Housing, Not Handcuffs

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Yves here. This post makes a point which sadly seems to need to be repeated often: the US homelessness crisis is a housing crisis, as in a housing cost crisis. Cities and even itty bitty communities use to have single room occupancy hotels or boarding rooms, where low wage workers could rent a small room and have bathroom access. Boarding rooms often provided meals for an upcharge. Those have long ago been gobbled up by gentrification.

The point of departure for this article is a pending Supreme Court case, Grants Pass v. Johnson, which will decide whether criminalizing homelessness is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. In going through best estimates of housing insecurity, the story includes the near homeless, as in those who are camping out with friends or relatives. Keep in mind those unstable arrangements often fall through and a couch surfer may suddenly be on the street. That might be for only one night but under the planned anti-poor new normal, even a one-night vagrant could be arrested.

By Liz Theoharis and Shailly Gupta Barnes. Originally published at TomDispatch

On April 22nd, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case that focuses on whether unhoused — the term that has generally replaced “homeless” — people with no indoor shelter options can even pull a blanket around themselves outdoors without being subject to criminal punishment.

Before making its way to the Supreme Court on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court held that municipalities can’t punish involuntarily homeless people for merely living in the place where they are. This is exactly what the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, did when it outlawed resting or sleeping anywhere on public property with so much as a blanket to survive in cold weather, even when no beds in shelters were available. The law makes it impossible for unhoused residents to stay in Grants Pass, effectively forcing them to either move to another city or face endless rounds of punishment. In Grants Pass, the punishment starts with a $295 fine that, if unpaid, goes up to $500, and can escalate from there to criminal trespass charges, penalties of up to 30 days in jail, and a $1,250 fine.

The issue before the court is whether such a law violates the Eighth Amendment’s restrictions against cruel and unusual punishment. The city is asking the court to decide that the Eighth Amendment doesn’t impose any substantive limit on what can be criminalized, so long as the punishment itself isn’t considered cruel and unusual. If so, municipalities across the nation would be free to make involuntary homelessness unlawful.

In response, more than 40 amicus briefs with over 1,100 signatories were filed against the city’s case, representing millions of people concerned about or potentially affected by the far-reaching consequences of such a decision. The Kairos Center for Religions, Rights & Social Justice — to which the two authors of this piece belong — submitted one such brief together with more than a dozen religious denominations, historic houses of worship, and interfaith networks. Along with the 13 official signatories of that brief, many more clergy, faith leaders, and institutions support its core assertion: that the Grants Pass ordinance violates our interfaith tradition’s directives on the moral treatment of poor and unhoused people. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decision could dramatically criminalize poverty and homelessness nationwide, especially if cities near Grants Pass, in the state of Oregon, and across the country, put in place similar restrictions.

Sadly, such a scenario is anything but far-fetched, given not just this Supreme Court but all too much of this country. Since the early 2000s, our nation has regularly turned to policing and “law and order” responses to social crises. Often wielded against poor and low-income communities in the form of fines, fees, and risks of jail time, such threats are regularly backed up by police in full body armor, using tactical gear and, in this century so far, hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment transferred directly from the Pentagon to thousands of police departments nationwide.

All of this has made the possibility of using violence and brute force more likely in relation to many situations, including the world of the unhoused. Most recently, of course, militarized police have swarmed campuses to help quell largely peaceful student protests over the war on Gaza. Consider it anything but ironic that when Northeastern University students were arrested for their Gaza encampment, they were taken to the same facilities where unhoused people were being processed during homeless encampment sweeps, as local contacts in Boston have told us.

Poverty and Housing Insecurity

The homelessness and housing crises unfolding today reflect a broader national crisis of economic insecurity. In 2023, after all, approximately 135 million people or more than 40% of the nation, were considered poor or low-income and just one crisis away from becoming homeless. In a dramatic return to pre-pandemic conditions, this included 60% of Latinos (38.9 million), 59% of Native Americans (2.3 million), 55% of Blacks (22.5million), 36% of Asian people (8 million) and 32% of Whites (61.8 million).

Among those tens of millions of Americans, housing insecurity is alarmingly widespread. Before the pandemic, there were approximately 8 to 11 million people who were homeless or on the verge of becoming so, relying on a crumbling shelter system and a growing constellation of informal encampments on America’s streets, or trapped in a rotating series of sleeping places, including cars and couches, or doubled or tripled up in apartments. Worse yet, even those numbers were likely an underestimate: when the pandemic hit in 2020 and millions of people lost their jobs, 30 to 40 million people suddenly found themselves at risk of becoming homeless.

