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Stossel: Bad Laws Worsen the Homeless Crisis

Politicians claim housing regulation helps the poor. In fact, it makes their lives much harder.

San Francisco is one of America's richest cities, yet it has a major problem with homelessness and crime. An average of 85 cars are broken into daily, yet fewer than 2 percent lead to arrests.

The homeless themselves are often harassed. "They run around and they shout at themselves," one man who usually sleeps on the streets told our crew. "They make it bad for people like us that hang out with a sign."

Since store owners can't rely on city cops for help, some have hired private police to patrol their stores. There used to be hundreds of these private cops citiwide—and then the city's police union complained. There are fewer than 10 left.

San Francisco's politicians have promised to help the homeless going back decades. In 1982, Mayor Dianne Feinstein bragged about creating "a thousands units right here in the Tenderloin." In 2002, Mayor Willie Brown said "you gotta do something about it." In 2008, Mayor Gavin Newsom boasted about moving "6,860 human beings off the street." In 2018, San Francisco passed a new local tax to help pay for homeless services.

Why have the results been so lackluster? One reason: San Francisco has the nation's highest rents.

Laura Foote runs the non-profit "YIMBY Action," which stands for "yes in my backyard." The organization promotes policies that encourage more housing construction as a way to bring down prices.

Many San Francisco residents object to this mission.

"I would hate it," one woman told John Stossel.

"I think it'd be really congested," said another.

"Let me build," said developer John Dennis. He spent years trying to get permission to replace a graffiti-covered, long-defunct meat-packing plant with a 60-unit building. He eventually got permission—but it took 4 years.

"And all that time, we're paying property taxes and we're paying for maintenance of the building," Dennis told Stossel.

"I'll never do another project here," he says.


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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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  • sarcasmic||

    I spent a half a year homeless. Employer went out of business the same month it was time to renew the lease. Out the door I went.

    In my experience there are three types of homeless.

    1) People like me who were there by circumstance, and working to change it.

    2) Mentally ill. Too fucked in the head to function in normal society.

    3) People who enjoyed the lifestyle. No strings. No roots. No responsibility. Living off charity.

    People in group 1 will get themselves out. They don't want to be there, so they will do something about it.

    People in group 2 need help.

    People in group 3 are assholes. Fuck them.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    What would you say the percentages were on those three groups?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    My personal estimation at this particular time is:

    1. 5-10% at most.
    2. 15-20% (I'd be willing to adjust that percentage higher if we're counting people with severe, debilitating drug addiction)
    3. ~70%.

  • sarcasmic||

    In my experience group 1 was probably higher than that, but less visible since the people were in that rut temporarily and didn't draw attention to themselves. Groups 2 and 3 are more visible because the people stay there.

    I think 2 would be more like 50%. There are a lot of crazies out there.

    So I'd put it at 25, 50, 25.

    But I'm talking Boulder CO in 1995. It's different wherever and whenever you go.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But I'm talking Boulder CO in 1995. It's different wherever and whenever you go.

    Exactly. If you'd have asked me the exact same question for Seattle in 1995, I'd have given about the same estimate as you. Long term homeless were generally chronic street drunks and the mentally ill. It was an entirely different picture in 1995.

    They didn't live in 'encampments', they slept in doorways and park benches, and many had shelter beds during the night where they'd go off to. The massive swathes of Nuveau Homeless we now see setting up entire tent cities which are packed with mountain bikes, weber grills and even impromptu property lines set up between tent areas is a different breakdown entirely. What's going on today in cities like San Francisco and Seattle is very different than what was going on in 1995 in these same cities.

  • some guy||

    The problem with group 2 is that there's no good way to help them without trampling their own agency. If you just give them stuff (money, food, housing, etc.) they will consume and destroy it immediately. They can't manage their own lives, much less a household. They aren't suddenly going to take their medicine and go to therapy just because you put them under a roof. If you apprehend them and force them to take their medicine and go to therapy and live in a halfway house or something then you're basically imprisoning them when they haven't committed a crime. It's a tough situation with no real solution. Some people are just crazy and if they don't have a friend or family member acting as a strong advocate, then they will end up on the street and no one else can change that.

    In principle I have no issue with group 3 as long as their charity really is charity and not obtained by government coercion (which, of course, most of it is).

  • Sevo||

    "...If you apprehend them and force them to take their medicine and go to therapy and live in a halfway house or something then you're basically imprisoning them when they haven't committed a crime..."

