housing in the Bay Area.

Thor Albro
Thor Albro
26 days ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

It will in Seattle.

c donnellan
c donnellan
1 month ago

‘Vanlords’ and landlords are both bloodsucking parasites. Yes, the chronic mentally ill and addicts should be removed from the streets and institutionalized. American citizens down on their luck should receive assistance and temporary housing (or subsidies), if necessary. Illegal immigrants should be deported. Zoning laws should be significantly changed to build more affordable or mixed use housing. We need to revive boarding houses and affordable residential hotels for single working adults. All the above policies will largely end homelessness in the United States.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  c donnellan

The left-wing American Civil Liberties Union put an end to mental institutions by filing lawsuits throughout the country that claimed this was “warehousing” people. They were closed and the crazies turned out to lives of sleeping rough, drunkeness, and death by overdose .

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Too true, though the ACLU was far from solely responsible for that. Some of it came from a Reaganite small government or radical libertarian place too. And there were routine, horrific abuses in the State Hospitals.
I think we need a middle path: forced treatment or jail for profoundly publicly-insane or publicly-addicted vagabonds and loiterers, but not a return to the “separate ’em from society and throw away the key” approach of the 50s and 60s.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Hospitals for the mentally ill are the best place to ensure treatment. I can’t understand why these would be shut down in a civilised society. Close the ones that aren’t working and throw the book at abusers. But don’t throw the baby out on the street…

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr E C

I don’t disagree with that as stated. But there was widespread felonious mistreatment, like snap-of-the-fingers lobotomies for misbehaving children or temporarily unhinged adults.
Also, not every public loudmouth is crazy in a bad way. Ask Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

What era are we talking about here? Sounds horrendous but surely better surveillance & oversight would combat this.

The trouble with encountering a ‘public loudmouth’ is not knowing if they’re going to be sweet or stabby- the risk of the latter being so critical it’s enough to put some people off using public services / going out altogether. From what little I’ve read about him, Jesus didn’t walk around covered in his own faeces & reeking of alcohol…

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr E C

The 1940s through 1960s, right up through the the too-quick and too-widespread closures. Forced psychosurgery and no-consent electro-convulsive “therapy”, plus savage filth, poor food, and rampant sexual abuse also prevailed in many places.
Of course not when it comes to Jesus, though John the Baptist was a bit closer to that: clothed in wild hairy robes eating only locusts and wild honey; he preached baptism so perhaps he took his “own medicine” frequently and did not stink. Of the two, Jesus drank alcohol and John did not; some called Jesus a “drunkard” or “winebibber” (in the KJV).
I agree that raving lunatics or totally-bent substance abusers–given that they can’t keep it semi-discreet or indoors–often should be forced into treatment. But there is the danger of erring on the side of locking up inconvenient people who commit no crime (or very petty ones, like “vagrancy”), for being weird or outspoken in a way that some want to call madness. And of very uneven enforcement according to socioeconomic factors and demographics: like a poor, uneducated Native American vs. some WASP-type who is slummin’ it. Some people have a very punitive “order at all costs” mindset and should not be in charge of such decisions. Likewise with those who think raging public insanity is a “lifestyle”.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Not true. It was Reagan.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

The court-ordered deinstitutionalization began under Democrats years before Reagan was governor, continued during his term, and then continued for decades under complete Democratic domination of California government. And meanwhile, the courts were ordering the 49 states who did not have Reagan as governor to do the same thing. (This was before he later became president, if you check the history and dates). As president, he didn’t force any state institutions (of those left by then) to close.
I was around then and voted against Reagan for many other reasons, but as I’ve researched the issue, Reagan played a very local and minor role in a much larger deinstitutionalization movement. If it had been significantly due to Reagan’s actions half a century ago, that would have been fixed by Democrats nearly that long ago, but instead it has gotten worse. Trying to scapegoat Reagan is just a way to divert attention from the real causes, but it also means we don’t address the real causes and the problem just gets worse.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

