Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A cautionary tale from the streets of San Francisco (economist.com)
185 points by CPAhem 41 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 354 comments

Homelessness is a solved problem.

SF residents don't want the solution.

Real estate is the primary wealth building asset class of long-term residents who bought property ages ago or inherited it.

In California property taxes as assessed at time of sale, so you hold onto properties realistically valued at multiple millions while paying taxes at rate appropriate to tens of thousands.

Bulldozing a single family home to build a multi-family unit has an enormous cost on the back end given re-assessment.

Any potential drop in property values has massive protest. It's such a nice free-ride you will fight tooth and nail for.

These residents just want the homeless population "dealt with".

The only solution viable for these residents is getting rid of homeless people through force.

This in untenable give that these residents also have internalized a set of liberal moral values, which mostly means alleviating guilt by dumping money onto ineffective non-profit organization who at worst are siphoning public funds for themselves or at best are trying their best at executing strategies which have minimal impact.

Consider that between 2010 and 2020, SF built ~25,000 new housing units.

Charlotte, NC, a city with a lower population, built 160,000 new units.

Norway has homeless population of 0.07% by mostly doing one thing: building and giving homes to people who don't have them.

That would cause property values to plummet. Many long-term residents would have to seek employment after a lifetime of living off rents.

Sleeping Rough and not affording homes are related. The Bay Area definitely needs to build more houses.

However, in San Fransicko and in other places it is pointed out that New York City, that also has astronomical housing prices and also doesn't build enough, has a fraction of the people sleeping rough that SF does.

NYC has lots of temporary shelter for people who are homeless. SF doesn't have enough.

From https://medium.com/@josefow/new-york-decided-to-end-street-h...

"New York has an extensive shelter network with over 748 locations that house more than 62,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessness every night. This extensive network means New York has an unsheltered homeless rate of 45 per 100,000 residents¹. San Francisco’s rate is 492 per 100,000 residents², almost 11 times as high."

"San Francisco, despite a shelter waiting list of more than 1,000 people, has fewer shelter beds than it did in 2004."

I'm most of the way through San Fransicko and would thoroughly recommend the book. It also does mention NIMBYs and YIMBYs but the focus is on the way that SF and other West Coast US cities have dealt very poorly with homeless people while NYC and other cities in the East have dealt much better with the problem.

NYC has winters, it’s not temperate all year round. Think about all the poor people that would freeze to death in places like India or SF - if they had winters like the northeast). Warmer places will have the temperature to sustain a homeless population.

NYC, prior to our current Democratic mayor, had aggressive law enforcement during Giuliani and Bloomberg terms. They would corral the homeless into specific areas (the poor neighborhoods) and push them out of sight (actual strategy to hide the homeless). You can be homeless in NYC, just not around areas where ‘decent’ folk live. Interpret that however you want.

If SF corralled the homeless to the ghettos, no one would notice.

Overall, if we take a census of the homeless, we’d easily learn that a good percentage of them are mentally ill and/or drug addicts. It’s much cheaper to build tents for them than provide institutional treatment (prolonged stay in clinics and mental health wards of hospitals). Generally these hospitals don’t have enough beds for everyone and constantly try to release everyone within 72 hours, no matter how severe the situation is. Plus, the cost of healthcare is immense (I’d say orders of magnitude over the tent housing solution).

These are forsaken people, we will never solve this. I would recommend SF hide their homeless and get them off the beaches and boardwalks, and put the tents out of sight somewhere desolate. We as a society don’t have a sustainable altruism to succeed here.

We need better communities.

It's not only that north-eastern winters are brutal. There's more to it than that.

Yes, NYC housing is very expensive, but that's because Manhattan is the most densely populated island in the world having a population greater than 150,000 people. Yes, you can squeeze a few more people into NYC proper, but there are physical limits that cannot be overcome, and New York is as close to those physical limits as anywhere else in the world.

The New York metro area does not have those same physical limits, and is much more dynamic than California with regards to new construction and real estate sales—at all pricing levels—as a result. Yes, as you get closer to Manhattan things get more expensive. But Manhattan is not the only housing option for people—even for people who don't own a car.

I live and work in a town of ~25,000 people that is connected to Manhattan by rail. In the past few years we have seen several hundred rental units be constructed in the center of the town. This is not atypical. Similar buildings have been going up throughout the region for years (although most affordable options are connected by bus rather than by train).

I have to agree with GP's conclusion that California's problems primarily stem from its tax system—which is objectively ridiculous. If every time you move houses your tax rate resets and suddenly you are paying 10x (or more) in taxes than you did previously, why would you ever sell?

In the NYC metro area, most of the people who in California would be suburban NIMBY types live and work in high-property-tax areas in relatively big homes while they raise their kids and send them to public school (which are well-funded by high property taxes). It is very common that when their kids go to college they sell their homes and move to smaller places (or to, say, Florida). They are incentivized to do this because doing so will lower their tax bill. As a result, the real estate market is very liquid, with most homes turning over every 15 to 30 years.

In California the tax system works in the opposite manner, by disincentivizing sales. Even inherited property isn't sold, because doing so would result in a reduction in the net cash flow that the property can yield. Isn't it the case that most heirs typically sell property they inherit, in order to have access to liquid funds that they can use in a manner that is more consistent with their own personal needs and preferences? Not in California! In California, if you inherit a house, suddenly you are a landlord.

None of this is to say that there isn't political resistance to higher-density housing in the northeast. There certainly is. However, the way that this resistance is typically mobilized is through the use of zoning restrictions. Zoning restrictions can be amended—and have been amended—as the need for housing has grown.

If people are not willing to sell their properties—if the real estate market is not liquid enough in a certain area—then new development will not occur, regardless as to whether or not zoning ordinances are changed. In fact, the primary advocates for zoning changes are often developers who want to build specific projects. If there are enough properties for sale in an area to attract the interest of developers (and capital that legacy owners may not have access to), then it is more likely that there will be effective advocacy on a local level to amend zoning rules that will result in a more profitable use of those properties.

If no one is selling, however, and if no one is buying, then no one has any interest in changing anything with regards to how the land is used.

> Yes, you can squeeze a few more people into NYC proper, but there are physical limits that cannot be overcome, and New York is as close to those physical limits as anywhere else in the world.

There were more people living in Manhattan in 1920 than 2020 and the average building height was higher then too.

> There were more people living in Manhattan in 1920 than 2020

I didn't know that, but it makes sense, given the immigration and building patterns of the era. There were even more people living in Manhattan in 1910 than in 1920 (over 600,000 more than today).

I'm not sure if this does anything except support the point I am making, though. Can more people be squeezed into Manhattan than are currently living there? Sure. You might not even need to bring back the squalid tenement buildings.

But isn't the primary reason that there are fewer people living in Manhattan today because they tore down the tenements in order to build office towers? Although only 1.6 million people live in Manhattan, during the work day the population swells to almost 4 million when you account for commuting workers.

> and the average building height was higher then too.

I am honestly surprised to read this, and I have trouble believing that it is true. Do you have a source for this?

In 1910 the majority of Manhattan's area was not yet built out, and people in the Lower East Side were living in brutally overcrowded tenements with an average of less than 100sqft per person, that shouldn't be the goal.

“I have to agree with GP's conclusion that California's problems primarily stem from its tax system”

I live on Long Island where there are no property tax controls like California.

They’re building ‘luxury’ 1-3 br condos 750k-2,700k . No downward pressure on home costs here.

My town has lots of working class families, and many move when their children are grown and they reach retirement, because the taxes are so high. Right when you own your home, and your income is fixed, you’re faced with ever increasing taxes.

Needing to build more houses is a myth pushed forward by nimbys and developers.

You can achieve the same and more by releasing unused housing back to market instead of sitting idle for speculative reasons.

Increasing property taxes seems like a first viable solution, but it has drawbacks. It can apparently br avoided in some cases and they wouldn't affect owners of empty lots or derelict ruins that need the release back to market the most.

This is solved by a tax on land value, not on propery value. Empty unused lots would get a massive tax, regardless of if there is a skyscraper on it or it is an empty space. High rise properties wouldn't get impacted much because the same tax would be amortized across many units. Properties outside of cities wouldn't get affected much, because land values outside of cities are low.

Land value tax is a mechanically brutally simple and effective solution to the problem of congestion in city centres. Politically completely infeasible, because if there is someone fighting tooth and nail against such policies, it is the nimbys who inherited at the right time - modern day aristocracy.

Wouldn't the ultimate effect of land value taxes be to build more housing? (since that's how we can extract the most value out of land for a given tax)

Yes, but it's not clear how much. One of the biggest, most important insights you can have about economics - and even all social orgnization - is that while there is a subset of people who exploit economic opportunities and do things like maximize revenue, the vast majority do not.

Even though there isn't a lot of free money to be had, that's because a small subset are grabbing the free money, not because everyone is grabbing it. Most don't grab it. Most just don't think about stuff like that and make terrible financial choices. That includes your local restaurant as much as your neighbor.

Thus businesses are efficient to the degree that competition forces them to be efficient. No more. Now in some industries, a few businesses that are really well run are able to take so much marketshare that they became huge megafirms. That happens with tradeables, but much less with restaurants, and much much less with landlords. That is why franchise chains and big property management groups are so successful -- they are so much better run and more professional than the typical small time landlord or family owned restaurant.

Btw, this is really the fatal flaw of communism and other communitarian economic approaches. It's not that the economic calculation problem is too hard -- yes, it's hard but you can get a good enough solution with linear programming approaches. But rather, there was no capital market that would remove capital from inefficient firms and give capital to new rivals. Look at Tesla's market cap and compare to the market cap of GM. In a planned economy, there are no Teslas, there is no force pressuring firms to maximize outputs per quantity of input, or to create products that appeal to people. All of that comes from competition and market pressure. Thus a capitalist economy with all products sold by monopolies devolves into a planned economy. But each house is a little monopoly.

So in those areas that are unconstrained, landlords can be driven out of business to some extent. In constrained areas, they cannot. So many stories of cat ladies sitting on huge mansions, slowly letting the mansions rot. Most of the housing stock in SF has water damage due to landlords not doing basic maintenance to protect their investment. This is because there is no one to drive them out of business.

Now the idea of a property tax is that a high tax rate will force them to put the property into good use or at least sell it to someone else who will. But for that to happen at scale, the tax rates would need to be pretty high - higher than is politically feasible. High enough so that you feel like you are only renting the land from the government, rather than owning it, which really takes away autonomy from all but the very rich.

Thus it will have a positive effect for more efficient land use, but that effect is very small unless those taxes are really high.

Agreed. It’s another reason to not complain about income and wealth taxes either if you are good at capital allocation and business in general. taxes drive people who aren’t good at business out of business faster. they take Capital away from people who can’t grow it away faster… paradoxically taxes are supposed to take from the rich and give to the poor, but this way, the rich who are rich not by accident, but by Skill, benefit more from taxes relative to their competitors.

At some point you literally just need more houses. The Bay Area grew by a million people while still being pretty low density.

San Francisco already has among the highest number of people placed in supportive housing per capita of any city in the country. How many more people need to be placed in supportive housing in San Francisco before this problem is solved?

If homes are abundant in Charlotte, why do so many homeless people live on the streets in San Francisco instead, where there’s not even sufficient housing to support working middle class families?

When Newsom tried this approach as mayor, his conclusion was that for every homeless person they put into housing, two more would show up the street. And over 90% of the chronically homeless placed in supportive housing there never move out. So what percentage of the nation’s chronically homeless population can be housed indefinitely at taxpayer expense on a tiny landlocked peninsula where seemingly everyone wants to live? This has become a statewide/nationwide problem and it needs solutions on a bigger scale than one city in isolation can provide.

> San Francisco already has among the highest number of people placed in supportive housing per capita of any city in the country.

Is it actually higher in SF than in NYC?

> When Newsom tried this approach as mayor, his conclusion was that for every homeless person they put into housing, two more would show up the street.

This is a fascinating idea. Does this mean that kicking one person out of housing somehow remove two from the street?

Or could it mean that three people end up homeless in the time that it takes to house one homeless person?

If I remember correctly from my time there many of SF's homeless are migrants: they're not people who lived in SF and became destitute, but people who moved in/were moved (tales of cities putting homeless en masse on Greyhounds to SF abound) from places with worse weather and economies.

In that sense I understand Newsom's position: if homeless are already migrating from all over the US due to life being easier in San Francisco, it might only get worse in the city if conditions improve for individuals. It sucks, but we can't expect SF to solve America's homeless problem alone.