In a nation once known as “the home of the brave” and “the land of the free,” there are untold numbers of brave souls who are without homes or on the verge of homelessness. Today, there is not a single state or county where someone earning the federal minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment.

As reported this May, between 2019 and 2023, rents rose by more than 30% nationally. Despite a number of local and state increases in the minimum wage this year, a living wage adequate to cover housing and other basic needs would often have to be at least twice as high as what those hourly increases add up to. In California, where the minimum wage rose to $16 an hour, single parents would need to earn at least $47 an hour to meet their basic needs, whereas a household with two working adults and two children would need close to $50 an hour. In Alabama, where the minimum wage is just $7.25, a single parent would need an hourly wage more than four times as high to meet basic household needs.

This, of course, means that tens of millions of people of every race, age, and gender identity, in every state and county in the country, are facing multiple forms of deprivation daily and will do so for years to come.

Although the depths of this crisis are hard to fathom, it can be measured in death. In 2023, researchers from the University of California, Riverside, found that poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death nationally, claiming 183,000 of us in 2019. Their research also showed that cumulative or long-term poverty was associated with 295,000 deaths annually, or 800 deaths a day. During the pandemic crisis, poor and low-income counties experienced Covid death rates that were three to five times higher than wealthier counties, while the mortality rate among renters facing eviction was 2.6 times higher than that of the general population. Housing insecurity led to increased death by Covid and had negative health impacts more generally.

Underestimating the Crisis

The extent of the (un)housing crisis is so much greater than the systems and structures that exist to respond to it. In part, this is because, as with poverty, measures of housing insecurity generally underestimate the need at hand. The most commonly used reference point on housing is the point-in-time (PIT) homeless count. The “PIT count” includes both the number of the unhoused who are in shelters and a street count of unsheltered homeless people. However, it only deals with those it can reach and so literally count. It also leaves out some forms of homelessness, including the millions of people who are living “doubled up” or “tripled up” with friends, family members, or even strangers.

In the pre-pandemic years, the PIT count was often around half a million people, but didn’t include the 2.5-3.5 million people living in temporary homeless shelters, transitional housing centers, and informal encampments or tent cities, or the estimated seven million people who had lost their own homes and moved in with others. In other words, the PIT count was short by about 9 to 11 million people (and that was before the pandemic caused greater homelessness and housing insecurity).

Although grossly inadequate, the PIT count remains the measure used to allocate federal resources toward homelessness. Unfortunately, when a housing program is designed for tens or even hundreds of thousands rather than millions of people, it will fail. For this reason, housing organizers and advocates have for years been pushing alternatives and urging the consideration of housing solutions that could actually respond to this crisis at scale. The Housing First model is one of those solutions, prioritizing access to permanent and stable housing, alongside wraparound services for employment, recovery, and greater housing stability for those in need. The use of this model has been shown to result in higher rates of housing retention among previously unhoused people, with (not surprisingly) an improved quality of life as well.

In fact, some pandemic policies did temporarily (even if unintentionally) implement and expand on the Housing First model. They moved people into hotels or other available, unused rental units, stopping all evictions and foreclosures; distributed economic stimulus payments; and built up this country’s decrepit social welfare system by expanding unemployment insurance and food security programs, while issuing monthly payments to households with children. All of this did, in fact, prevent massive dislocations of millions of people between 2020 and 2022, while providing more housing and keeping at least 20 million people above the poverty line.

A common thread of these programs was that they prioritized financially vulnerable households over Wall Street, real estate tycoons, and corporate landlords. Years later, a majority of Americans continue to support many of these policies, which were put in place alongside breakthrough organizing among poor, unhoused, and housing-insecure people.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, unhoused people living in encampments also fought to become certified as “essential workers” so that they could get protective equipment for their community members. Around the same time, low-income housing organizers and tenant associations became acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of low-income tenants who couldn’t then afford to pay their rent and feed their families. Despite fears of eviction, rent strikes broke out in March and April 2020, as tenants decided to withhold their limited resources to ensure that they could provide food to their families. This happened weeks before the federal eviction moratorium was enacted. When it expired months later, communities blocked eviction hearings to make sure as many people as possible could stay in their homes.

Despite widespread support for a more robust right to housing, it didn’t take long for powerful interests to begin pushing back. The real estate industry spent upwards of $100 million lobbying against pandemic eviction moratoriums at both the federal and state levels. In 2022, the Cicero Institute created a template for state legislation that would criminalize unhoused people. That model legislation would have banned encampments on public land and diverted funds from Housing First programs to short-term shelter programs, while forcing unhoused people into state-run encampments. Versions of this bill have been introduced in half a dozen states and passed in Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.

