On any given night, there are over 550,000 homeless Americans
Despite efforts by local governments to address the problem, the homeless population across America is increasing for the first time since the Great Recession. Local governments across the country are failing their citizens and making the homeless epidemic worse. It’s time for the United States to approach this problem differently.
Homelessness is not a problem unique to the US. However, countries like Finland, Singapore, and Japan have successfully addressed it. On the contrary, despite the resources being allocated to it, homelessness in the US is only getting worse.
To fully understand the United States’ failure to combat its homeless population, let’s look at the two cities with the largest homeless populations, New York City and Los Angeles. Both cities have attempted to combat this epidemic in the same way: by pouring millions of dollars into short-term solutions. And it is not working.
Under Mayor Bill De Blasio, New York City has raised the Department of Homeless Services’ budget from $1.17 billion in 2015 to $2.15 billion in 2018. Most of this money has gone to funding shelters and welfare for the homeless. But as De Blasio increased the homeless budget, so did the homeless population. Since De Blasio took office, New York City’s homeless community has grown from 55,745 in 2014 to 63,495 as of 2018, a 12.2% increase. The same has happened in Los Angeles County. In 2015, Los Angeles spent $100 million on combatting homelessness. This year, Los Angeles is spending $180 million on fighting homelessness. Next year’s budget will increase funding even further to a staggering $430 million. Like New York, much of this spending has gone to providing short-term housing and funding shelters. Los Angeles has gone all in on fighting homelessness, but the homeless population keeps growing. In 2015, there were 39,135 people without a permanent shelter. In 2017, there were 57,794. This concerning trend is echoed across the United States with many cities spending millions of dollars in homeless budgets, only to see homelessness increase or, at best, stay the same.
The examples of New York City and Los Angeles display the harsh reality of America’s current model for combatting homelessness. Local governments are investing millions of dollars into short-term solutions like shelters and welfare, only to make the situation worse. There are a variety of reasons why homelessness continues to rise despite investments in combatting the issue. Mainly, governments are incentivizing people to stay homeless given the benefits available. Secondly, governments are not really investing but donating, meaning they are not building a community and support network that would prevent future homelessness. The issue of combatting homelessness is complicated, but one thing is clear: current methods aren’t working. Every single year it becomes clearer – investing more and more money into short-term solutions with the hopes of reducing homelessness does not work.
It is time to try new methods to help combat these problems. According to Forbes, the 5 cities with the highest homeless populations are New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, and the District of Columbia. Four of these are run by Democrats, and only one, San Diego, is run by a Republican. Of the 4 cities run by Democrats, 3 with the exception of the District of Columbia, have seen an increase in their homeless population over the past couple of years. San Diego, on the other hand, has seen a decrease in its homeless population since 2015, Republican Kevin Faulconer’s first full year in office, culminating in a 6% decrease last year. The charts below shows the change in the homeless population since 2013 in the 5 cities with the highest homeless populations.
Homeless Populations of New York City and Los Angeles
Homeless Populations of Seattle, San Diego, and Washington D.C.
Note: For Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington D.C. the homeless population statistics were produced by calculating the homeless population not only within the city but also within the surrounding areas.
In New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle, local leadership has adopted liberal policies and invested in short-term solutions. They have continued to increase spending in shelters and welfare but haven’t looked long-term. As a result, despite their increased spending, the homeless are staying homeless as they have become incentivized to stay homeless and have no other long-term option.
In San Diego and Washington D.C., the narrative is very different. Despite having a Democratic Mayor, Washington D.C. like San Diego has adopted more conservative policies. Both cities have cut down on investments in short-term solutions and have looked long-term. In Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has cut down on spending on shelters and has attempted to keep families in their own homes. In San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has invested in long-term affordable housing and has reformed the shelter system. Unlike, New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle, leaders in San Diego and Washington D.C. refused to pour millions into additional welfare and shelters and instead adopted conservative policies that looked long-term. As a result, the homeless population has decreased as the homeless are slowly able to find a permanent home thanks to the government’s commitment to looking long term.
The cases of the five cities above show the severe differences in the results of liberal and conservative policies when it comes to homelessness. Liberal policies have only increased the homeless population by offering no long-term answer and have encouraged people to stay homeless. Conservative policies, on the other hand, refuse to increase government spending into short-term solutions and rather have become committed to offering people long-term solutions to end homelessness. As a result, cities that have adopted conservative policies have seen their homeless population fall, while homelessness in cities with liberal policies only grows.
Although there is no textbook way to combat homelessness, it is time to change the way we address homelessness in this nation. America should look to long-term solutions, rather than investing in additional short-term solutions. If the cases of San Diego and Washington D.C. are any indication, it may be time to give conservatives the chance to address the homelessness problem that liberal policies have failed to address.
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