Hmmm… I‘ve heard conflicting sources on this and that studies show that SF homeless don’t have a higher degree of having moved from elsewhere. The vast majority has been here a considerable amount of time. Maybe I’m misremembering though.

Pulling a 2019 source from wikipedia, over 30% of San Francisco's homeless recently came from outside San Francisco, and only 50% had lived in San Francisco longer than 10 years before most recently becoming homeless:


That seems like a far cry from the exponential growth described where you house one homeless person and 2 appear.

They’re not incompatible statements. The easier it is to be homeless, the more homeless you get. That’s different from where they come from.

Not sure I follow. If the homeless aren't coming from elsewhere, then the "ease" would have to be that people on the margins would be choosing to be homeless instead. However, if that's the case, then why would NYC be immune to this effect? After all, they have way more shelters than SF, rents are just as sky high, and SF residents typically have a higher income than their NYC counterparts meaning there should be fewer people at the margins.

Or maybe the easier it is to end up homeless, the more homeless you get.

Between wages and housing costs, it's unclear to me how ~half of SF isn't homeless.

I'm not sure people whose goal in life is living in a tent under the freeway exist in any significant numbers outside of the imagination of libertarians.

One of the solutions they’re trying now is for the state to give development quotas to municipalities, and threaten to break up single family zoning areas if not.

That it’s such a huge issue in 2 separate massive municipalities makes me agree - it’s a problem that needs solutions at a higher level (often by forcing lower levels to do what is necessary)

Norway has 5 million people in total, and used to be very homogeneous. I think it was Robert Putnam who showed that with increasing diversity, you will get less solidarity and openness/trust towards strangers.

Homelessness may be a solved problem in Norway, but it does not mean that Norwegian solution is readily transplantable into San Francisco. Much like we failed to transplant modern way of life to Afghanistan.

> Much like we failed to transplant modern way of life to Afghanistan.

Which attempt are you talking about. The 3 times the British empire invaded, the three times the Soviet Union invaded or the latest Nato-American invasion.

(Historically there was the Sikh, Mugal, Muslim invasions too, etc. etc.)

Possibly the locals got a poor view of western "civilization" by being on the wrong end of its armies multiple times.

Strangely, I agree with your general point, but possibly from the opposite direction.

For example, when Finland was doing its equivalent of the New Deal, I find it unlikely there were any Finn's that would try to use that as political leverage to delay anti-lynching laws and vice-versa.

Racists seem to be one of the most corrosively self-defeating forces in human society.

Regarding Afghanistan, you forget to mention that part of history where Afghanis raided and conquered large parts of what is now India (the Durani empire and Babur come to mind) , not to mention raiding into Persia and Merv

Its hard to pretend Afghanis' view of "civilization" was formed by the British "invasion" which was not permanent

Excellent additional detail, but not sure how it interacts with my point?

I think someone invading you (3 times) is highly likely to give you an opinion about them and their ideals, even if they fail, but maybe the Afghanis are a bit more "forgive and forget" than most.

All organisms or systems that can grow have limits.

In biology, this is typically either the ability to eat or the ability to eliminate waste.

A city will always reach a limit. It could be water, transportation infrastructure, economically viable activities given the location, etc, or if you are lucky as a result of the location being desirable, physical space.

You can't build your way out of the San Francisco affordability issue even if you (for example) double the aid per homeless person and double the free housing.

There is an error in the common thinking about the homeless problem in San Francisco.

San Francisco has a homeless problem because it's affluent and provides services, not despite being affluent and providing services.

If San Francisco wanted to provide assisted living for members of society that can't support themselves, it would get the most bang for it's buck to provide food, shelter, clean bathrooms, trash services, electricity, and wifi in other willing cities in California. You could build a range of accommodations and shelters, all the way from campsites to cabins to resorts, and you could get user feedback from the residents to determine which operators to expand with and which facilities to shut down.

The idea of trying to build your way out of homeless problem in the most expensive and physically constrained city in California is madness. That's just enriching the interests that have become the San Francisco homeless industrial complex.

Article: "S.F. pays $61,000 a year for one tent in a site to shelter the homeless. Why?"


So SF will now be giving away houses, huh? OK, I'll take a free home in SF, sure.

But not to the middle class, no, just to the homeless. Then how many days do I need to survive on the street in order to get a free house? If it's a hundred days, and one of these places is 800K, then that's like paying me 8K per day -- it's a no brainer. For a free house, I'm even willing to mutter to myself and defecate on your porch. You are right, this would cause property values to plummet -- it's literally paying me to come into your neighborhood and be antisocial.

Just give me the date and time of the degradation olympics and there will be lots of people willing to participate. More people than SF can afford to build houses for.

You get more of what you subsidize, not less.

You've given this some thought.

What I don't understand is why you think cities should provide shelter for people who don't contribute to them.

If you can't make a city a better place - you should have shelter, somewhere cheap and distant. If you get your life together there, you can come and try living in a city again.

Living in a city should be a privilege, not a right - cities take a lot of work and if you aren't doing your part - it's ok and you should live with dignity and respect (because we have plenty of food and electricity to go around, for now), but you don't get to live off of other people's efforts by insisting that you get to stay in a city because you were born in one or whatever.

Cities are like night clubs, if you don't get the ratio of men to women right, the night club sucks. The same applies to productive and unproductive citizens.

Just because we can let anyone into a night club, doesn't mean it won't make it suck for everyone involved.

Following the night club analogy, what needs to happen is we need to lower the barrier to opening up new night clubs. There is no reason why we can't build new towns that make use of modern technology that people would flock to - it is not a resource issue, it is an imagination, competence and regulation issue (implementing land value tax to get rid of rent seeking on land), much like everything else in human society.

Because it’s cheaper in the long term, not even considering the social/humanitarian benefits.

If we're going to go off of what's cheaper, converting homeless people into fertilizer seems best.

There are no social benefits to forcing productive members of society to quietly tolerate and provide for unproductive members. It fosters resentment and tension.

You see, 'social' includes everyone, not just those we re-allocate someone else's resources towards. There's this stupid idea that if someone's a 'victim', they deserve special treatment. No, that's not an axiom. It is only an axiom if you're stupid and haven't gone out of your way to ever really try and 'help' 'victims' - those that have, quickly realize what a bottomless pit it often is.

I don't think that is such a good idea. Some countries have the right to living anywhere in a country written in their constitution.

Once you recognize this problem, it can be solved by grandfathering people in, basically paying off the people who used to benefit so that the rules can be changed to be fairer in the future.

This feels a bit icky but is a recurring pattern. For example, when slaves were emancipated the previous owners were often compensated, because if not they would politically block it happening.

I feel it's going to get to a crunch in some places before people do anything about it but various places will start adopting variants of this to deflate the bubble.

Basically passing some of the land value tax onto the lucky current property owners as an annuity, and allowing them to move somewhere cheaper and decouple safely from the local property market.

Probably needs enough of a threat that they'll just be forced to pay the full tax before they'll cave though, so it's just politics at that point. Who has more power and/or propaganda will decide the outcome.

>Homelessness is a solved problem.

It is but I can 100% confirm that nobody in cali wants to solve that problem.

>The only solution viable for these residents is getting rid of homeless people through force.

This solution isn't viable neither. The Cali government policy(ies) is increasing the rate of homelessness. Even if you were to round them all up and send all homeless out of the state, it isn't viably going to solve the problem.

>This in untenable give that these residents also have internalized a set of liberal moral values, which mostly means alleviating guilt by dumping money onto ineffective non-profit organization who at worst are siphoning public funds for themselves or at best are trying their best at executing strategies which have minimal impact.

It's worse than that. You might expect there's some benefit there but this mechanism itself is actually making the situation worse. Though it's certainly not popular to discuss that direction. Afterall what you're saying is road to hell is paved with good intentions.

>Norway has homeless population of 0.07% by mostly doing one thing: building and giving homes to people who don't have them.

Not quite accurate, they dont give away free homes. It's more like bomb shelters and such that the homeless can live in, but even that'snot quite accurate. The sole reason Norway has practically no homeless is because they have no actual minimum wage.

The blow to property values would be lessened though by the fact that you don't have to see "homelessness" every time you eat at an outdoor restaurant or walk your dog.

Politically it seems impossible though, because the hit will always be avoided by those with the most power

> Charlotte, NC, a city with a lower population, built 160,000 new units.

Charlotte, NC also has way more open space to expand than SF, which has none, surrounded by water on three sides and other cities to the south.

I hear up is the hot new dimension in other places that hit the same barrier.

If only there were a third dimension of space.

Do you have any links for the homelessness is a solved problem claim? While I’ve seen societies that have reduced the problem, I haven’t seen any that have solved the problem - at least if they are bigger than ‘toy’ populations.

Plenty of places pretending they solved the problem by shipping people to jail or similar if they refuse to live somewhere the authorities demand they do.

That said, SF is pretty much a poster child for almost worst case homelessness (and if adjusted by regional per capita income may legitimately be the worst).

I guess part of the difficulty is what exactly the definition of ‘the problem’ in ‘the homeless problem’ means seems to vary a lot by person, and most of the plans or influence here are coming from people who are quite explicitly not homeless, which is the group being ‘helped’. Which sets up some serious moral hazards.

Finland’s recent policies are a good example https://www.cbc.ca/radio/sunday/the-sunday-edition-for-janua...

That is definitely not evidence of the claim?

How is it not? They solved homelessness

1) that is a political news piece (not anything rigorous) written in Canada for Canada that is breathless about victory in Finland, and where the primary source appears to be the primary political activist for the policies in Finland. Aka, good luck getting a solid idea of real trade offs or problems. When you read it there is almost no actual data. Where the head political advocate for the policy provides some data, it shows progress, but as quoted, not victory or a solution, see

“ A lot of progress has been made. We now have the lowest number of homeless. Our present government has decided that the rest of the homeless should be halved within the next four years and completely end by 2027”

So we’d need 5 years before even the most gang busters assessment could say if it was solved or not. And it seems to be because it was decided, not because that is what projections show will happen? So if the last 10% don’t co-operate, then what?

2) Finland has only 5.5 million people in a massive land area, and one of the lowest population densities in the world. They also are remarkably ethnically consistent. They also have a incredibly hostile climate that will strongly discourage (or outright kill in the first month of winter) anyone who is unsheltered homeless. They also have socialized medicine. They are also very wealthy because of natural resources which almost no other country has.

For comparison, the San Francisco Bay Area discussed earlier on it’s own has approximately 50% larger population than all of Finland all on it’s own in only 5% of the land area, and none of those other factors helping (add scare quotes depending on the factor).

That is pretty much the definition of a ‘toy population’ in this case, and even they aren’t saying it’s actually solved in that case yet, just that it totally will be at some point in the future.

While I think SF advocates have stopped trying to claim victory is possible or they’ll have it under control at some point in the future, there was a time that is what they said too.

1) Cleary the policy is massively successful and the trends are pointing towards it being solved in the next few years. I don’t read Finnish so I can’t provide a better source, but you could probably find one looking online if you don’t like the Guardian

2) Low population density seems like something that would make solving homelessness harder, not easier, as you seem to suggest. I don’t see how ethnic homogeneity has anything to do with this but I’d be interested in hearing why you think it does. I agree that a strong social safety net helps a lot with this problem and we need it in the US also. Your assertion that a smaller population makes the problem easier doesn’t make sense. Less housing needs to be built but the Finnish government also has much fewer resources than the US.

Well, clearly the person and government in charge of getting it started thinks it is massively successful? I don’t have data to contradict or support otherwise, but lots of folks in those positions say things are great when they don’t look good on the ground.

Regarding your other questions - Smaller populations are much easier to work with, and organizations that are working with them are easier to manage to a high quality. Socio-Religo-Ethno consistent groups also tend to be aligned more consistently on cultural values and behaviors among individuals, which allows doing interventions or even understanding patterns of problems is easier and more doable. There is also less ‘us vs them’ and more ‘we’ involved. So fewer diametrically opposed factions, less infighting, less corruption of core social infrastructure, less jockeying for position vs other factions required. The set of stakeholders is fundamentally lower and easier to deal with. For a counter example, see Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc.

Low population density is also a huge help with any sort of homelessness issue because there is little to no pressure on housing availability. If someone previously owned a house and lived there, as long as it didn’t burn down, buying out any loan (going to be a smaller amount) is just as effective as anything else probably because 1) it’s not going to be a huge amount of money, 2) there won’t be as much moral hazard as there would be in a less cohesive and higher density location as it’s less money, and the neighbors all know you and there is an incentive to not abuse it, 3) no one is moving in to just take a house and then doing whatever with no connection to the land or the area or the culture before hand.