Recently, in New York (where we live), Governor Kathy Hochul enacted a budget that prioritized the state’s wealthy residents over its poor and low-income ones. Not only did she refuse to increase taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and corporations, losing billions of dollars in new revenue, but her housing policies provided tax incentives to developers rather than focusing on creating stable housing for housing-insecure and homeless New Yorkers.

According to the New York Labor-Religion Coalition and the Housing Justice for All Coalition, at least 3.4 million tenants will be excluded from good-cause eviction protections, among them all upstate municipalities, while those who are eligible may not be able to exercise their rights unless they have adequate legal representation in housing court. That budget also rolls back rent-stabilization measures, making elderly tenants in particular more vulnerable to eviction, while failing to allocate a single dollar to move homeless New Yorkers into stable housing. And in all of this, New York is anything but out of the ordinary.

What You Do to the Least of These, You Do Unto Me

Although America’s political leadership is generally failing to respond to the need at hand, millennia of religious teachings have helped shape society’s views on our responsibility to care for, not punish, poor and unhoused people.

Indeed, there are over 2,000 Biblical passages that address poverty — most of them focusing on those made poor by a society that fails to provide for all our needs. As Jesus says to his followers in Matthew 25:

“[F]or I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then [the nations] also will answer, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you? Then [Jesus] will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

This responsibility rests not only on individuals, but those in positions of authority in society. As Isaiah 10:2 puts it: “Woe to those who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right.” Instead, Isaiah 3:15 instructs those who make the laws and issue decrees not to “grind the face[s] of the poor,” making their already difficult conditions worse. Such teachings are consistent not just with the Abrahamic tradition but other belief systems like Hinduism, which prioritizes non-violence and non-injury as a core moral responsibility.

A law like the one now before the Supreme Court in Grants Pass v. Johnson that would punish unhoused people for simply living departs from such moral wisdom in a radical fashion. As Justice Elena Kagan pointed out during oral arguments over the case, “For a homeless person who has no place to go, sleeping in public is kind of like breathing in public.” How true! If only four other justices would see the situation similarly.

Our faith traditions and constitutional values certainly should be clear enough that it is cruel and unusual punishment to treat the homeless the way Grants Pass wants to do. The court and the nation should respond to this moral crisis with care and compassion, with housing, not handcuffs.

May it be so.

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  1. JBird4049

    Considering that the minimum wage has been insufficient for renting even a room in an apartment for over thirty years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I ain’t holding my breath for reason or justice from the Supreme Court or any other government agencies. Considering how corrupt most, but not all, local NGOs, which often are subverted into quiescent, obedient sources of funding and influence for the local Democratic powerbrokers and politicians, sometimes it’s the other way around, or for the developers and property owners obscene rents, all the incentives are to keep the housing crisis going because it is so profitable.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Assessing and comparing homeless rates between countries is notoriously difficult because of differing definitions of what constitutes ‘homelessness’. Its also relatively easy to game the figures if needed – shoving people into inadequate temporary shelter, as one obvious example (a well known game in many European countries when its deemed politically necessary to pretend the problem is in hand). China has officially around 3 million homeless (which is small considering the population), but around 250 million people are outside the hukou system, which means they are usually living in dormitories of varying degrees of squalor. They are generally not ‘counted’ by local governments as officially they aren’t really where they are supposed to be. There are ongoing reforms to address this, although it remains to be seen whether it makes things better or worse for those caught within this system. Sometimes countries that try to maintain a baseline level of decency for homelessness become victims of their own well meaning policies as this often produces shortages – in contrast to countries happy to shove people into substandard housing in order to pretend they don’t have a problem. Its a complex issue, partially because while superficially its an easy problem to solve, in reality its highly complex and multifaceted. But just in producing raw numbers its a very easy problem to ‘solve’ simply by a few tweaks to definitions.

      Usually, the literature identifies the current countries with good practice and success in reducing homelessness as Finland, Denmark and Singapore. The latter, for a supposedly hyper capitalist country, has excellent housing for nearly everyone, apart from the shifting non-citizen labour, who live in some pretty basic dormitories (although from the one time I visited a few, they seemed clean and well run, although most people living in them were quite vocally bitter about their treatment relative to citizens). Japan has also been quite successful in dramatically lowering the homeless problems that they’ve had in the past, although its obviously much easier to do this when you have a huge drop in population.

      1. Mikel

        “Japan has also been quite successful in dramatically lowering the homeless problems that they’ve had in the past, although its obviously much easier to do this when you have a huge drop in population.”

