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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

SHH.. Maybe "Broken Windows" Was Right After All

A number of posts have dealt with homelessnessCalifornia's failure in this respect is noteworthy.

Virginia Postrel points out that homelessness is two problems, not one.  The first is housing availability, which government can remedy by opening the way to more housing.  The second is public order.

A Ninth Circuit court decision equating bans on living on sidewalks and parks with cruel and unusual punishment limits what public authorities can do. (When the court recently affirmed the matter en banc, its conservative judges issued scathing dissents.) Along from the legal restrictions, there is a powerful cultural taboo against considering the public order aspects of homelessness, as opposed to its humanitarian dimension. We’re supposed to choose empathy over order, as though they can’t coexist.


[P]olicies to address the housing problem, however worthy, do not make complaints about the public order problem illegitimate. Normal people want to safely use the sidewalks, parks, subways, and bus stops that supposedly exist for everyone’s benefit. Safe camping sites, like the ones San Diego has opened, are a constructive alternative—but they’re paired with restrictions on “unsafe camping” that push people to use them. More could be done to provide similar safe spots, with toilet facilities, for people living in RVs they don’t want to give up in return for inside shelter that might later disappear. (In their situation, I’d make the same decision.)

If you want to build political support for the “mostly stable people who are quietly living in cars,” you can’t do it by pretending you’re addressing the visible problems that scare normal people. The current bait-and-switch breeds resentment, undermines civic institutions, and drives away the productive inhabitants on whom flourishing cities depend.