And also since it’s a smaller population, your overall number of folks being involved is much smaller, and there are fewer really problematic outliers.

Also because of the smaller population, more homogenous groups, and stronger ethnic identity, it’s not as likely someone is going to be able to even start throwing wrenches in the works for whatever disingenuous reason like happens here in the cities very often. Judges would just go ‘what are you doing, get out’ if someone tries.

Here, it would tie the agencies involved or property owners up for years or decades.

Does that answer your question?

It’s also why New Zealand was able to stop Covid coming in (for awhile) and others couldn’t, that and a lot of ocean. There was strong buy-in across the population, and a consistent set of values folks could agree on and feel like they were working together with others on.

I can’t really tell if you’re saying it’s not possible to solve homelessness by giving people homes or if doing that is politically difficult. I would agree very much that it’s politically difficult to do, but a solution being politically difficult doesn’t make the problem unsolved. Especially considering there are governments that have acted to solve the problem in this way and seen positive results. Im not talking about what policies are easy to get passed, I’m saying there’s no reason what Finland did couldn’t be repeated in a larger country with vastly more resources other than lack of political will.

> Consider that between 2010 and 2020, SF built ~25,000 new housing units. > > Charlotte, NC, a city with a lower population, built 160,000 new units.

Could you tell me where you got your data on this? Not because I want to pick it apart, but because I'm in the process of figuring out where I want to live long-term now that I've decided to leave Texas for good, and rate of new home construction is one of the data parameters I'm looking at in hopes that it'll be at least one positive indicator of realistic housing costs in the area.

I'm looking at TONS of other factors as well, but this is a critical one since housing is by far the most expensive line item in any family or individual budget these days. Thanks!

I live in Charlotte and we have a big, growing cluster of tents as well as rising "homelessness" in other areas of downtown as well. The other day, more than half of people I saw walking on the streets were in a bad way.

So I don't think the extra space and houses is doing much.

We should certainly subsidize the building of homes and give them to the homeless (or at least make them very affordable).

Can you link to the details of the program in Charlotte?

As somebody who is from NC, most home building is driven by for profit developers and it actually increases demand. They target higher end construction since the margins are higher. This is a feedback loop since the increased density of wealthy residents results in areas gaining even more amenities that the higher density will support, and thus becoming more attractive places to move for people in higher col areas out of state.

Building wealth by ensuring new units end up in the hands of low income people is a wonderful idea, but around here it seems to be the opposite occurring.

> most home building... actually increases demand.

Is there data supporting this claim? It seems quite extraordinary that supply would create more demand than it satisfies. That's just not how economics usually works.

If affluent people from around the country are moving to Charlotte, I would think they're likely drawn by other factors, such as their jobs or family roots bringing them there, not by the mere existence of fancy housing and gentrified neighborhoods. If the new development didn't exist, those people would still be moving but would end up choosing slightly lower-end housing -- forcing up the prices and thus forcing out existing residents.

This "making fancy houses only increases home prices" argument seems like a rationalization invented by people who are looking for a reason to block such development. It seems highly unlikely to me that this would actually be true.

Politically, it's easy to be angry at developers for only building high-end housing, when it seems like the real problems are at the low end of the market. However, in reality, you can't expect it to be any other way -- and that's OK, because building high-end homes actually does help the low end of the market too.

New construction is inherently high-end. It's actually hard to build a new house or apartment building that isn't desirable to affluent people -- you'd have to go out of your way to use old design standards and bad materials that don't cost any less but make the home less desirable. This isn't economically viable for developers. So of course developers are always going to target mid-to-high end.

But that's fine, because when you build more high-end housing, then people move up from slightly lesser housing, making that housing available for people to move up to from even lower-end housing, and so on. This eventually makes housing available at the low end of the market for people who couldn't previously afford housing at all -- or perhaps for the government to rent on behalf of homeless people at an acceptable cost.

San Francisco is bizarrely full of terrible 100+-year-old apartments with high-income techies living in them, just because there's nowhere else for them to live. This is a failure. That should be low-end housing, but it's not because there's not enough high-end housing for all the affluent people.

> But that's fine, because when you build more high-end housing, then people move up from slightly lesser housing, making that housing available for people to move up to from even lower-end housing, and so on. This eventually makes housing available at the low end of the market for people who couldn't previously afford housing at all -- or perhaps for the government to rent on behalf of homeless people at an acceptable cost.

This doesn't happen here in the South. I'm aware things are different elsewhere.

What happens is that the historical small / older single family units (i.e. ~50-100 y.o., 1500 SF) are demolished one by one to make room for the highest end housing that can be sold. This occurs across the board. You have teardowns of recently renovated houses that are replaced either by multiple copies of "tall skinny" units (larger size, and upfitted with all the granite etc) or, if the lot can't be carved (or if the area is especially high end) you end up with mega-houses that take on the entire footprint of the lot and go for well over $1M

In all cases the new units go for multiple times what the old house would have gone for a few years ago.

I know why people want to live in places like this. As the density increases amenities are added that make it walkable and pleasant. Now grocery stores can be supported, coffee shops, breweries, etc., which are close enough either to walk to or a short drive. These are the sorts of businesses wealthy out of staters crave. They were not supported by lower income, less dense single family housing.

The roads in these older neighborhoods are ill prepared for increased density, and of course traffic bottles up. This makes it even more imperative that, if you work in a physical office and desire a short-ish commute, you need to buy expensive units that are centrally located. Remote working white-collar and tech workers (with full pockets from selling their homes in even higher value areas) move near the city centers even though they don't have to commute anywhere simply because they want the amenities involved.

Wages for "normal" people who grew up in the region, meanwhile, stagnate. Places that are near the physical locations they go to work are now occupied by wealthy out-of-towners. For locals without the means, they are increasingly pushed to the outer limits of the sprawl, which develops in increasingly distant rings around the urban centers. Commute times start to become stratospheric.

Southern cities almost universally hate public transit, so the congestion builds upon itself, making the QOL consistently worse for the people forced to move further and further out.

I don't have data about how adding more housing designed for rich people enhances this cycle, but I bet you have no data on how adding more housing designed for rich people will do anything to mitigate it, either.

More units are good theoretically, but almost universally people latch onto the deregulation component and fail to advocate for affordability requirements tied to it. If one out of every four "tall skinny" houses was made available at well under market rate to local, low income renters (think something like Habitat for Humanity) then maybe you start getting somewhere.

If one older unit is being replaced by multiple newer units, that's still a net increase in housing which will cause other old units to become more affordable. Again, it's expected that new developments will always be high-end, but they make other existing housing cheaper in the process.

> The roads in these older neighborhoods are ill prepared for increased density

Infrastructure is a problem. Many American cities seem to be stuck on 50-year-old (or more) infrastructure and unwilling to fund anything new. But blocking development isn't the right answer, investing in better infrastructure is. Build a damned light rail network, like Minneapolis (my home town) is doing. Rail commutes are nice, you can read or play video games. Then it doesn't matter if you can afford to live in the city center.

> If one out of every four "tall skinny" houses was made available at well under market rate to local, low income renters

This is a popular idea but I think it's naive. How are you supposed to decide which low-income renters get lucky and get to live in a much nicer house than their peers? And who pays for it? If you're going to tell developers to foot the bill then that discourages development which ultimately makes the housing shortage worse.

There’s something that I think often gets overlooked about the replacement of old buildings with new ones, and I think it’s pretty important. The lowest tier of housing in a given city is generally accessible to poor people in ways that new construction, or even properly maintained older buildings never will be. Slumlords operate at this level, and while they suck for many other reasons, they are often willing to rent to anyone who can deliver the rent money approximately on time. No background checks, no credit checks, no income requirements, just cash on the barrelhead the first of the month. That’s a hugely valuable service to the poor; no matter how bad the housing might be it still beats living on the street.

There are a surprising number of homeless people who live off of their disability benefits. If they could find such an arrangement as described above, they wouldn’t be homeless anymore. But landlords have no incentive to take that risk with them, and they won’t pass any of the income screening processes that are baked in to the apartment rental process today. As the worst of our housing stock disappears, the fraction of the overall housing market that remains accessible to people like that becomes ever smaller.

Worse, it’s a ratcheting effect: it only works in one direction. Sure, as the new high end units go up, the previously acceptable ones look less desirable, but it takes a long time for a unit to reach the bottom rung. Plus, even if it’s now the least desirable building in town, if it belongs to a landlord unaccustomed that to renting to the poorest segment of society that can technically afford housing, it’s likely that landlord will not want to change their requirements and policies to begin renting to them. The landlord is likely to preferred to sell the property instead, which greatly increases the chances it will be redeveloped into luxury housing, and so on.

But that is not actually what happens in the cities like SF. The lowest tiers of housing are not affordable. The worst apartment I've ever lived in my life (including Soviet-built flats) was in SF - a crappy 1906 victorian (or whatever you call these ugly hovels SF is full of) subdivided into 6 units; drafty, not updated in ages, no dishwasher or laundry, etc. It was also the 2nd or 3rd most expensive rental per sqft in my life (the only other ones were also in SFBA). I took it because I didn't even realize apartments SO crappy can exist, e.g. I didn't realize there was no dishwasher until after moving in... and the whole neighborhood was like that. Normally, that would all be "lower tier" housing. In SF, it was $3k/mo in 2014 and rented to either techies, or roommates (sometimes 2 unrelated people per bedroom). If someone built luxury towers in the same neighborhood, the techies would have moved there and actually made the lower tier of housing somewhat cheaper for others.

I am in NC. All the new development in my area seems to be homes crammed as closely together as possible on mowed down property - no trees or neighborhood identity whatsoever.

I’m a lifelong renter that would love to see yimby policies put in place, but this is misleading.

Norway is cold. Show me a city where people can sleep outdoors year round without dying that doesn’t have homeless and then we can see what an effective solution looks like.

Australia has roughly 116,000 homeless out of a population of 25,690,000 [1]

[1] https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/need-help/homelessness-supp...

Homeless is an ill defined term. The definition used by governments and NGOs is different from the one used by everyone else. The former seem to deliberately lean in to the confusion in order to tie policy goals related to their more expansive definition to the greater public interest in solving the narrower problem.

In any event, it doesn’t take very many homeless by the colloquial definition to make a city unpleasant. I don’t know whether or not Sydney has a homelessness problem and that link doesn’t tell me.

Homelessness of this kind has very little to do with housing, if at all. What you've said here is all true as it relates to the affordability of housing, but that's not why these people are homeless. I've said it before, and I'll said it again: people seem to act as if the only two options are having a house in the most expensive city in the world, or being homeless in the most expensive city in the world. If I can't afford a house in the most expensive city in the world, my immediate thought isn't going to be "well I guess I can't live anywhere then, streets it is."

"...so you hold onto properties realistically valued at multiple millions while paying taxes at rate appropriate to tens of thousands."

Doesn't that make the tax percentage very low when prices have risen so much? And in addition the percentage varies from unit to unit, even if they are identical in all aspects (including their value) except when it was last sold. What a weird system.

As long as California is willing to pay market value for said house, then sure. Otherwise, they have no more right to my property than anyone else. The USA isn't a communist country or a dictatorship, and property rights dominate except in the most dire circumstances. So it really isn't a “solved problem”. What would work is shutting the NIMBY's down and letting housing get rezoned by developers for multi-home units.

How does one determine the correct "market value" of a property where government zoning laws prevent building more dense housing?

Perhaps you advocate for removing these zoning laws and then letting the market clear?

Market value is market value. Any competent real estate agent can give you a decent estimate.

The property rights absolutist solution would be to build a wall on publicly owned land blockading the private property and reducing its value to nothing and then buying it from the owner at its new market price of zero.

When this happens in real life they can apply to the government for an easement, but that's practically communism, so we wouldn't allow that in this thought experiment.


Homelessness in the US has virtually nothing to do with housing supply. While I'm sure it happens, as a population these are not San Fransiscans who couldn't afford rent and now live in the street.

The entire nations property values are FN insane. They should ALL drop.

1350 sf for $599,000 thats $450/sf - wtf. in the ghetto in SF. and the home is a ghetto looking home on the outside with zero land.

I LOVE Joe Rogan shitting all over LA and SF.

The podcast with the author is fantastic to have in the background and listen to.

again, I want to help the homeless with 'Care Fleet' -- See my other comment on that.

Giving them a home isn’t going to solve their drug addiction. Far from having a 100% solution.

The book's author was recently on Joe Rogan where they discussed the book and many of the policies in SF.