        Something else to notice: so many reports about declining demographics in practically every corner of the globe.
        And to bring up immigration…it still doesn’t satisfy.
        It only makes sense – the widespread homelessness – in a systems were those considered workers/non-elite (or maybe rural, or uneducated, whatever the marker may be) are thought of like transients. Nobody is worried about housing amentities for cogs. Transient labor. Gig work.
        Actually, may need to stop insulting feudalism by comparing it to what is going on in the world today and the future. Some feudal lords may have given a rat’s ass for their serfs.

      2. Emma

        The migrant workers aren’t outside of the hukou system. They still have a hukou and a home in their home village or township. You can debate the inadequacy and inequality of the hukou system, as the Chinese have done for decades, but nobody is outside of it and villagers do have a baseline guarantee of land to build a house and ability to lease communal land for farming.

        n the same vein, they’re not exactly homeless, even if they might temporarily be unhoused if they run out of money away from home.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          If you move outside of your hukou, you are outside the system of basic benefits which, in China are almost entirely based on your home hukuo administrative unit. Hence, you are outside the system. That is definitional and the reason why tens of millions of Chinese find themselves with lesser rights than other citizens.

          And no, they don’t have a baseline guarantee of land to build a house, this depends on the maintenance of a birth hukou, which prevents them from seeking that status in the city they may have lived and worked in for decades, and raised their children in, putting millions of people in a catch 22 situation.

          I’m sure knowing they are not homeless is a huge comfort to the temporarily unhoused.

          1. Emma

            These people all have a right to return and claim benefits tied to their rural or township hukou. For the most part, their children and elderly continue to live in their home village/townships and have access to the social benefits like schooling, medical care, and access to local employment schemes, they are just not nearly as nice as what’s enjoyed be people holding Shanghai or Beijing hukou.

            Being temporarily unhoused (and this is a very small number, because there are efforts in place to buy people in such situations a ticket home and because migrant workers typically leave home in groups and have some social safety net in case they’re robbed or wage thefted) is very different from not having a home to return to. It’s the difference between living through a school shooting incident and living in Gaza. One is terribly traumatic and can have long term consequences, the other is unremitting and unending horror.

            1. CA

              “China has officially around 3 million homeless (which is small considering the population), but around 250 million people are outside the hukou system, which means they are usually living in dormitories of varying degrees of squalor…”

              This is nonsense and obviously intentionally offensive. Like whatever American scholar, referred to in a recent post, claiming the absence of a Chinese social welfare system that includes the aging and means aging in misery.

  2. Emma

    Housing is just a part of the ‘cost of everything’ crisis. The oligarchy now controls a sufficient part of the market to set prices on everything that the population needs to live decently – housing, childcare, healthcare, education, and since COVID even groceries and cars. And when someone falls through the cracks, it becomes another opportunity to profitably push them through the prison industrial complex, the debt escalation industrial complex, and the ‘help’ industry to enrich yet other parts of the oligarchy.

    You can’t fix this problem by just tinkering around the edges, especially since even timid small efforts will be pushed back by brutal IDF trained cops and utterly compromised politicians and judges. Everything has to come down and be rebuilt on sounder foundations, if we the majority are to even to have a chance.

  3. Michaelmas

    With the growth of the corporate prison labor industry in the US, it all makes sense.


    Private corporations are incentivized to lobby for policies that maximize prison populations in order to sustain a business model that is only profitable because they can exploit artificially deflated labor costs. Over 4,100 corporations profit from mass incarceration in the United States.



    While the United States represents about 4.2 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 20 percent of the world’s prisoners

    1. Captain Obvious

      It’s not about prison labor, as much as it is about regular one. It would be a Sword of Damocles hanging above every member of working class. If you complain about minimal wage you work for, you get fired and go to jail for being homeless.

      1. Michaelmas

        It’s not about prison labor, as much as it is about regular one.

        It’s about both, don’t fool yourself. Because ….

        If you complain about minimal wage … you get fired and go to jail for being homeless.

        And then get put to laboring for less than minimum wage. After all, prisoners should justify their upkeep and the costs they’re imposing upon the state.

        1. Captain Obvious

          It’s about both, don’t fool yourself. Because ….

          I never said that it’s not about both, don’t fool yourself. (I really hope you are not Feral Finster redux)

          Prison labor is suitable for some jobs, not for all. More importantly, slaves are much more useful when they have illusion of freedom, and illusion of choice.