You continue to impress on this Saturday!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  c donnellan

Oh right, just like that!

c donnellan
c donnellan
1 month ago

Another fun fact; the actual numbers of homeless are vastly undercounted officially. In areas with high amounts of homelessness, such as California, New York, Florida, PNW, only those visibly homeless or clients of shelters/non-profits are counted as such while the hundreds of thousands of people residing in cheap hotels, in their vehicles, or ‘couch surfing’ are not included in such homeless census estimates.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  c donnellan

The official statements say pretty much that, it’s not news. It’s one of the reasons they distinguish between “homeless” and “shelterless”. The sheltered yet homeless population may be in a public shelter, or couch surfing/staying with a relative for a while.
A good portion (don’t have the figures at my fingertips) of San Francisco’s billion bucks a year to combat homelessness, goes to rent subsidies to prevent people from becoming homeless – a proactive approach.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

I’d like to laugh at this, given how wittily written it is and how well it lampoons the astonishing delusional incompetence of policymakers and activists that forms the basis for the western housing crisis, but really it’s such a tragedy that I can’t.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago

But we DO punish people ,some people for what they ARE,not what they do. We punish UGLY PEOPLE by EXCLUDING them. We exclude them from friendship and thus,apart from any emotional issues and loneliness issues we cut them off from all the informal network of information about life,what is going on in the neighbourhood,how to live basically. We further exclude them from relationships,not only friend but the sort of sexual relationship that after 50 years has grown into.a deep and supportive mutual understanding and hell,just someone to talk to and make bitchy remarks about stuff on the radio to Of course we thus exclude them from employment because who wants that around the office.
Thus they are impecunious which is good as if they had money you might bump into them at your favourite dining place in The Marais in Paris,and suddenly Paris wouldnt seem so cool anymore!
But, maybe they worked hard at school,learned a lot,in academic terms and after a LOT of struggle have got a job. How’d ya deal with that? Well, simple,you.stress to them that academic success and exam passes are meaningless,there are more valid ways of being intelligent. You prefer stupid people who are kind and loving, especially if they’re female,18 and big bosomed. Ok dealt with that one. Now for the job
ITS NO BIG DEAL. Only very stupid people work hard.Because clever people like yourself,dont have to. It’s not ALL THAT having a job and earning money. You are actually stealing that job from someone who needs it more than you – and could do it better. And earning money is so 19th century. So as all doors remain resolutely closed to the UGLY PERSON they are still living with 80 year old Mum + Dad when aged 50. Aaw,bloody hell,no wonder theyre all on drink and drugs. I need a swig meself now.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

Please enclose a photo of yourself so we can assess the degree of the problem.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I confess that I like your mean wit better when it’s not pointed at me. I sense that there is something good about you, but that may be my bleeding-heart liberal conscience talkin’.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

One of my friends, who wrote a book on opportunity, makes the ugly argument. He sees himself as ugly and worries that you need some government services because of ugly bias. Unfortunately government isn’t immune to any bias people in general have.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

I wholeheartedly agree with that. There are some biases that are more acceptable to openly practice these days though including: ageism, anti-ugliness, and anti-rural-undereducated “whiteness”. Results may vary depending on where you live and your individual job, family, and media diet.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

To be clear, his objection is to my argument where I think technology could replace big government by appealing directly to people for socialized funds.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
29 days ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

I think that’s an ultra-libertarian pipe dream. The money would end up funneling into individual pockets the way it does with Bezos and Musk, on whom we’d then have to rely for very unlikely levels of altruism an charity. And into outright criminal and malevolent hands that would make you long for the good old days of big bad government.
I’m not saying that government waste, red tape, and needless interference can’t be eliminated (reduced at least) in many areas. Or that more individual funds shouldn’t be enlisted for various social purposes.
To be clear: I responded to you last time because of your rather condescending claim that you’d be my “interpreter”.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
28 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Give unto Caesar and all that. As long as they have to compete for their bill. And not to mention all of the rent seekers who big government has to buy off every election.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
26 days ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Okay. Fair enough.