They discussed: de-criminalization, the "Portugal approach", progressive policies, policing, etc. Also the use of language such as "homeless camps" which envisages a camp of homeless people just trying to live. Versus the reality which when social workers and mayors (mayor of Denver) went into these camps undercover only found that everyone was a drug abuser and were being enabled to self-destruct.

Highly recommended, the author is a resident of "San Fransicko".

Mayor of Denver never went to these camps. You may be talking about the Mayor of Aurora (city next to Denver) who just decided one day to pretend to be homeless. He didn’t work with any organization or ask about the problem. He just went to the most visible camps, met the most visible people and essentially just increased the stigma. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/auroras-mayor-went-unde...

So you’re saying his own experiences should be dismissed because he didn’t gather information through “official” channels?

Clearly it wasn't the "right" opinion, so it must be dismissed!

> So you’re saying his own experiences should be dismissed because he didn’t gather information through “official” channels?

That's a rather disingenuous take.

Isn't it plausible that taking anecdotal evidence at face value doesn't actually add insight to not only the root causes but also the prevalence of some of it's different categories?

I mean, spending a week living in a tent isn't exactly a way to gather proper statistics on the issue, not to mention the likelihood that the observer might be biased to begin with.

No it's not a disingenuous take. I read the article. You have a politician who actually goes and talks to a group of homeless - which is more than 99% would ever do - then come back with his observations.

Sure, you can say "that doesn't represent all homeless", but I don't think the mayor was saying that. Here is a direct quote:

"We can clearly do more to help people and move them on to stable housing," Coffman said. "What isn’t working is spending more money on it without changing behaviors. People are never going to [move] forward with their lives. You don’t want to be in a situation with public policy where you’re enabling really bad, destructive behavior."

What is so terrible about those conclusions?

And the gatekeeping by homeless advocates is really stark in that article. Their attitude is literally "You want to know about homelessness, you talk to me, don't go out there talking to these people on your own".

How in the hell is that anything close to a reasonable take?

> And the gatekeeping by homeless advocates is really stark in that article.

That's because if you actually solved (or even reduced) homelessness, those people might be out of a job.

Would it matter to be out of their job if homelessness would be solved? At least they wouldn't be homeless as a result of job loss.

> No it's not a disingenuous take. I read the article. You have a politician who actually goes and talks to a group of homeless (...)

Sorry, it actually is.

You have a guy who decided to live in a tent for a week as a publicity stunt, and that is supposed to make him an insightful expert on the nature and causes of the problem, in total contrast with the observations and experience of every single person that ever did any serious work on homelessness?

The "goes and talks to a group of homeless" take sounds an awful lot like an attempt to go on the confirmation bias path, intended to fabricate a justification to continue to not address the root causes, than an honest and objective approach to understand issues.

I’ll bite, but I think you ought to know that I cannot so far understand you’re reasoning.

Who, then, is qualified to speak on these issues? Is only aggregate data through official channels, and not individual experience, relevant to the discussion?

I'll try to defend the argument of "first hand anecdotal data vs statistics". At least i'll provide some arguments.

Imagine going to any place of work for a week. Let's say a trading center. How much will you learn from first hand but short-term experience? People tend to say you need 10,000 hours of practice to be good at a given skill. In a week you are barely starting to get familiar and it's already over. You haven't experienced any depth or any breadth of the domain.

Another example would be: how much of a country can you learn by visiting 1 city? At some point to fit the huge problem space into 1 mind you need to generalize and use statistics. In addition to practical experience so you're not lost in abstract concepts.

Personally i think that both first hand experience and stats/theoretical knowledge are necessary to be effective at a domain. So I'm glad to see a politician getting personally involved.

To the defense of the other side, I would say first-hand experience tend to be more engaging than theory/stats, especially to politicians (usually non STEM profiles who got where they are through developing EQ, not critical thinking). This results in politicians only engaging with that type of approach, and typically having a limited/personal understanding of the problems they are in charge of.

I wish for instance that a politician in charge of a topic would have to go through a mandatory 1 week intense course from domain experts to broaden their perspective and understanding. Instead it tends to be all emotion, all urgency, and leaning the way most people are pulling, whatever the rational merits of that position.

It seems to me that homelessness is a desired state by the far-left progressives. I don't get the sense from talking to people here in Berkeley/Oakland that they want to eradicate homelessness. If you offer a few discussion points about possible solutions, you get sneered at and shot down. The arguments are weak and don't hold up, so they are varnished with emotional appeal (be kind to homeless) and other soft-tactics of altruism. I disagree with this whole premise. You can still be kind and try to solve homelessness and clean up our streets. There is nothing wrong with that and infact the only right thing to do. Like every city in the world. No one should be afraid of calling homelessness a problem that we want to get rid of. Methods of doing that can be debated but resist the appeal for this so called wokeness that is endemic in places like Universities.

Desired state seems like a stretch, but the cynical part of me does wonder sometimes whether having visible homelessness around is seen as inevitable proof that the capitalist system is irredeemable and must be replaced.

A more likely explanation is the way that paternalistic administration of care is anathema to the current way of thinking. That is to say that one should never presuppose how to solve someone else’s problems, but rather one should listen to their lived experiences and give them what they say they need to solve their own problems. This is a good principle to follow in most situations, but like all prescriptive outlooks it fails when exposed to certain edge cases. In this case, the edge case is people who lack the executive function to know how to better their situation, or even to take advantage of situations that will when they’re presented.

> Desired state seems like a stretch, but the cynical part of me does wonder sometimes whether having visible homelessness around is seen as inevitable proof that the capitalist system is irredeemable and must be replaced.

I think these are two separate variables and Capitalism when properly regulated works extremely well (it has moved millions from poverty in China and did the same in the US - wages went up by 350% from 1930-1970).

Agreed, but I’ve noticed that over the past few years there’s been a shift away from talking about implementing some socialist policies into capitalism and towards the irredeemably of the capitalist system. At least that’s been my experience among my liberal circle. I think it’s the influence of the growing far left movement, who are now the cool kids on the left. The word “liberal” is a pejorative to them; synonyms with someone who defends the status quo, which is deeply uncool.

The social problem of homelessness is thus an issue of the intentions of a specific political group? And their manners? They sneered, did they? Not nice, but that seems like a distraction. Political groups and intentions are apart from the business of dealing with the problem. What you are dismissing as "wokeness" might just be familiarity as this problem has festered for a while now.

There is some evidence that this just clean up the streets approach is part of the reason so many ended up here after having been cleared out of wherever else they started. In Berkeley/Oakland cleaning up the streets just shifted people around at great cost so now the focus is on cleanup and portable toilets for basic sanitation.

The far-left position on homelessness is simply "let's build enough houses by whatever means necessary" (depending on where one is on the authoritarian/libertarian scale, the list of acceptable means varies).

The difference is in the language. "Clean up our streets" puts the emphasis on the homeless as the problem for everybody else, as opposed to homelessness being a problem for the homeless.

> Who, then, is qualified to speak on these issues?

For starters, can we agree that a publicity stunt like spending a week in a tent as a live action roleplay is no way to get any insight on a deep-rooted social and economic problem? Specially given the clear preexisting bias and political motivation to ignore the problem, avoid accountability, and continue doing absolutely nothing?

> Is only aggregate data through official channels, and not individual experience, relevant to the discussion?

I am really perplexed by the insistence of this take. I mean, aren't these "official channels" actually people paid by him to work for him full time on this issue?

How terribly disfuncional and incompetent is a whole local government, led by this mayor, supposed to be if he feels the need to waste a week's worth of his personal time to do something himself when no one in his own organization, not a single person, is able to reliably gather any info or insight onto the problem?

I mean, in other issues we see the executives of local governments appointing people to actually fix the problem with clear goals in mind, and hold them accountable for the outcome.

But no. I this case we're only seeing a former senator turned mayor somehow arriving at the conclusion that homeless people are all drug addicts and/or suffering from mental health problems. From that starting point, the solution is, surprisingly, to go with the same political tropes of using the police to brush the problem under the rug by banning all the undesidables to get them out of sight.


So you’re saying any attempt by a politician to go and talk to homeless people in person - not to get to the root of the cause, but just to listen to them and observe - should be avoided as it’s just a publicity stunt?

And what do you mean “ignore the problem”? I directly quoted his conclusion which included “we should do more to house them”. Can you point to a conclusion of his where he actively sought to ignore the problem?

I’m struggling to wrap my head around your rationale. If the situation were different - let’s say a lack of childcare options - would you also tell politicians not to talk directly to parents looking for childcare? Only talk to advocacy organizations because such a “stunt” doesn’t get to the “deep seated social issues at hand”?

And what do you mean “waste a week”? Since when is having leaders directly engage people a problem? What angle are you coming at this from? I’m trying to understand your motivations when you’re actively rejecting efforts to find solutions.

I believe he is trying to say that 1) drawing conclusions from the one-time observations of a single individual is unlikely to be accurately representative of the actual situation, and is at great risk of all sorts of selection, recall, and confirmation biases. 2) in that context, ignoring all the other managerial responsibilities of a mayoral position so you can engage in a relatively non-scientific attempt at information gathering when you have people you can consult who are experts on the topic and have spent years studying and collecting data, is quite rightly a poor use of time.

All of those biases are also applicable to experts. We hope they are less biased, but they can never be bias free and there are certainly cases where experts have been egregiously biased, often is very subtle ways, that have led policy grievously astray. Like when the USDA pushed the country away from fats and toward processed sugar

I think you two might be talking past each other here. There's nothing wrong with a politician (i.e. an elected leader) getting first hand experience with an issue. Many leaders do this all the time and get depressingly little press for it--and others do it purely for a PR win unmindful of the cynicism they're generating. I think this mayor was sincere in his intent, and also I think it's a good habit to assume positive intent (to be super corporate about it).

What I think people are taking issue with is the Mayor's seeming dismissal of some homeless as irredeemable, and his failure to acknowledge that homelessness is more than an issue of mental illness, substance abuse, and personal responsibility. That plays into the common stereotype of unhomed people, and as many pointed out, that makes the problem worse because it justifies doing little to solve the problem.

So while I believe the Mayor's intent was good, I also think he was misguided and a little arrogant. I'd be pretty peeved if my non-technical boss did a coding boot camp and came back all "huh I did that camp and I was right, your job isn't hard at all!"

It's also worth saying you don't need to go urban camping for a week to figure out how to solve homelessness. It's probably more effective to just go to endhomelessness.org.

Can you quote the exact statement by the mayor that you feel is unfair and/or unhelpful?

Sure but, I feel like you're gonna try and deeply litigate it so, I'm skeptical it'll be productive:

"What isn’t working is spending more money on it without changing behaviors. People are never going to [move] forward with their lives. You don’t want to be in a situation with public policy where you’re enabling really bad, destructive behavior."

It might sound kind of anodyne, but it's basically what leaders say when they're playing the personal responsibility card.

There are policies that increase homelessness. But even if you do everything right, you won't be able to solve the problem completely in liberal societies. In some more authoritarian countries, homeless people are simply arrested, taken back to their hometowns, put in institutions or just driven out of the cities. That's one way to deal with it.

It's absolutely right to put emphasis on self agency, there's actually a very concerning trend in society that people expect the government to solve all problems and ideally even pay them for simply existing (see the antiwork movement). Should this sort of thinking gain popular support the problem is going to get much bigger than it already is.

I think your post needs a lot more research. Most Americans want to work. Most Americans want to have savings, own a home and a car, be in a relationship and have a family, etc.

Homelessness isn't the result of an outbreak of personal irresponsibility, nor is substance abuse [1] [2]. They're systemic failures. When opium overtook China in the early 19th century, it wasn't because suddenly everyone decided they'd throw caution to the wind.

It's nonsensical and leads to intense political problems (see: "Welfare Queens"). We put ordinary people into extraordinarily bad situations, and then we blame them for not being extraordinary enough to dig out.

[1]: https://stjosephinstitute.com/understanding-the-relationship...

[2]: https://borgenproject.org/addiction-poverty-connected/

Misunderstanding, that part of the comment wasn't directed at those who're already poor or homeless. I completely agree with what you say.

Personal responsibility is good though right? Not that a lack is the cause or having more is a cure for every homeless person, but if those who didn’t currently take person responsibility changed and did - would that be a bad thing?

I guess it depends on exactly how you interpret his statement, but the core idea that money alone isn’t going to fix the problem seems reasonable.

I mean, if someone is out on the street due to addiction, they won’t recover without personal responsibility. If someone is on the street due to untreated mental illness, then yeah, personal responsibility likely won’t help.