  4. Jake

    Once again, the point of the case is being missed. This isn’t about punishing homeless people, it’s exactly the opposite. The current state let’s activists bring large numbers of drug addicts to a city, setup meth camps under every highway overpass, and then demands that the drug addicts be allowed to smoke meth, run in and out of traffic, attack people in their vehicles, attack homeless people and steal whatever little they have, and steal anything and everything from everywhere else. It’s not good for the homeless people and it’s not good for anyone else. And the constant screaming about how it’s cruel to expect people to keep up a very basic level of safety is strange. Camps need to be cleared. Dumping the homeless problem on the housed people in blue cities and then giving the real estate industry carte blanche to bulldoze everything in the name of density, expecting housing for poor people to magically appear is a formula for Republicans winning more elections. “Everything has to come down and be rebuilt on sounder foundations, if we the majority are to even to have a chance.” is the exact opposite of “Let’s create meth camps in blue cities and see if that helps.” It really starts to grate on you when you know the truth about this situation and have to listen to bleeding hearts cry foul when you point out that all they are doing is encouraging drug abuse and death.

    1. TomDority

      “The current state let’s activists bring large numbers of drug addicts to a city, setup meth camps under every highway overpass, and then demands that the drug addicts be allowed to smoke meth, run in and out of traffic, attack people in their vehicles, attack homeless people and steal whatever little they have, and steal anything and everything from everywhere else.”
      -let’s Activists- ?
      The one thing I am sure about is the first amendment’s freedom of speech needs to be protected at all costs.
      Without it….. one would never know what a person stands for… just saying.

      As was said prior to the Great Depression – Millions of homeless and millions of homes empty does not make a good economy

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      Camps need to be cleared” and their residents sent WHERE? That’s the key question.

      Because it’s not acceptable to clear a homeless camp and then simply state, “It’s illegal to sleep on public property or private property where you don’t have permission.” What are people supposed to do? Wander around without sleep until they somehow secure proper housing? This sounds like a recipe for severe sleep deprivation that would ultimately kill people. More dangerous than even drug addiction.

      Human beings require sleep. Even mentally ill drug addicts require sleep. Denying human beings sleep is not okay. The Geneva Convention considers sleep deprivation a form of torture.

      So what should be done? I can definitely see the wisdom of clearing out large encampments that have turned into highly-disruptive open-air drug markets, but then you must let the former residents sleep somewhere else. Possibly in several new (and smaller) encampments that are located in less populated areas where there would be less disruption to nearby residents and less access to drugs. And if there are homeless people who are committing crimes (like attacking people, stealing things, or selling drugs), then they should be arrested and thrown in jail, just like we’d do with non-homeless people who commit similar crimes.

      1. witters

        On homelessness and sleep: Jack London, “People of the Abyss” (a stunning read), 1903, London, Ch VI, ‘Frying-Pan Alley and A Glimpse of Inferno’:

        The shadow of Christ’s Church falls across Spitalfields Garden, and in the shadow of Christ’s Church, at three o’clock in the afternoon, I saw a sight I never wish to see again. There are no flowers in this garden, which is smaller than my own rose garden at home. Grass only grows here, and it is surrounded by a sharp-spiked iron fencing, as are all the parks of London Town, so that homeless men and women may not come in at night and sleep upon it.

        As we entered the garden, an old woman, between fifty and sixty, passed us, striding with sturdy intention if somewhat rickety action, with two bulky bundles, covered with sacking, slung fore and aft upon her. She was a woman tramp, a houseless soul, too independent to drag her failing carcass through the workhouse door. Like the snail, she carried her home with her. In the two sacking-covered bundles were her household goods, her wardrobe, linen, and dear feminine possessions.

        We went up the narrow gravelled walk. On the benches on either side arrayed a mass of miserable and distorted humanity, the sight of which would have impelled Doré to more diabolical flights of fancy than he ever succeeded in achieving. It was a welter of rags and filth, of all manner of loathsome skin diseases, open sores, bruises, grossness, indecency, leering monstrosities, and bestial faces. A chill, raw wind was blowing, and these creatures huddled there in their rags, sleeping for the most part, or trying to sleep. Here were a dozen women, ranging in age from twenty years to seventy. Next a babe, possibly of nine months, lying asleep, flat on the hard bench, with neither pillow nor covering, nor with any one looking after it. Next half-a-dozen men, sleeping bolt upright or leaning against one another in their sleep. In one place a family group, a child asleep in its sleeping mother’s arms, and the husband (or male mate) clumsily mending a dilapidated shoe. On another bench a woman trimming the frayed strips of her rags with a knife, and another woman, with thread and needle, sewing up rents. Adjoining, a man holding a sleeping woman in his arms. Farther on, a man, his clothing caked with gutter mud, asleep, with head in the lap of a woman, not more than twenty-five years old, and also asleep.