    The ACLU brought a halt to the practice when Reagan was CA Governor; he still gets blamed for 'emptying the insane asylums into the streets!'.
    One more lefty lie that cannot be put do death.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The problem with group 3 is they displace services for group 2. People capable of "navigating the system" will beat out the severely mentally ill every time. And they do.

  • sarcasmic||

    spot on

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    People in shelters (NYC anyway) have case managers assigned to them to help them navigate the system.
    People with a serious persistent mental illness (SPMI as it is called) generally get housing approval faster.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    People with a serious persistent mental illness (SPMI as it is called) generally get housing approval faster.

    If that particular homeless person is cooperating and working well with their case manager then I'd agree with that assessment. My ex-wife used to be in this business and the mentally ill are a very tricky population.

    If a shelter fills up with "homeless people"-- regardless of who's filling it, that shelter won't take any more people, mentally ill or not. I'd be willing to bet that perfectly employable people are pretty quick to reach out to shelters quick fast and in a hurry when conditions require.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Coberly stays at a nearby overnight shelter and frequently comes to the armory to stay warm. This is his third winter in Seattle, and he wasn't unnerved by the snow.

    "This is laughable as far as winter goes," said Coberly, who moved here in 2016 from the Midwest. "This is running around half-naked weather in Illinois. I can't believe people are such wimps about it."

    And once again, it's housing prices that make people homeless. Clyde moved to one of the most expensive cities in the country in 2016 to be homeless. Watch my sympathy meter drop to zero.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I'm not talking about the shelters, that's pretty easy to get into assuming there is space. If there isn't space, it doesn't matter how much you cooperate or not. That's a capacity issue.

    Working with your case manager will get you in some sort of housing which is not a shelter. Sure SPMI clients can be tricky and sometimes uncooperative.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's a tough situation with no real solution. Some people are just crazy and if they don't have a friend or family member acting as a strong advocate, then they will end up on the street and no one else can change that.

    Yep. Life's a bitch and then you die.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I would argue that anyone who has had a complete break with reality and could reasonably mount a legal insanity defense, were they accused of a serious crime, has no agency upon which to trample.

  • Linux||

    I fortunately was never homeless but I did volunteer work with a church in NYC that did homeless outreach, and your 3 groups ring true to me. The group 1 guys were the ones that would show up for a few meals and a shower and figure something out within 6 months (usually out of the overpriced city). Group 2 I always called on drugs or off their drugs. We didn't get much of group 3 because NYC is a harder environment to choose to be homeless, but we more had the people who would constantly screw up; not be able to hold down a job because they don't get told what to do.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    Actually, given the state of society and the stress of my job, I'd consider #3 to be an option.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    At this point, if you still live in Commiefornia you know that Socialism and crime will just get worse.

    San Francisco has always smelled like piss and shit but the wind usually blew it to East Bay. At this rate, there wont be a smell-free area of SF left.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    SF just cries out for martial law.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    No one can tell, Just for Men Gel...

  • Sevo||

    "Why have the results been so lackluster? One reason: San Francisco has the nation's highest rents"

    There's another reason: For every 'success', s/he gets replaced by a newly-arrived transplant here because we *PAY* them so well.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

    Next up on Reason, a sweet potato recipe that'll drive your kids wild!

  • WhoLivesOnCredibilityStre||

    But this is what they want to create. The permanent underclass gives them a constant mandate to save the world. They have to destroy the world (and their enemies) to save it. And of course, they get to be the ones to profit from their moral righteousness and superior intelligence.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    At some point you push the permanent underclass underground so they do not dirty up your grand socialist fantasy.

    And we are back to Demolition Man.

  • JFree||

    How is building luxury apartments gonna help the homeless? Luxury apts are all that CAN be built when land prices are a few million per acre and long-time existing owners get a free ride re prop taxes (so potential transaction volume shrinks too). May be needed but is irrelevant to the issue of the video.

    Fact is the only housing that can affect the homeless is SRO stuff - ranging from boarding houses to cage hotels etc. At the bottom just a place to store stuff, sleep without getting throat cut, and protection from elements. At the top, the sort of place that used to house everyone new to town or migrant labor until they moved on or settled in.

    In 1900 (ie before people saw land price appreciation as the way to pay off a mortgage), SRO's were 20%+ of most cities housing stock. As recently as the mid 80's, they were easy to find (I moved around a lot for the first couple years out of college and those were easier than signing leases). Today, they are virtually non-existent everywhere. The easiest way to get unanimity everywhere is - let's get that place torn down and build something 'better' to improve our property values.