I though his statement was relatively even handed.

Sure, but it's so insufficient that to even bring it up is a red flag. It's like if we were all getting together to try and solve climate change and someone said "I'm super religious, I spent the last week in nature speaking with God, and it's clear to me that while there are other things we can and should do, this will never work without everyone individually praying every day." We would collectively be like "huh, convenient that the thing you're already super invested in seems to be critical to our efforts here, despite being completely unbacked by evidence...."

It's simply not the case that people will start making better decisions to the point that homelessness diminishes to background noise. It's a non-solution. We have to question the perspective of a leader who keeps pushing clear non-solutions.

The end of the road of the personal responsibility argument is "'good' people shouldn't waste their resources on irresponsible people". But homelessness isn't the result of an outbreak of personal irresponsibility (is anything?), so typically when leaders start talking about it, something else is up.

> Sure, but it's so insufficient that to even bring it up is a red flag.

This is the crux of it. Your position disagrees with mine, that's fine, but please don't assume that bringing up an issue based on personal experience with the problem is a "red flag." That's disingenuous and unproductive.

You then go on to strawman a bizarre tale of a religious person being overly evangelical about a deeply individual experience. Homelessness is a problem of society, and people. Yes we cannot address the individual at every point in a conversation, but that shouldn't mean we can't talk about the problems affecting individuals.

Personal experiences are valid and important, but they're almost never representative. That's why we run studies and experiments: our anecdotal experiences don't give us enough data and often lead to generalization fallacies. They also typically come along with confirmation bias, a pitfall which the Mayor here likely fell into.

For the rest of your post, I'm not saying we can't talk about problems affecting individuals? I think a lot of good can be done on the individual level: drug treatment, counseling, medical care, etc. Not sure where you're coming up with any of this.

You characterize it as a publicity stunt which is a dismissive way to put it, and then go on to say since in your opinion it was a publicity stunt none of what he says really matters. Not sure I agree with that.

I think you are simplifying things. Try to live in a tent in a homeless camp for a week and I promise you will have more insight into all the dynamics there than any outside observer will ever have.

> For starters, can we agree that a publicity stunt like spending a week in a tent as a live action roleplay is no way to get any insight on a deep-rooted social and economic problem? Specially given the clear preexisting bias and political motivation to ignore the problem, avoid accountability, and continue doing absolutely nothing?

No, we cannot agree on this. I don't understand how this is walking the walk, and not just talking the talk. If the mayor went on to make grandoise claims about homelessness that were unreasonable, I would start to agree, but I don't see that happening here.

> But no. I this case we're only seeing a former senator turned mayor somehow arriving at the conclusion that homeless people are all drug addicts and/or suffering from mental health problems.

This is strawmanning the mayor's point. He is claiming that we are not addressing the root cause of homelessness. He's not saying "homeless people are all drug addicts." Those are your words.

I have my own experiences interacting with the homeless in seattle. They're a bunch of overlapping groups.

Around 1/4 are short term homeless, just folks at the margins of society who fell off the page, and now cannot make ends meet. Alot of these folks do find their way off the streets of their own, but this is the group that we need to most urgently help.

Around 1/2 are long term chronic homeless, often they were just short term homeless folks, but now have fallen into the trap of the homelessness. They want out, but cant figure out how to navigate their way there.

Around 1/4 are willingly homeless, as in they do not want help.

And of those who are homeless, they seem to have the same common problems:

Around 1/3rd do have some measure of substance abuse issues (more prevalent in long term chronic homeless).

Around 1/3rd have moderate issues with excessive alcohol consumption (more prevalent in long term chronic homeless).

Another 1/2 have untreated mental health issues of some sort (seen in all groups).

The most common reasons the interventions for homelessness seem to fail:

1. Requires giving up too much personal freedom/dignity - can't come and go as you please/its treated as a pseudo-probation, have to go listen to a preacher, cant bring your pet (usually a dog).

2. too many prerequisites/hurdles to get help (must be sober/clean, must have kids/not have kids.

3. shelters feel less safe than being on the street (your stuff gets stolen, you'll get gay bashed).

4. requires you to give up too much of your SSI or other benefits to get it.

5. long waiting periods for help or not enough bed slots.

It's why I believe in a housing-first approach, housing without hurdles or prerequisites, its much easier to provide services to a sedentary population than it is a mobile one with no fixed address.

I think the case that every homeless person is a drug addict is wildly overstated, but I think the solution that SF and Seattle is doing wildly ineffective in actually solving homelessness, if anything, it makes the problem worse, while also reducing quality of life for folks who do have homes and live there.

I have been reading some of your back comments prompted by your comment about organization policy on my white house fire story and I think you should write blog posts

it's clear you think really deeply about things I think you have a lot of interesting stuff to contribute. And you've had an interesting intersection of experiences and combine that with your good analysis and insights often seemingly to me not obvious, and your easy to read writing style, I think you'd make a really good sort of writer that people would love to read about all kinds of tricky issues so I hope you take up blog posting and share here!

Hrm - I'd never considered long form blogging, I'm not sure what I'd write about.

Any suggestions?

How about a new topic every week? From areas you're interested in or at least journeys along your way. Stories from, ideas about or advice on how to be a good manager; what makes good mothers; how to think clearly; how to plan for the future; your pov on how to fix politics/tech/industry/manufacturing/foreign relations/media/cities/the future; how to be a good human; how to bring up kids right; how to run a business; how to drive safely; how to manage your time and all the things your want to do; how to connect with people while doing everything else; how to travel well; how to prep for the end of the world.

How to, or how you, up to you :p;) xx

Basically if you were to leave something behind on this world to benefit future generations... What would you want to contribute? What do you think you could help other people with, save them some pain, bring them some relief or even joy? Best of luck with it all :)

A week of lived experience is qualia, information which can never be captured through statistics. It is definitely useful.

>He didn’t work with any organization or ask about the problem.

If you want to find out what a situation is like, why would asking someone about it be more informative than actually going there and witnessing it yourself? The self proclaimed "experts" are the ones responsible for the policies that have turned San Fransisco into what it is today.

The Homeless Industrial Complex is as responsible for maintaining the conditions in SF as Chesa and his hands-off enforcement policies are.

A lot of strife in our society today can be attributed to non-profits being incentivized to keep their raison d'être continuing in perpetuity.

I spent many years involved in politics at the city level in Santa Cruz. The Homeless Industrial Complex is a thing. There isn’t a desire to make things better as that will lead to lost jobs.

Their insincerity becomes very obvious when you start pushing for accountability - like status reports / reports on progress and effectiveness - when entities get public funds. Another fun one is asking for a reduction in overlap when you have 2, 3, and 4 entities doing the same thing and all of them want public funds.

> Their insincerity becomes very obvious when you start pushing for accountability - like status reports / reports on progress and effectiveness - when entities get public funds.

I'm not sure what point you tried to make. I mean, this discussion is about identifying the root causes of a problem in order to actually fix it, but your comment focuses exclusively in organizations which, at worse, only work to mitigate it's impact while the problem is perpetuated.

Let's put it this way: homeless shelters do not fabricate homeless people out of thin air, nor do they spend their budget hiring extras or crisis actors to pretend there are homeless people in the city. At most, you're putting up a strawman to attack organizations that exist to take the edge off this problem.

What exactly do you believe would happen if suddenly all homeless shelters disappeared from the face of the earth? Do you believe homelessness would go away with that too?

If you are taking public money and come back the following year wanting more, there should be a plan and data showing why you deserve money. Specifically the effectiveness of what you are trying to do. Most of them want money without any accountability.

Most times when you apply for a grant, there is a proposal with a plan and expected outcome.

> If you are taking public money and come back the following year wanting more, there should be a plan and data showing why you deserve money. Specifically the effectiveness of what you are trying to do.

Do you understand that you are talking about funding homeless shelters?

The job of a homeless shelter is to provide homeless people with temporary shelter instead of having them living on the streets. It is not in their job description or responsibilities or power to mitigate or eliminate the socio-economic problems that lead people to become homeless. That requires local government to put in place policies that addresses the root causes, such as ensuring housing is affordable, or those struggling with mental problems can receive help.

The expected outcome could be "allow/convince homeless people to sleep in the shelter rather than on the streets".

Not every non-profit needs to solve every problem, but most of them should work to solve al least one of them; having that problem clearly specified helps in distinguishing efficient use of public money from inefficient use.

>The job of a homeless shelter is to provide homeless people with temporary shelter instead of having them living on the streets.

The job is more than just warehousing people. Its making sure that shelters are clean, safe, sanitary and efficiently operated. Here in New York homeless shelters are filthy, understaffed, overcrowded and filled with violent predators, leaving many homeless to feel safer sleeping on a sidewalk. Like San Fransisco, the problem certainly isn't from lack of funding - its from corruption and mismanagement.

There is more than just "homeless shelters" when it comes to working with the homeless. Also, it is usually the job of counties (due to having the office of County Health) to spearhead handling the issues around homelessness. However, there are cities like Santa Cruz (the county seat, but the city government) that take it upon themselves to try and handle things without coordination at the county level.

It's easy to blame the system instead of making people take personal responsibility for their actions.

When “the system” refuses to prosecute dealers of fentanyl because “they’re victims themselves” [1], you’re damn right I’m going to blame the system.

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/the-trial-o...

It's also easy to blame the system when the system has failed miserably. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Maybe it’s not a simple problem, in engineering we’re used to cause and effect in a system. With human scale problems it’s more like observing a cat than a machine responding to inputs. It seems to me you could fill a page of bullet points with the many causes of homelessness in SF.

If that really is true, then it makes sense to have someone familiar Guide you through various aspects of the problem. Especially the non-obvious parts.

It is a machine responding to inputs but it involves feedback to the level we don’t usually experience with computers. This introduces non-linearity which is difficult for a human mind to process in terms of cause and effect. They are still there, just more difficult to see.

Consider Jay Forrester in Brooklin in the 70s. He correctly argued (and was apparently almost beat up by saying that), that simply setting up more housing projects increased the problem. The simplified argument went: The word spreads that there’s housing available, people move to the area, housing gets full but the inertia of the word-spread keeps going and people keep coming in. This leads to creation of more projects (as there are still people on the streets) perpetuating the cycle. Meanwhile, the businesses and residents start moving away from the area because of the projects and many homeless, dropping real estate prices and compounding the problem with another feedback loop. Complex stuff. Whatever the solution if SF (that I like very much) is, it better be looking out for that sort of policy resistance.

> "It seems to me you could fill a page of bullet points with the many causes of homelessness in SF.

That's a far better outcome than mindlessly brushing everything under the rug with baseless knee-jerk reactions of pinning the blame on moral weaknesses and failings of individuals.

A reporter looking for a story went into my highschool while classes were in session and talked to some kids.

Naturally these kids were skipping class (since classes were in session), and of course they told him everybody does it because in their social circle that was true.

Needless to say the students that he could not have interviewed (since they were actually attending class) would have given him a different perspective

So what should we do? Locking everyone up seems like it would be even more expensive with even worse long-term results.

I listened to part of the podcast and if I remember correctly his proposed solution is to offer treatment and housing, but it you don’t follow that road: prison.

No idea if that’s a good idea, but living in SF I can definitely say that whatever the city, or even the US as a country, has been doing until now has been useless.

Disclaimer: I used to live in Chicago, and while not as bad as sf, the homeless situation was the worst I had seen in my life at that time. So that sorts of tells me that this might be a national issue, not just an sf issue although it is definitely much more noticable in SF.

I do some work with the homeless in chicago, and the people you see living on the street are, by and large, not drug addicts.

In Chicago, drug addicts are transient-homeless. They're in and out of shelters as they get evicted or kicked out of a place, but they find somewhere new (indoors) to live. Some may be periodic homeless.

The chronic homeless in Chicago are usually physically and mentally disabled, and while they may drink, it's not substance abuse that keeps them from holding down a job and getting shelter.

One of the recent encampments we visited had an interesting story. It sits on what was the future site of a factory, and the group had all gathered there to work as labor for the construction. However, the builders found contaminated soil, and were working on a mitigation plan when covid hit, and these guys (and a few women) have been living there ever since. They recently called the police because someone who moved in to camp had stolen propane tanks from the neighborhood grills.

They're not all like that but it's a much different scene than a warm weather city's homeless camps. Edit: One thing that makes this plain is the lack of sharps in the chicago homeless camps. Most of the time you won't see orange caps!

True! Not the same homeless population. Chicago homeless begs aggressively, the one in SF are just zombies.

> Chicago homeless begs aggressively, the one in SF are just zombies.