        It was this sleeping that puzzled me. Why were nine out of ten of them asleep or trying to sleep? But it was not till afterwards that I learned. It is a law of the powers that be that the homeless shall not sleep by night. On the pavement, by the portico of Christ’s Church, where the stone pillars rise toward the sky in a stately row, were whole rows of men lying asleep or drowsing, and all too deep sunk in torpor to rouse or be made curious by our intrusion.

    3. The Rev Kev

      I’ve got an idea. How about the government start offering permanent jobs with living wages to all those people that are homeless. i would bet that a lot of those camps would be mostly cleared out as most would want a chance to get their lives back again. Then those that are left are likely hard core addicts so then you treat it like a health issue rather than a prison issue. There would be far, far fewer homeless on the streets and maybe your taxes would be lower too as the NGOs that work this issue – kinda – would lose their lucrative contracts and would have to fold. Remember, there are a lot of organizations that financially benefit from having those homeless on the streets as was proven in California. They threw billions at this problem and it never got smaller. Strange that.

    4. Michaelmas

      Jake: Once again, the point of the case is being missed.

      Once again you’re choosing to miss the point.

      Forty years ago, all these homeless people weren’t present and there weren’t “large numbers of drug addicts in cities … (setting) up meth camps under every highway overpass … and steal(ing) anything and everything from everywhere else.”

      What changed was that US elites decided to replace industrial capitalism with financialized capitalism, which meant a policy of continually boosting capital gains on assets, primarily financial and real estate assets.

      For the minority of Americans who are asset holders to continue receiving the capital gains they’ve become used to, however, asset prices must be continually inflated and kept inflated. So now, forty years into this process, rents and mortgages are increasingly exceeding the abilities of Americans to pay them with the salaries they receive.

      Homelessness in the US could be ended tomorrow. It’s entirely artificial. Specifically —

      — Homelessness in the U.S. increased by 42.5% between 2018 and 2022. In terms of the number of people, this meant at least 582,642 people experienced homelessness nationwide on any single night.


      — Simultaneously, in 2021 there were over 15.6 million empty housing units

      Link to US Census Bureau – Housing Survey

      So all the homeless could theoretically be housed tomorrow. They won’t be. Because if they were, then the wealth structure in the US, based on absurdly extractive, artificially high real asset prices could no longer be justified, and US elites wouldn’t be so wealthy anymore.

      In the SF Bay Area — which I have now left because I’ve moved to London — there are single mothers with two kids and two jobs living in SUVs on the Oakland waterfront because they can’t afford rents there now. It’s insane and not sustainable.

      As for the drug-taking part, Jake, what do you think would happen to you after a year or two of having been thrown on the streets simply because this ever-smaller minority of wealthy Americans needs to continue the capital gains inflation, while knowing that things weren’t going to get better and you’d always be homeless? What do you think you would do when you realized that you were trapped in a US that’s a sh*thole kleptocracy run by stupid — stupid because, again, this clearly isn’t sustainable — psychopaths?

      You might want to get high, too.

    5. tegnost

      Dumping the homeless problem on the housed people in blue cities and then giving the real estate industry carte blanche to bulldoze everything in the name of density, expecting housing for poor people to magically appear

      poor housed people, such victims…much better to bulldoze all the cheap housing in big cities (thanks obama, see all those ubiquitous tower cranes? They’re not building cheap housing jake) and build high rises for wealthy dilettantes who pay more rent, many thousands per unit, which then sit half empty providing trump and his real estate buddies a nice offsetting tax loss on the building and/or become air bnb hotels for the dieattantes drinking buddies coming in on ubers/lyfts clogging traffic by said hotels as the precious yuppies can’t walk a block through the surrounding squalor left in the wake of developer friendly zirp policies which have wiped out most downtown areas. Expecting housing to “magically appear” is as hare brained as expecting the homeless to magically disappear. Oh and by the by it’s not meth anymore and hasn’t been for a long time, it’s fentanyl…the people who should be in jail are the sackler family and their pharma friends. Also jake, we have one party, the republican party, and it’s divided into a blue team and a red team both of which are far to the right of ronald reagan…remember if we lower house values to match the economic realtiy is anathema because if you took away their house value nothing would trickle down to the melting pot of the labor force. If you stop trickle down how will anyone have any money? Republicans? take that manichean nonsense and go camp somewhere.
      We can’t fix inequality because trump,
      we can’t lower medical costs because trump.
      we can’t stop genocide because trump
      we can’t stop ukraine because trump
      you can’t turn on your tv without hearing trumptrumptrumptrump which conveniently trumps every actual issue this useless mean spirited failed state faces. In the mean time the pmc siphons off every penny for themselves and pats themselves on the back for their commitment to social darwinism.
      It’s quite literally hopeless jake and it’s clearly going to get worse before it gets better, and given your strident attitude it won’t hurt my feelings if it takes you down with it.