Laurence Levin
Laurence Levin
1 month ago

I lived in SF for many years until I finally had enough and moved out. I have seen junkies shooting opiates directly into their veins causing their blood to scatter over the sidewalk, I have seen homeless taking their pants off and pooping in their underwear and onto the street. I even saved a junkie’s life by calling 911 when he was crawling on the sidewalk asking for help. I supported initial homeless policies that increased sales taxes but whose only impact was to increase the number of homeless, degrade their conditions and resulted in thousands dying from fentanyl.. In SF, they are now building super expensive apartments for the homeless to OD in instead of actually helping them. SF needs more housing (which progressive legislators oppose) but that won’t do much for the mentally ill.
We should help the people who can be helped. The people who are mentally ill should be put in places that can help them (I know asylums were often bad but living in a tent with your own poop is not good either). The people who do not want to be helped and just are druggies should not have the right to live where they want on someone else’s dime. If we are paying on keeping them alive we should have the right to not have them blight our cities and our families.

Christopher Theisen
Christopher Theisen
1 month ago

Honestly, as somebody who grew up in San Francisco and has watched homelessness metastasizing ever since the 1980s, this article struct me as very well balanced and a useful read. I sold my SF condo in 2004 and moved to New England. My wife and I earn a combined income of about $150,000 and we cannot find affordable housing in SF any longer. Popular cities like SF need to build higher density, higher multi-unit housing. Pointing out the weird pathology of private property owners is valid. If a developer threatens to create a building that creates a new shade footprint on the neighborhood, neighbors wail about property values going down. Be prepared to see a deeply progressIve homeowner who supports The Omni-cause turn into a rabid reactionary who will block all changes to zoning. I’ve seen this dynamic within my own family. It’s like watching a schizophrenic. Property is a bloodsport because it’s not just where your live, for most Americans it’s their single largest investment asset. It’s not an exaggeration to say most homeowners plan to sell their property at a profit in order to finance retirement or pass on a legacy to children and grandchildren.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago

I think the point is that people need help sometimes. Progressives think big government is the answer. If only you could tax enough to have a doctor nurse social worker and their support networks follow each individual around and assist where needed! Course we already have that on society. It called your neighbours. And if the “neighbours” have enough left in their pockets to help out, you can solve homelessness. Unfortunately the government spends it all where it is worst.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Those are some pretty broad generalities, but accurate enough as far as they go. But the notion among some libertarians and economic-ultra-conservatives that the private sector or local community always does it better or can do things alone seems badly misplaced to me. For-profit prisons and hospitals, for example, are a moral and social mistake. And I can think of many statements scarier than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”. For instance: “We’ve got a rope and a burning cross and the police can’t help you now; in fact, I’m the sheriff of this county”. In that little history-based scene I guess you could say the Law is part of the government–and of a l y n c h mob)– but someone needs to “police the law” too.
We’re gonna need roads, bridges and hospitals, plus emergency health services. The tax burdens in the U.S., odious as they can be, are not very high at all by world standards. But prices are, because there is too little regulation of business in many ways (I know it’s complex) including of rent and price-gouging, even in blue states.
And neighbors should absolutely both love and help one another; they can demonstrate their love or actual goodheartedness by helping and supporting their neighbors. (Practice what you preach, Christians and secular do-gooders alike!). Including, if possible, the one that lives in a van down by the river.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
28 days ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I agree people are scared of their neighbours and for good reason. But cutting them out doesn’t help. It’s like voting in a general election it’s a bunch of bad options, the only question is, which is least bad. And it’s not that the private sector does a good job. It’s that the job and the cost of it is up to the persons whose labour is paying for it. And by labour I mean actual labour and disbursements from socialized funds.