Have had many outdoor dining experiences in SF that I would consider aggressive begging...

I feel like it’s rare to be asked for money in SF. While in chicago everyday on your path you will hear the noise of agressive coin shaking.

Build facilities to rehabilitate drug addicts and facilities to treat and house the mentally ill. Allowing those who cannot take care of the themselves to roam the streets and engage in behavior that is self-destructive and destructive to society is not compassionate or logical - its a system that has proven to be a failure.

Social services, with punishment for not participating.

Why do we need to do anything? Whats the problem with people being homeless and keeping to them selves?

They don’t have proper sanitation or garbage services. There are basically no public restrooms in SF. The vast majority are drug abusers that need money to pay for their addictions. They don’t have jobs, but they still get that money. How they get that money is the problem.

We already have laws the prohibit people doing illegal things. Crime isn't exclusive to homelessness.

And i seem to remember public bathrooms near the bart stations. they were like temporary green plastic things. but sure the city should have more in general. those kinds of things help everybody


So being homeless isnt the problem, mudering isnt exclusive to homeless people. Drugs and prostitution aren't problems. Cities not having adequate public serivces like bathrooms is a problem.

Drugs create big livability problems for the neighborhood residents who aren’t using them. For example, despite the presence of needle exchanges throughout my city, it’s not uncommon to find a used needle on the ground. Or, people who are high on meth do all sorts of disruptive and disturbing things, like having screaming matches with themselves in the middle of the street. So yeah, drugs are, in fact, a problem.

The problems around drugs exist because theyre illegal.If we were more accepting, legalized use, and had real support systems in place for people struggling these problems would go away.

We have littering rules, we as a society don't find it important. Why is styrofoam or cans OK. If you thinks drugs are a problem because they are a source of litter you should also think take out and portable food and other things people litter with are a problem?

I live in Portland. Last year the voters in Oregon voted to decriminalize all drugs when in user level quantities. No one bats an eye when someone shoots up, smokes meth, etc on the streets. There are needle exchanges available. I’d say that’s fairly accepting, and the legal risk has been removed for the user. And yet the problem has gotten much, much worse. Why? Because people who are out of their heads on meth or nodded out on the street can have no meaningful interaction with the rest of society without disrupting it. Meth, at least in its current form, makes people confused, paranoid, and violent. No support system short of full on institutionalization can cope with that, and there is a mountain of case law that makes involuntary commitment extraordinarily difficult in this country.

There's a huge difference between styrofoam litter and used needles in terms of health hazard.

So you'll host a camp in your backyard then?

I think you should take a step back from this topic if it's making your responses that emotional or elaborate more. Nothing you said is a rational response. That was 100% flame bait.

Seriously, if homeless camps aren't a problem then why aren't you hosting one?

Because no one should be expected to solve a societal problem personally.

It's good that people investigate homelessness and go one level deeper.

But why do they stop at drug addiction?

Or worse, decide that drug addiction is the underlying root cause that now needs to be treated with rehab, detox, or what have you.

Drug addiction is not the cause of poverty. Poverty is the cause of drug addiction.

The stories of the people who get into drugs recreationally, then descend into addiction, and destroy their lives are the exception vs those that start using to escape deeply challenging lives with poverty, physical abuse, and mental health struggles.

The dramatically rising rates of homelessness and addiction across US/Canada are the side effects of the toxicity of our society, the erosion of social safety nets, and runaway wealth inequality, capitalism, and housing affordability crises.

The Portugal model works when the rest of your society is cohesive enough to support those at the fringes. I don't know if it actually can succeed in nations founded on rugged individualism and who instill the obsession with liberty and freedom in every person from birth. This not only leads to society unwilling to help those that need it, it also makes those that need that help unwilling to accept it.

Poverty is the cause of drug addiction.

That explains the rampant drug abuse in the wealthy?

Nobody said poverty is the only cause of drug addiction period.

The point was that with homeless people, the poverty and homelessness tends to be what causes the drug addiction.

That’s actually the opposite from what I’ve heard. Drug addiction results in poverty. Plenty of examples of people who had problems with drugs or alcohol, lost jobs and became homeless.

Not an american, so don't take it personally. I understand in many big cities, most if not all are migrants from other places. If a person has left his home town to say SF, they live there, work there but if they become homeless there, why do they stick around?

Is the stigma of "living with your mom/parents" that people are willing to live on a park bench and not go to their homes and live with their parents for free? Do the parents have problem accepting back "children who have flown the nest"?

Genuinely curious. In India, when we have " migrants" living somewhere, locally or abroad even. If something happens or job loss or whatever, people just return home and survive. india on the whole does have some homeless problem but its not an epidemic level stuff. last year when the lockdown hit, the entire nation basically walked to their home towns and villages because they knew no work meant no rent and no place to sleep so everyone just packed their bags and returned homes. same for a lot of expat population, they all just returned home. i wonder if that happens there in the US or not?

> Poverty is the cause of drug addiction.

Can you elaborate?

On it's face this seems really counter intuitive to me.

Drugs cost money. Not having money doesn't somehow force you to use drugs.

Where the opposite direction seems obvious: The cost of maintaining an addiction and the reduction in reliability from drug use can result in being unable to work, increasing your poverty.

Michael Shellenberger does not live in San Francisco, or at least he did not when he came in dead last in the 2016 governor election.

Apparently he lived in San Francisco in the past, and now lives in Berkeley. He came in 9th out of 27 in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

wow youre right, he got 30,000 votes

he had pretty far to go to beat Newsom's 2,340,000 votes

Shellenberger at least beat the guy who's entire campaign was appearing in ads dual wielding pistols ( Peter Liu )

Since I moved out of SF I’ve wondered if there will ever be some public epiphany that with their well-intentioned policies they’ve reinforced what they most wanted to destroy: a society of the haves and have-nots.

> with their well-intentioned policies they’ve reinforced what they most wanted to destroy: a society of the haves and have-nots.

As a newly-former SF resident and worker, what I witnessed over the past decade confirms your sad summary. The unintended consequences of misguided yet well-intentioned political policies.

The problem is people are measuring policy success by how well intentioned it was rather than it’s results. Then, to further pile on to the disaster, political correctness discourages people from looking critically at the effects.

There is nothing well-intentioned about NIMBYism. While all this culture war keeps us busy, cars and short buildings laugh at us.

NIMBYism is a scapegoat. The problem is much more deeply rooted in the city's culture.

You are spouting nonmaterialist nonsense.

All American cities are anti-growth. The hippie legacy is pretty thin at this point and the cities are closer culturally to each other than the stagnant areas.

The Bay Area/California simply had more relativd demand for growth than many other areas, and better weather than the Northeast re homelessness on particular, and this is the inevitable result.

I'm sick of the NIMBY card. This should not be in ANYONE'S backyard.

NIMBYism is Houston, Atlanta, etc. buying one-way bus tickets to Seattle and SF. Locals who want the problem solved are not NIMBY's.

That's what happens when you put your ideology glasses on, you stop seeing reality. People fight for what they value as good even if everything tells them it doesn't work in the real world, as if the idea itself was more valuable than its manifestations.

We're seeing that all over the world, especially in Europe with the remains of the Lumières ideals, ideals which don't scale nor work in our globalized/capitalist world

The issue is not poverty at all. The issue is addiction. This constant framing of the homeless as dispossessed victims, rather than substance abusers with agency, makes it impossible to solve the issue.

Isn't drug addiction specifically when you lose agency over your own drug use?

Its hard to be 'upwardly mobile' and drop an addiction, find a job, get out of depression, have positive self image - when you are homeless, and every US service designed to help you is fucked beyond repair and stealing so much money.

I once looked at the SF budget for SFDPH and it showed all the roles, budget and costs. Payroll being the highest - but it also stated the number of homeless people in the city

I did the simple math of dividing the budget by the nu,ber of homeless and at that time the number would have equated paying every homeless person $12 an hour. or ~$24,000 per year.

Whichwould equate to UBI for such folks - and one could put stipulations on that such that it automatically made a savings account for the user with some % of that savings going into a fund which would be designed to, with the interest made on investment for that fund - be used to pay for more housing developments, job training etc...

regardless of my lack of expertise in developing homeless help programs (I have thought of several - here is the one I wanted to apply to YC with) I try, and compared to what the city of SF spends and how well their policies work, I think evaluating other options is critically needed.

Here was my concept for applying to YC (this is from ~5 years ago or so)


'Care Fleet' -- Mobile hygiene and necessities vehicle:

A box truck with a built out full set of bathrooms with capability to self steam sterilize after each use.

A one-seat barber station.

A service of providing clothing to all homeless in the form of, effectively, Scrubs. And not some crazy embarrassing color. Offer them in grey, black, brown/khaki only.

Socks and Shoes.

Basic hygiene kit (tooth brush, shaver, soap, whatever, wipes, female hygiene stuffs)

Allow homeless to take a shower, get a cut, get some scrubs and help info and some hydration and help info.


How I maintain compassion for the homeless is twofold; I have three precious beautiful children.

So whenever I see a homeless person, I see someones precious baby, a human who was once perfectly innocent.

Whenever I see homeless walking in absolute shreds of clothing, no shoes, or like one sock on, it breaks my heart.

If you have children, look at them - now imagine them walking through the streets filthy with shreds of clothing barely clinging to their bodies and being invisible to the rest of society aside from their disdain for your situation.

See your child in that person.

Its not black and white. Of course they can use some help, but they also need to face consequences for they own choices. Just read the book for examples of how other countries, like Holland and Portugal, have been very successful addressing their own addiction problems. In all cases the addict is provided support but is also held accountable for his own part in the addiction. This is how adults operate and the sooner we stop infantilizing these people the sooner we can see results and the better off everybody will be.

No the issue is lack of mental health intervention because the field of Psychiatry and our collective understanding of brain chemistry imbalances is very rudimentary, the science just isn’t there yet. So people with mental health problems can’t hold jobs and function in society like people with neurotypical brain chemistry.

Addiction can be linked to dopamine regulation disorder e.g. ADHD and risky behavior like gambling addiction, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, etc.

We need to address the mental health problem underlying homelessness

If you walk down many streets in the Mission and look a certain way, people will offer you weed, crack, or smack openly on the sidewalk in broad daylight. That's not an exaggeration, and if you haven't been to your city's equivalent I highly encourage it.

If you imagine a society crippled by gambling addiction, perhaps the best place to start would be by closing some casinos.

I see homeless who are speaking to themselves like they are hearing voices e.g. schizophrenia and other mental illness indicators more often than not. Maybe being homeless causes symptoms of mental Illness, or having untreated mental illness will force you to not hold a job and be employable like neurotypical workers in SF.

Just because your experience is seeing rampant drug use in the homeless population doesn’t mean it’s the main reason they are on the street. Drug addiction is not mutually exclusive from having mental illness and from having a degree in neuroscience, I learned that being neuroatypical with an imbalanced brain chemistry, e.g. dopamine regulation disorders and other neurotransmitter issues can easily result in the symptoms of risky behavior and substance abuse and addiction, which further damages your brain and neurodegeneration, thus having more mental illness.

Being sober from substance abuse is a huge factor to achieving gainful employment and rejoining society. Having untreated mental illness is increasing the difficulty mode of your life because you are not in control of your full brain if it’s imbalanced and addiction is an emergent neurochemical response to reinforcing pathways in your brain from a hyper pleasurable activity that lights up your imbalanced brain. Sorry I’m rambling but mental illness and homelessness is never really talked about they are destined to be left out of society if they can’t utilize their full cognitive abilities due to untreated mental illness and psychiatric intervention.

This attitude and it’s logical conclusions are why America has this problem. Compared to most European countries there’s an utter lack of compassion for people less fortunate.

Yes, a small part of homelessness is caused by drug issues (far more drug problems are the consequences of homelessness) but you only have to look at the absence of a proper welfare state, health system, and other essential safety nets, to see why things are so bad.

You want to live in a society without massive social problems, you have to pay a decent amount of tax to support the services that sustain a good society.

I believe you are misinformed. There is plenty of compassion, specially in the cities discussed in the book, that is not the issue at all, nor is lack of spending at all. Please read the book, or listen to any of the podcasts the author recently did, the Joe Rogan one is good summary. Please, I do not mean to be condescending, just listen or read with an open mind. This is not about compassion vs accountability or left vs right, this is about solving a problem that is destroying American cities.

> I believe you are misinformed

I've travelled all over America and Europe. The difference between attitudes to homeless people and welfare spending is vast. I've heard so many Americans describe homeless people as "bums".