    6. Albe Vado

      What actually happens when you camp clear is you just disburse them for a time. Nothing fundamentally changes. Especially if they’re in an area where there’s some distinction between different jurisdictions, like city and county, or city and suburb town. The camps will be cleared on the land of one jurisdiction and people just move a few hundred feet onto land run by someone else. A few months later they reverse the move.

      Camp clearing does nothing to address underlying causes, it just deludes homeowners and businesses into believing anything has changed because it shoves the problem out of sight for a while.

    7. JBird4049

      Jake, I think I get why this is your understanding. However, please do not forget that much of the problem with the homelessness issues especially the large camps is the end result of all levels of the government as well its allies in the nonprofit industry using the issue for funding, political power and patronage, and status.

      The whole crisis including the addiction and mental illness parts is manufactured.

  5. Christopher Smith

    I am a housing attorney for a legal aid organization in New York (upstate). The state loves to fund organizations like mine and tout the idea that every tenant in a landlord tenant case should have an attorney; but this covers up two big truths.

    (1) People need housing, not attorneys. We do not even have a capacity problem in Ithaca, there is plenty of housing and new high rises are being built as I write. However, the rent in these places is unaffordable for anyone working a regular job and usually too high to use a section 8 voucher. And yet, no matter how many units remain empty, the asking rent never goes down. you would think that rational landlords would prefer an income generating unit to a empty unit, but all evidence points in the opposite direction. Perhaps, instead of funding NGOs to assist people in their scramble to keep a roof over their head in these overpriced rentals, the city and county should build their own housing and rent it out at affordable rates. Don’t even means test – just let anyone move in, and if the demand is high build more. Pay for it in part by taxing the family blog out of every “luxury” high rise charging too much rent. Heck, make the property tax a function of the asking rent. Then add a vacancy tax for good measure. That would do more good than giving NGOs (including mine) more money.

    (2) Providing attorneys is of little value in most cases. Most cases I defend involve people unable to pay their rent – both their arrears and rent going forward. I hate to break it to everyone, but dumb procedural tricks only go so far in delaying an eviction. If someone cannot afford their rent, they will be evicted. If there is no affordable housing to move to, they will end up in a homeless camp. And that camp is nicer than much of our “shelter” system so I don’t want to hear expanding emergency shelter; family blog that noise.

    So yes, let the city and the county build more housing, rent kept affordable, and no means testing/all are welcome. And again, if too many middle class people are moving into municipal housing, then build more. From my 20 years experience, that will be the only solution that will work at this time and place. Do that, and then I can spend my time defending tenants who facing eviction for lease violations, and have bad conditions in their homes that their landlords (yes, including the municipal landlords) are obligated to fix. Give me that over gimmicks like rent control, good cause eviction, and assigned counsel.

    1. Emma

      I would say that luxury rental units can charge whatever they want but if the unit can’t book a tenant in 60 days, they must accept section 8 housing vouchers/pricing and non-compliance immediately opens them up to squatting.

      In the long run, the way forward is decent social housing (include public transit, walkable to schools and grocery stores) that’s acceptable for everyone. And we need to quit our addiction to big houses and big vehicles, and spending all our spare time and money maintaining all of it.

  6. eg

    This is the inevitable outcome of a system which prioritizes property over people. We are ruled by and for rentiers.

  7. HH

    The homeless are not a homogenous mass. A significant percentage of them are socially undesirable people: drug addicts, mentally disturbed, or just plain criminal. The difficulty of crafting compassionate and progressive social policies for the unhoused is tailoring the remedies to the different categories of these unfortunates. An intelligent set of policies would triage this population and treat them with the appropriate combination of subsidies, medical care, and, if necessary, relocation. Unfortunately, our current political leaders are incapable of formulating policies that don’t fit on an index card or bumper sticker.

    1. Albe Vado

      Since this is literally my job, I know firsthand that what you’re saying is utterly untrue, and I can only presume is an opinion arrived at by never actually talking to homeless people.

      1. tinbox

        What in particular was untrue? Are you saying that unhoused people are, in fact, a homogenous mass?

