by Shane Smith
Last year, the City of Norman paid San Francisco-based nonprofit, Homebase, $100,000 for a plan to solve our homeless situation. A quick look at their website makes one wonder whether we got our money’s worth. They describe themselves thusly:
Homebase is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in our organization and the communities where we partner. Recognizing that homelessness is driven by systemic, intersectional inequities, we believe it is crucial as an organization to promote equity and anti-racism throughout our work.
The Homebase Board of Directors believes that equity and anti-racism are essential to creating innovative, transformative, strategic and practical solutions for people experiencing and at risk of homelessness. We acknowledge the profound historical and systemic barriers to stable housing that exist for many of our BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized neighbors.
Our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Homebase begins with providing equal access and fair opportunities for our existing and incoming staff, and we endorse and support our staff in their work to build community capacity to end homelessness, reduce poverty, and foster thriving, inclusive and equitable communities.”
While these are noble goals, this organization is clearly anything but objective. This is the loaded language of the far Left, and it’s hard to believe that they would produce anything approaching an objective assessment of our local problem, or proffer any real solutions. Was it really worth it to pay this organization $100,000, and would it be anything other than a fool’s errand to pursue their policy proposals?
Take their hometown of San Francisco. Is that city’s homeless problem anywhere close to being solved? Or are their policies making the problem worse? Far, far worse, it turns out. Despite spending close to $1 billion each year on the problem, homelessness has exploded in that city. The problem has gotten so bad that San Francisco has resorted to purchasing bus tickets for these homeless people and sending them on their way, far from the city.
This mirrors the experience of other cities that continue to spend increasing amounts on a problem that only gets bigger. You’d think more people would detect a patten here, and perhaps realize that the enormous amounts of money are making the problem worse by creating a magnet effect that draws more homeless to the city in search of benefits.
The root of the problem is traced to the “housing first” philosophy, more rigid ideology than data-driven solution, and one that forms the foundation of Homebase’s solutions. In essence, “housing first” refers to a policy of just building as many homes as deemed necessary for the currently homeless, regardless of personal history, criminal or otherwise. “If they’re homeless, just give them homes!” goes the logic. The magnet effect is created, word gets out, and homeless travel far and wide to reap the rewards. “Build it and they will come”, as Ward 3 councilmember Kelly Lynn often says in debates over the “housing first” boondoggle. Low-barrier housing brings criminals, and with it criminal activity.
This isn’t difficult to understand, but the debate surrounding the homelessness issue is mired in emotional manipulation and accusations of callousness. No, we aren’t callous, we are being realistic. We live in a world of cause and effect, and of limited resources. We must take into account how low-barrier housing would affect the residents of Norman. How much crime is acceptable? How many murders? A recent Norman Transcript article quotes Ward 7 councilmember Stephen Holman as saying,
Before we had this overnight shelter, we had two homeless people freeze to death on the sidewalk in downtown Norman, and that made the news, and I can assure you—that did not make the city of Norman look very good…Talk about a homicide, a single homicide that could’ve happened anywhere—to me, two homeless people freezing to death on a sidewalk in a city of this wealth is way worse of an image than a single homicide.”
At least one can give Holman credit for thinking in terms of tradeoffs, but this is an outrageous statement. How many murders should we tolerate as a community? Two extra per year? Four? How much property crime is acceptable in his mind?
For Norman, Homebase offers several “solutions” that could be pursued immediately: A year-round, low-barrier shelter, incentives for landlords to take in people who otherwise wouldn’t qualify as tenants, establishing single-room occupancy units, among others.
This would simply be a disaster.
Low-barrier shelters attract criminals. “Landlord incentives” create slumlords. Piles of money and services, while a temporary fix, only attract more homeless to the city offering them. “Subsidize something and you get more of it”. This is a stark reality. This doesn’t mean “do nothing”, but it also means not turning our current homelessness problem into a spiraling crisis, which is certainly where this fool’s errand would lead.