> nor is lack of spending at all.

The small government and lack of a welfare and healthcare system are the principle criticism aimed at the US by Europeans. It's such a shame, as there are many things I admire about America but I wouldn't want to live in such an inequitable country without these now well-established essential components of a civilised society.

Having said that:

> just listen or read with an open mind.

As you wrote so reasonably, I will examine this material afresh, to see if it presents any convincing counter-arguments. The cold hard facts of US tax and government spending etc. will be hard to overcome, but I will be patient.

> this is about solving a problem that is destroying American cities.

This is certainly something we agree on, it is so tragic to see, it feels like another sign of America's downfall - a decline that has consequences for every western nation.

For our part, in the UK we are headed down the American path: slashing public spending, which has led to the closure of many of our homeless hostels, eradicating the welfare safety net so that many people live on the street for lack of housing, etc. The result has been soaring homelessness in our cities on a level I had not seen outside of America until the last decade.

Thank you for having an open mind. The book and the author discusses Europe, specifically Holland and Portugal, two countries were I have lived, and that have successfully addressed the issue - and the issue is addiction. The main difference between those two countries and the US is not the level of spending, it is the way the money is spent and the firmness with which the addicts are guided to a solution.

Why do you think, that this policy is well intended? Honestly, a lot funds end in private pockets right away. Even recent homeless relocation to hotels benefited hotels mostly. They would be sitting idle otherwise, and even all the damage caused to the hotels is covered by the city. There is a whole economy around it in San Francisco and Los Angeles that many feed on. I think the intention is keep it going.

Much better when the have-nots are out of sight

Unironically yes.

Why? How can we improve as a society if we move what we don't like out of sight?

I was particularly shocked when I came to the US by the sheer amount of poverty, disparity, etc. But I recently realized that the situation might not be that much better in Europe, it's just that poverty and disparity is usually moved to the suburbs and less visible.

What is the premise of this response? That unless we finally and completely solve the problems of society, nobody must be allowed to have streets free of needles and feces, lest they forget that addicts exist?

I'm sorry, I don't think it's immoral for me to want to live in a neighborhood where all my neighbors are housed, and keep their feces and drug abuse indoors.

The [recent Econtalk episode with Sam Quinoas]( https://www.econtalk.org/sam-quinones-on-meth-fentanyl-and-t...) really changed my understanding of the homelessness crisis. The efforts to make it harder to make meth has resulted in the process and ingredients of making meth changing. This results in slightly different meth that has much worse effects. Meth junkies become less socially functioning and have stronger drive to isolate themselves in tents. I cannot recommend the episode strongly enough. It's the best explanation I've heard why we are seeing this dramatic change in quantity and behavior of the homeless.

Second that EconTalk episode. Alternatively recent Atlantic article that is adapted from his book the least of us https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/11/the-new...

>"Perhaps the best defense against epidemics like this one lies in choosing to look more closely and more sympathetically at the people in those hoods—to put a higher priority on community than we’ve done in recent years. America has made itself more vulnerable to scourges, even as those scourges grow more potent. But scourges are also an opportunity: They call on us to reexamine how we live. Until we begin to look out for the most vulnerable among us, there’s no reason to expect them to abate."

That's a great quote. When I worked at a harm reduction site (pre pandemic), I also noticed the meth users seemed to be deteriorating more rapidly than usual, and this was in Canada.

Whatever the solution to this problem is, I worry something has become broken in our societies. You can even see it in this thread, with people quoting a goddamned podcaster (Joe Rogan) and spreading a ton of misinformation about addiction (eg. disputing that addiction is strongly linked to socio-economic status).

Google scholar exists and this crowd is supposed to be educated. This quote from the article says it better than I could:

>"Crystal meth is in some ways a metaphor for our times—times of anomie and isolation, of paranoia and delusion, of communities coming apart. Meth is not responsible for these much wider social problems, of course. But the meth epidemic is symptomatic of them, and also contributes to them."

Rogan already discussed the problem of homelessness with several experts, and the topic is something he cares a lot about. I wouldn’t dissmiss his opinions basen on the fact that he is „goddamn podcaster”. I don’t think he ever disputed that there is correlation between socio-economic status and addition. What he however questioned is the idea that giving addicted money and housing will solve the problem. San Franciso spends more money than any other city and gets the worst outcome so it seems he may have a point after all.

> He blames San Francisco’s woes on a culture of permissive lawlessness and a mistaken view of what constitutes moral policymaking.

A frequent critique of those that want to solve the homeless problem by sending in the police to crack heads and send everyone to prison. The main goal here of course being to ensure that the homeless "go away" somewhere out of view.

In reality most of the "crimes" that people are wringing their hands about are things like petty theft, drug use (a medical issue) and loitering which are so incredibly and hilariously minor that any judge will laugh in your face at the notion of sending one to prison for such abuses as this would obviously be a cruel and unusual punishment and not at all reasonable. The legal system will never send such offenders to prison.

It never occurs to those venturing mass imprisonment of the homeless that um, simply building housing for the homeless is a dramatically more affordable solution.

Therein lies the answer to the posed question:

> How can a place brimming with resources and good intentions fail so flagrantly to meet the basic needs of the population?

Despite our incredible wealth we simply do not provide in any way reasonable incomes and housing for those that are (for many reasons) unable to work, and so of course the problem festers. Why would we expect any change to magically happen?

In my home town of Vancouver BC, which has very similar chronic homelessness problems as SF, our minimum income assistance is $935 a month. Of this sum, the shelter allowance is $375. There is of course virtually nowhere in Vancouver where one can rent anything for $375 a month, thus ensuring systemic, state sponsored homelessness, poverty and misery and people camping outside in parks.

Why is there such poverty and homelessness? Well with $375 a month for housing good grief why wouldn't there be?

Ah, clearly petty theft is no bother and correcting the injustices of oppressive society!

I hope you experience your things being stolen one day and not being able to afford to replace them and change your mind.

Nobody said that. They said incarceration for petty theft is unreasonable.

Refusing to put thieves in jail leads to thieves not caring if they get caught. Which leads us back to modern day SF.

There is a big difference between petty theft as you'd think petty would mean (<$30 of small stuff) and what the law defines it as (<$950 of stuff).

You're also making the implicit assumption here that people who commit petty theft would actually care about the marginally higher chance of suffering consequences from it in a context where there isn't anything to mitigate the reasons they're committing petty theft in the first place.

And I think you're making the implicit assumption here that people who are the victims of petty theft just had their stuff stolen, and weren't assaulted, brutalized, terrified, or otherwise demeaned in a way that will change how they function or view their lives in society. There's a larger "cost" to petty theft than just the stuff that gets stolen.

The reason we have laws, and punishment associated with breaking those laws, around petty theft isn't just about incentivizing would-be thieves to not do it.

> isn't just about incentivizing would-be thieves to not do it

If the law around petty theft doesn't actually reduce the number of petty thefts that happen, then all it's doing on a societal level is wasting money.

Would love to have your privilege of considering petty theft to be harmless. For the majority of vulnerable people, it causes extreme emotional and financial distress. Try talking to actual people who are not privileged and see what they think about being victims of petty theft.

I never said it was harmless

The reviewed author does not advocate for imprisonment. He advocates for treatment and housing programs that require the addicts to follow the program and make progress. A "carrot and stick" approach, which has worked in other countries.

Obvious solutions like "just give them houses" are discussed in the book, and previous attempts are evaluated. As you might expect, stuffing severely ill people into apartments without addressing the illness results in poor outcomes.

And you can't just diagnose them then go visit them? Help them with meds etc?

I'd encourage you to develop some first-hand experience working with this population of resistant addicts.

I have it. My brother is a paranoid schizophrenic who lived in public housing and got care. He was and is an addict and many of the people around him were addicts, but not all of them. I visited quite a bit. Anyway, he stayed alive and was ok because of the care he got, he left everyone alone and didn't ever hurt anyone but himself.

I'm glad for you and your brother. There are a lot of people who don't want help and won't take housing, or other assistance, if it's contingent on getting clean.

Because i know how addicts think, i know that will never work. I used to get all ragey about the way they think and they constantly trying to get stuff through social tricks from whoever is around (usually are very bad at it), but i've gotten over it. The contingency is not a good plan. They crave what they want and it is the most important thing in the world, it gets like hardwired into the brain, but they are still people and they can still get over it or get somewhat normal. Cages don't help the psyche. Street doesn't help the psyche. It's like punishment and the negative reinforcement is not helpful. Housing gives a base and yes, there is gonna be plenty of abuse of the system by them. They will continue to try to get drugs and do them, etc. I am imagining there's tons of corruption and wasted money that goes on in the organizations that handle things right now, and that needs to be handled. But the bills being proposed by the Republicans in the state governments across the country have teeth on them that go too far, because it's all really centered around using policing and punishment to enforce something that can be helped with assistance.

The 'left' solution is gonna continue to annoy republicans, who don't want their country to be seen as having a huge poverty problem next to China who is researching it and actively alleviating it. But their fixes are gonna cause a lot of human suffering that is out of sight, out of mind. When Joe Biden was talking about the border patrol's mistreatment of Haitians, everything he said was really just about perception. He wants the effect of the enforcement, he just doesn't want it to be seen in the light of what it truly is. The homeless thing and the release of this propaganda book we are discussing is a coordinated effort to "solve" the problem. The people passing these bills don't research poverty and they don't have a real plan besides violence.

In China, they actively discourage (to put it mildly) drug abuse. They may be housing the addicted but they are certainly not permitting them to remain addicts. On the other hand, there is no agreement in US society that we should stop addicts from getting their fix -- if anything, the current progressive regime believes in housing addicts and facilitating continued access to drugs.

Housing with on site supports is very common.

I listened to the Joe Rogan’s podcast and the solution seemed to be housing and treatment first, punishment later.

Coming to conclusions about solutions via Joe Rogan's podcast is only contributing to the problem, friend.

Wouldn't it be better to argue why what was heard on Rogan's podcast is wrong, rather than implicitly arguing that all solutions heard on Rogan's podcast are wrong. To me, your response seems like the bigger problem.

Information (including dis- and mis-) is all around us. Arguing that information from sources you dislike is wrong because you dislike the source is illogical. Respectfully, you should address exactly why what was heard on Joe Rogan's podcast is wrong.

Information being all around us is precisely why your request is just as wrong. To ask experts to take time to evaluate all the questionable sources out there is unreasonable. And yes, this is a questionable source regardless of the interviewee or your feelings about Rogan. Obviously any podcast cannot be a rigorous or thorough treatment of the topic. The format makes that impossible.

The flip side of information being ubiquitous is that quality information has never been more accessible. Research papers and studies are clicks away. The answer is to not form conclusions so quickly, to seek reputable sources, and to seek a lot of them.

Why should so many people need public assistance at all? When most people can't afford to live somewhere...they move somewhere else.

There's countless reasons why someone may be unable to work and accordingly they'll need income assistance. Disability and Age are significant ones. Mental illness, drug addiction are others.

"Move somewhere else" assumes that there is actually somewhere more affordable to live, (and one has the funds to relocate) which is not necessarily obviously the case. Further flung places with arguably cheaper housing costs add increased living costs in lack of public transportation services and support services.

In the BC context, it doesn't matter how far one gets from Vancouver, there is really no where where $375 satisfies market rents.

In regard to San Francisco, though, there are many, many more affordable places to live. I was going to say, that literally any other place in the USA is more affordable; but NYC finally surpassed San Francisco as most expensive rental market in August of this year:


housing costs are elastic. constrain supply and only the rich can afford it. economics 101.

Live in Vancouver and don't we spend around 360 million a year on the DTES?

Is [big sounding number] supposed to mean anything?

Either we're spending enough money that people can afford to live indoors or not.

$375/month is obviously not enough money for anyone to afford to rent anything anywhere.

Accordingly, the real cost of solving homelessness is more.

That's not a sound argument though. It applies no matter how much you spend. The "real cost" of solving homelessness could be much less, and that could just be a particularly expensive and ineffective solution. Structural, endemic problems likely require structural, foundational solutions.

>petty theft

That doesn't happen in most of the rest of the country. Sure you can load up the circuit court sites and find it but effectively you don't even need to lock anything

I often hear treatment promoted, but it's interesting that I rarely hear a topic right next to this come up in such discussions: a for-profit healthcare system that not-only leaves these people behind, but helps to put many of them there in the first place. I can't find anything in this thread about health insurance, universal access to healthcare, etc.