        I’m not seeing any solutions coming from the “professionals” on this topic…other than spend a ton of money on more professionals. Or build thousands of $600,000 homes for people who can’t pay $1,000/month…which doesn’t sound like a great idea to non-professionals.

        1. Albe Vado

          The untruth is the claim that a significant percentage are addicts or insane. They aren’t.

          The claims made in this comment also tell me you haven’t the slightest idea what the solutions on offer actually are. You aren’t seeing them because you’ve put zero effort into finding out about them. No one is building homes and buying them for the homeless. The housing first model centers around rental vouchers. Most people end up in apartments.

          1. Phil

            Roughly 55-65% of unhoused persons suffer from the diseases of mental illness and addiction. Some of those pathologies are caused by being unhoused, but many who end up unhoused suffered from those problems before they lost housing. Example: https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/homelessness/

            It’s also well known (talking California here) that larg homeless camps are sources of hard drugs within the camp and *without* the camp – bringing addicts from afar for a fix and if they don’t have the money they move into adjoining neighborhoods to pilfer cars, houses, etc. for enough money to obtain a fix. Source: homeless persons (many of them) I have spoken to. In fact, drug dealers in camps (not all of them) often intimidate and control the residents.

            There is a potential solution to this problem: bring in FEMA with HSS and triage those who are mentally ill or drug addicted (some people have both problems) into healthy settings. Creating re-entry skills in another possibility. Root out the drug dealers and the small (but significant) folks with anti-social personality disorder and treat them.

            One last thing. The Grants Pass case will criminalize homelessness *only* if a municipality chooses to go that far. I have seen amicus briefs submitted that describe the horrible conditions on the street.

            In the Bay Area (California) we have homeless “advocates” who do everything they can to tell unhoused persons *not* to accept a shelter spot; a hotel room, etc. The camps are ‘home’ to a a lot of the unhoused; they are all in the same boat and are (to a point) supportive to each other.

            Cities need to be able to break up the camps and move people to where the city wants them to settle, instead of RVs and tents plopped down all over town with garbage and needles and everything else that goes with it.

            What’s going to happen if cities can’t get a grip on this problem by directing unhoused persons to controlled spaces (not jail), is that people are going to get fed up and start electing hard right politicians that bring back far more punitive measures than we currently see.

            We need continuing and substantial FEDERAL help with this problem – and at the same time we need to be taxing the living daylights out of groups like AirBnB; private equity home rentiers; foreign citizens who park their money in the US – and, the billionaire class.

            1. Albe Vado

              Lies, damned lies, and statistics. The statistics of the point in time count will also claim homelessness in my county is going down. It isn’t. As many as we house, more new ones keep showing up.

    2. kareninca

      You are not describing the homeless people I know. Also, there have always been people with such problems, and residence hotels and boarding houses worked fine for them. Those have been zoned out of existence, and so there is no-where cheap for poor people to live. Compassion would consist of bringing such places back.

  8. Glen

    Homeless is the result of excessive housing costs, not a housing shortage. And the excessive housing costs (along with excessive healthcare, food, etc) are the logical outcome from moving from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism. Capitalists no longer invest in industry to make things, they buy everything you need to live everyday, and jack up the costs. The homeless crisis is just one part of the massive $hitberg we pretend is a real “economy” that floats where we can all see it.

    I’m glad we’re discussing how to fix this, and hopefully at least get away from the inane belief that this is a “this or that city” problem. It’s a nation wide problem, and it’s tied into the larger problems in our economy. I’m starting to feel like our country is being run like a giant game farm where citizens are treated like game raised to be harvested by fee paying rich people.

  9. kareninca

    When I first moved to San Francisco in 1984 I first stayed for a couple of nights in a youth hostel, and then for a couple of months in a residence hotel, and then got a $104/month tiny room (formerly a kitchen pantry) in a shared house. All that would be needed to solve the bulk of the homelessness problem would be to build (or redesign some current buildings to be) a bunch of residence hotels and boarding houses. It would be very, very, VERY easy. I realize there are redesign issues but if you want results you can do it. It appears that that our government doesn’t want to do this because it wants to terrorize and control people with the prospect of homelessness. I guess it could be stupidity, however; there is no shortage of stupidity.

  10. Offtrail

    Homelessness correlates to the cost of housing, not drug abuse. The following tables show that this is broadly true across the country.

    West Virginia has the most affordable housing, the highest rate of overdose deaths, and the sixth lowest rate of homelessness.

    Drug Overdose Mortality:

    Housing Affordability:

    Rates of Homelessness:

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