    The result - even the homeless are far less mobile than they used to be able to be - which also means tougher to get out of.

    It's really odd how quickly America changed from mobility being a MAJOR part of the way we define ourselves. To a bunch of serfs where serfdom is perceived as the way to wealth.

  • D-Pizzle||

    Increases in the supply of housing will decrease the cost of housing all the way down the "affordability" continuum. When people move into luxury apartments, they do not set fire to their previous residences. Rather, the next tier of income earners move into their old residences, and so on and so forth. Opposing the construction of housing for high income earners hurts everyone in the housing market. As for SROs, they are not coming back. Period. Opposing luxury housing will do precisely nothing to change this fact, so this leaves increasing the supply of economically viable housing as the best approach to increasing the affordability of existing housing stock.

    As to mobility, the suggestion that the chronically homeless to not gravitate to those municipalities that are more "generous" to the homeless is not borne out by the existing evidence.

  • ||

    The reason they're building luxury apartments is because it's so costly to build anything there, so they need to build something that makes more profit. That's what I'm getting out of this.

    It's like minimum wage laws, but for apartment rent. It helps no-one and fucks over the people on the lower rungs of the ladder.

  • JFree||

    Increases in the supply of housing will decrease the cost of housing all the way down the "affordability" continuum.

    People raise their rental 'desires' when their INCOMES change not on spec. And they usually flip from renting to owning at which point they expand their desired space footprint. Increasing the supply of rental housing from top-down is in fact not a way of reducing housing costs but of increasing rents as % of income. Esp in CA cuz Prop 13 distorts. Rentier 101.

    Further housing now is built for families or tax-subsidy investors - not singles. Zoning rules reinforce that. Roommate arrangements are a segregated form of chosen peer-family (same age and circumstance and stage in life and demographic and can get along). Which means singles of wrong age, wrong class, weird/antisocial/private/misfit, mental/drug probs, unsteady income/job history, etc aren't moving anywhere.

    As for SROs, they are not coming back. Period.

    Then stop whining about the homeless shitting on the sidewalk. Or maybe you can coercively put them up at the most-expensive SRO facilities - jails, prisons, and hospitals. That seems to be the popular option now in land of the free.

    the suggestion that the chronically homeless to not gravitate to those municipalities that are more "generous" to the homeless

    The CHRONICALLY homeless go to where they won't die in winter and then stay there. Doesn't mean they are mobile.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I've seen the NYC homeless response turn into a multi-million, maybe a billion dollar industry. It's a place where people with liberal liberal degrees can find work.

    I would love to see it move to a more volunteer system that is not a big money industry. Even if that puts me out of a job.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Btw, I'm an EMR manager and do not have a liberal degree.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    That's why the term "Homelessness Industrial Complex" is catching on.

  • Rockabilly||

    I lived in SF from 1981 to 1990 and I thought the homeless problem was bad then.

    But looking at the video, Jesus fucking Christ , that's fucking disgusting - fucking ass hats willie brown and Diane fineswine. Man, you assholes really fucked things up for fucking good.

    Go fuck off all you ass hole democrat progressive ass hats.

    Go take a long walk off a short fucking pier.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Maybe if Kum Dumpster Harris had handed out more blow jobs she could have solved SF's homeless crisis before moving on to national politics.

  • middlefinger||

    Socialists gonna be socialists. Looks like Caracas.

  • ValVerde1867||

    We have had government run housing for numerous decades. Nothing has changed. Is there really anyone who has a clear choice willing to opt for living in the projects? Have any of those housing developments actually become a symbol of government provided prosperity over time?

    Since San Fran is a huge liberal mecca, isn't it about time that they show and prove how wonderful all their socialist policies are? There shouldn't be one homeless person in Cally since liberalism works so well.

  • B Wilds||

    My frustration with America's housing policy boiled over when I read a piece about how roughly 80% of new apartment construction was for the high-end luxury market. The government holds huge responsibility for a rising share of our housing problems in low-income situations because its policies avoid dealing with the growing number of tenants that are irresponsible.

    Government housing cherry-picks the best of the low-income renters providing them with very low rents and nice apartments and dumps the rest on the private sector. The following piece argues the best way to address or level the playing field would be to move away from public housing and give those needing housing aid "rent only vouchers" that could be used with any landlord rather than putting these people into a quasi-government ran project.

    http://brucewilds.blogspot.com.....owing.html

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