Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

I've always wondered about 'the homeless question' why - despite social policy that verges occasionally towards distinctly aggressive interference on all manner of things, despite walk-in clinics, subsidized housing, charities, and street ministries - do we still have homeless? More and more homeless every week?

This article indicates that the question of the homeless is more complex than it appears at first glance. Homelessness is, of course, one of those issues that attract a "Christian" response, usually as a variation of almsgiving: if the homeless have no homes, we should give them homes.

As the article below points out, this has been tried, and it has, at least in the case of the neighbourhood around Times Square in New York, failed miserably. Perhaps the lesson here is that, although it is good to provide for the poor, and you should give till it hurts, sometimes that is not enough. Maybe many of the poor, like our children, need our time, our love and our hands -- not just our money.

From 1992 to 1994, the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID), a coalition of business owners dedicated to the revival of New York's famed crossroads, funded an outreach program designed to coax the local homeless into housing.

[After a resounding lack of success] in 1994, the Times Square BID upped the ante.

...One year and $700,000 later, only two people had accepted housing - though not for workers' lack of trying. Over the year, the outreach workers had made 1,511 'contacts' with 206 individuals, but only 37 ... agreed to even visit the BID's respite centre, while a mere 15 condescended to stay overnight. The homeless. it appeared, did not really want housing, housing, housing.

....[The BID's report] To Reach The Homeless proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the homeless are not on the street because they can't find housing: Desperate to give away subsidized apartments, the BID found almost no takers. Clearly, most vagrant prefer the streets to the responsibility of a housed existence.

...Should society finally decide to end street vagrancy, it could go far in that direction by facilitating commitment to mental hospitals and enforcing existing laws against street living. Though the average householder would surely welcome such a change, the average householder has no say in these matters: A vocal minority purporting to represent the interests of the homeless governs homeless policy.

...Homelessness confirms for the advocates their dearest beliefs: that American capitalism is corrupt and cruel, that American society deals harshly with its rebels and nonconformists. Remove the homeless from the streets, and Exhibit A in the advocates brief against America also disappears. ...The advocates may see the homeless as martyrs to American injustice, or as free spirits marching to a different drummer, but by now most of the rest of us see them as confused souls, who, for more than a decade, have been marching to disaster - thanks to the policies designed by homeless advocates.

This vindication file item is exerpted from 'Harassing the homeless' by Heather Macdonald, published in The Ottawa Citizen, on Friday, 21 November, 1997. It in turn was adapted from a longer article by the same author in City Journal, a Wall Street Journal publication.

Editor's note, August 2017: Unfortunately there seems to be no online version of the article to link to at this time.

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