The homeless needs a nudge. That nudge depends on the reason for the homelessness.
I see that there are three basic types of homelessness. One are those that simply cannot find a job and would work if they could, but due to one situation or another have found it easier not to. Second are those consumed by drugs, either using or selling. Third are those with mental illness. I’m sure that there are other reasons, but I think the vast majority of homeless fall into one of those three categories.
There is no quick and dirty solution for any of these problems, but I think we can greatly reduce the problem in each area by focusing like a laser beam on them.
First we need to determine just which category an individual fits and then nudge them into a solution.
Those who cannot find a job have gotten themselves into a difficult position. Their homelessness is most likely what is keeping them from getting work. We need to set up a transition bridge for these individuals and families (housing, child care, assistance in job search, short term loans, training, whatever it takes to get them moving in the right direction.) An investment in getting them back to work and then ongoing management of the process until they can handle their lives on their own.
For those on drugs, an institutionalized program to get them off, and then a bridge into the appropriate programs in the previous paragraph. Much closer supervision is needed with these folks and a longer commitment. As for the drug dealers. They go to jail. Let them sort themselves out behind bars. They have preyed on the weaker in our society, they deserve to pay the price.
Third, those with mental illness, we need to treat them with the same kindness we would if they had a broken leg, a disease (like diabetes or cancer) or if they were deaf or blind. We need to make them comfortable, physically healthy, and invest in their care.
The biggest problem is that none of the above will work. We can nudge, we cannot force (Except for the drug dealers). We live in a free country and we cannot just swoop down and grab people and force them to our will. However we can make the alternative to homelessness so attractive that many will sign up for the program.
We can expand the nudge by making it difficult, but not impossible, for the homeless. Gee, we understand that you are homeless but you cannot pitch you tent on the street, park or sidewalk. Here are some locations where you can, but that’s it. If you need help getting there, the truck arrives on Tuesday. There is a reason why Culver City, completely surrounded by Los Angeles, has no homeless, and Los Angeles has over 50,000. Culver City nudges, LA does not. I’m not in favor of a Culver City solution (move them to LA) but if we don’t look to a longer term solution, like those mentioned above, we are not taking Gandhi at his word. To requote: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
We cannot completely solve this problem. We certainly cannot solve it by ignoring it however we can make a huge dent in it. It takes commitment. Our cities have tons of money we waste on inconsequential things. Why not invest in our most vulnerable members. One size won’t fit all. One solution won’t work in every case. But we must move forward. Moving the homeless out of sight may makes us feel better, but its no way to treat our most vulnerable members.