I have excellent health insurance by US standards (the most expensive plan offered by a big tech company in SF). I've been battling mental illness for the last two years (more like two decades, but getting treatment for two years after it became untenable), resulting in months of medical leave from work on the advice of multiple doctors. Even with "excellent" insurance, I'm approaching $50K out of pocket over the last two years. It was more than that before my insurance company decided to cover my illness and reimbursed some of what I had previously paid (after 18 months of me, my doctor, and HR fighting them). What if I wasn't lucky enough to have "excellent" health insurance and sufficient savings from years of high paying jobs? If I wasn't so lucky and ended up homeless, what chance would I have of recovering from my condition? I've avoided alcohol and drugs my entire life because I know I'm prone to addictive behavior - I'm guessing one cold night on the street would be all it would take for the first drink. It's scary to think about where it would go from there.

Healthcare for homeless people tends to be emergency rooms and under-resourced free clinics. Given my experience being treated for mental illness, I can't conceive of making any progress in free clinics or ERs. So why wouldn't I be a permanent resident of the streets?

I see talk here of homelessness being less of an issue in Europe and China... in my opinion, access to healthcare is a key difference. Treatment for homeless people is great, but how sane is a system that pushes people off a health/financial cliff before they can get such treatment? Financially feasible access to treatment long before we get there is crucial.

My experience of mental healthcare in the UK and China is not what what you imply. Your description of mental care for homeless in USA is close to what is available for the majority of the working class in the UK.

I worked in mental health in the UK. In my area an initial mental health consult has a 6 month wait. You are unlikely to receive ongoing care in the first 2 years after the initial consult, but most will never be offered ongoing care. Lack of treatment pushes people out of the job market and into destructive behaviour. The fact that it is free at the point of care matters little when poor health is itself financially destructive.

I also cared for a relative's health in China. If you want a basic level of hygiene you will pay for everything. If you want clean sheets and avoid bed sores you may need to pay extra. Bring a good blanket, the hospital may not have a heating system.

It sounds like mental health care is in a bad state in many places. There is an illusion that the US system means we don't have the difficult waits you describe in the UK... that's not my experience as someone seeking care.

Part of why it took me so long to get treatment (I mentioned that I've been dealing with this for decades) is that 20 years ago I could only afford to get treatment that I knew my insurance company would cover (cover == 80%). I was on two waiting lists... the insurance company's own list and one at Stanford Medical Center. I tried to get on more lists, but I couldn't find any that weren't "full". I checked regularly on the two lists, each time being told I don't have to check as they'll reach out when I'm at the top. I gave up checking after three years and they never reached out. I never got as far as a consult. It's expensive for me now because I didn't go the insurance company's route - I just went straight to a doctor and submitted insurance claims after.

I almost couldn't reach out for treatment this time. I knew I was nearing a point of no return. It felt like reaching out for treatment meant facing potential rejection on my last chance and the added stress made me almost non-functional. That's part of why I describe myself as lucky. I was able to amass the savings needed for treatment before my illness incapacitated me so much that I could neither work nor seek help.

While it's a bad situation that it can take years to get ongoing treatment in a system like the UK's, I still would have had treatment many years earlier. Things need to improve all over if we actually want to make progress on homelessness. We need approaches to get people off the street. But we also need to have better systems in place that reduce the number of people ending up on the street in the first place. I don't believe that remediation without prevention will do much to reverse current trends.

("in San Francisco") From 2005 to 2020 the estimated number of unsheltered homeless people nearly doubled, even as homelessness declined nationwide.

One possible explanation: California has become the dumping ground for the nation's homeless population.

We have a nationwide shortage of housing. Both in person and online, I continue to hear homeless people plan to move someplace relatively warm and dry while stuck on the streets.

California is on a short list of states with dry weather and the weather there is more temperate than, say, Nevada or Arizona. You can die in the extreme heat of summer in some of the dry states.

I don't think the mess in San Francisco is entirely due to local policies. I think the nation as a whole needs substantially more affordable housing.

The author argues that housing prices are not a significant factor:

"Throughout it, they emphasized that the homeless were just like you and me, just poorer. Today, many of California’s leading homelessness advocates insist that the current crisis is due mostly to the housing shortage. Homelessness experts and advocates disagree.

'I’ve rarely seen a normal able-bodied able-minded non-drug-using homeless person who’s just down on their luck,” L.A. street doctor Susan Partovi told me. “Of the thousands of people I’ve worked with over 16 years, it’s like one or two people a year. And they’re the easiest to deal with.'” [1]

[1] https://www.studentnewsdaily.com/editorials-for-students/why...

> I’ve rarely seen a normal able-bodied able-minded non-drug-using homeless person who’s just down on their luck

This right here. Nearly all homeless I've worked with were non-neuronormative and/or drug abusers. They're almost never just normal folks who have fallen on hard times. The reason they aren't rooming with a family member or friend is because their behavioral outbursts and/or stealing things to buy drugs has exhausted all the goodwill of those who would help them.

Author and journalist Sam Quinones hypotesizes in his book, The Least of Us, that a significant part of the increase in homelessness is due to a change in methamphetamine quality.

Prior to about 2010, meth was manufactured in Mexico using high quality precursors. The government cracked down on imports, and cartels started using a much more dirty P2P manufacturing methods, which is anecdotally associated with vastly higher levels of disruptive psychosis.

He talked about it in an episode of Econ Talk.


It’s an interesting theory but P2P meth was the standard meth prior to ephedrine being used in the 90’s.

Did we see the same level of homelessness back then?

This is completely anecdotal, but contemporary accounts of the Haight Ashbury following the Summer of Love tell the story of a movement that started out on acid, moved on to speed, and became far more violent and filled with squalor because of it. Much like what is happening today.

“[1] Even among drug-using Haight-Ashbury subcultures, the high-dose methamphetamine abuser was marginalized, but became increasingly visible and unavoidable because of violence associated with dealing methamphetamine and because of the users' hyperactivity and paranoia.”


In this telling, there's also a huge increase in supply since then- 1980s biker meth was relatively artisinal, but the current situation involves large and professional factories in Mexico.

True, but at least in the 60’s and 70’s most stimulants were legitimate medications. Amphetamine, dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine were widely prescribed and diverted into illegal channels.

There was a “scourge” of truckers taking uppers and driving all night. Stimulant use was really rampant across all social classes. Use decreased when prescriptions were cut off, then meth resurged in the 90’s.

And the other data point is methamphetamine use is the drug of choice in much of Asia. But you don’t see anywhere near the social problems you do in the US.

Good question and frankly idk.

Could be that that biker meth was also as bad. Could be differences in recipes/precursors/equipment as p2p can be made from hundreds of different ingredients.

I wonder if there are data sets tracking drug impurities that could test the hypothesis.

> They're almost never just normal folks who have fallen on hard times

Why do those have to be two distinct types of people? It seems to me that normal people who fall on hard times might have a tendency to become "non-neuronormative and/or drug abusers"? I wonder how strong that conversion is.

Worked with in what capacity?

Became friends with a number of homeless, bought them meals, gave them money, gave them clothing, heard their life stories in their own words, etc. There used to be a lot near where I used to live.

How did you meet? On the street? At a shelter? Most homeless people are homeless under a year in the US. Many have jobs. Many sleep on couches not streets. Or in cars not shelters. And they try to avoid the stigma of homelessness.

> Most homeless people are homeless under a year in the US


> Many have jobs


> How did you meet? On the street?

Yes, and a few did indeed have cars and sleep in cars.

Agencies and researchers talk about 2 or 3 kinds of homelessness. Longer than 1 year is chronic.[1] 120,323 of 580,466 homeless people counted were chronically homeless in January 2020.[2]

I don't think the number with jobs is tracked nationally. 10% of unsheltered people in San Diego said they were currently employed or attending school.[3] Another 11% were unemployed under 6 months. In New York City 16% of single adults in shelters had jobs.[4] 28% of families had at least 1 working adult. And people with jobs spend less time in shelters or on the street of course. Maybe none if they can afford a cheap hotel room.

You meet who you meet on the street because people with somewhere else to be are somewhere else.

[1] https://guildservices.org/the-different-types-of-homelessnes...

[2] https://files.hudexchange.info/reports/published/CoC_PopSub_...

[3] https://www.rtfhsd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/2018-WPoin...

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/nyregion/in-new-york-havi...

Able bodied able minded homeless people prefer clinic doctors in my experience.

What if part of the reason they got hooked on drugs was they were down on their luck 8-15 years ago, and she's only seeing the end result of chronic drug abuse? There's a high correlation between low SES and ice use. I know of three ice users in my broader circle and they're all very very poor but don't otherwise have mental health issues. Her impressions as a field doctor are useful but I am sceptical and this needs more rigorous study.

Exactly. While I think there is an argument to be made that many of SF's/California's policies are counterproductive (e.g. treating all theft < $900 as a misdemeanor), blaming SF without looking at the nationwide policies is cheap, lazy journalism.

The same thing is happening in Austin. As a liberal city in Texas with relatively homeless-friendly policies, it was been well-documented that many rural areas in Texas are giving their homeless one-way bus tickets to Austin.

So we're left with the dilemma that relatively liberal cities have their homeless problems blamed on their policies, when a fairer criticism is just that these liberal policies attract homeless to their locales.

Without a national or at least comprehensive state-wide solution for homelessness, this will be a difficult problem to solve.

The $900 felony rule keeps being brought up on HN, but the felony amount for Texas is $2500.

Clearly something other than the misdemeanor/felony classification is at play.

The difference is that Chesa Boudin, SF's DA, won't prosecute those misdemeanors (and often won't even prosecute felonies).

> “We will not prosecute cases involving quality-of-life crimes,” the DA, Chesa Boudin, said in an interview while he was campaigning for office. “Crimes such as public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc., should not and will not be prosecuted.” Despite that — or maybe because of it — he was elected. [1]

> The initiative set a threshold of $950 for shoplifting to be considered a misdemeanor, which doesn't prompt law enforcement to make an arrest, rather than a felony, which could incur harsh penalties like jail time. "Some people calculate, 'Hey, you know, I don't want to go over the $950, so let me steal $949 worth of property,'" Scott said. "If it's a felony, our officers can take action," he added. "But if it's a misdemeanor, that arrest has to be a private person's arrest. And that makes a difference because they have to be willing to do that." [2]

[1] https://thehill.com/opinion/criminal-justice/559465-the-litt...

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/after-san-francisco-sho...

Please indicate on the crime rate graph the point at which Chesa Boudin was elected.


Again, if you're not even arresting people for minor things like breaking windows, you're not going to see it on a "crime rate graph".

Why would you call the police to report a crime that they have a policy of taking no action on?

What's different is the enforcement of punishments.

quote from https://saputo.law/criminal-law/texas/theft-crimes/theft/:

    * Theft under $100 is a Class C Misdemeanor (punishable by a fine up to $500).

    * Theft between $100 and $750 is a Class B Misdemeanor (punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine). 
    If the value of the stolen property is under $100, it is still a Class B Misdemeanor theft if you have been previously convicted of theft of if the property stolen was an identification card like a driver’s license.

    * Theft between $750 and $2,500 is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4000 fine.

In California, you are not likely to see any jail time (and often you will not see any prosecution at all) for the same crime that will be prosecuted in Texas. It's not about felonies per se, but the general attitude towards punishing crime.

Stealing in Texas is a significantly riskier proposition than stealing from someone in California.

Especially burglary. The scariest stories of post-Chesa SF for my money are the home invasion ones when the owners/tenants are present in the home. Burglaries in Texas don’t happen unless the thief is 100% certain nobody is home.

Burglaries in Texas definitely have people present and I personally recall multiple rapes and murders happening this way when I lived there. Home invasions even a tag on this Dallas news site.


To be clear “home invasion” is Burglary with people present https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/home%20invasion)

Got any links on such incidents?


https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/tag/home-invasion-robbery/ for the general category of home invasion. I think that's the technical difference, for anyone googling - robbery when you aren't home, invasion when residents are present.

San Jose, and the peninsula don’t have nearly as much petty theft or shoplifting crime. And yet the laws are nearly identical. Only difference I can think of is the local community supporting the police.

The laws aren't the only factor. They also have to be enforced, which they often aren't in SF.

Could be. In WA, people like to say that Bellevue, Redmond, and the like will arrest their homeless people so they end up in King County jail..in Seattle. "Problem solved."

Their policies are demonstrably at fault though, there are large European cities which face this same dynamic and yet they do not have anywhere near the level of problems that we have in this country.

This seems to be, in large part, due to their policies. Housing is not their primary goal, addiction and psychiatric treatment are. You get housing when you comply, it's the carrot that is used to motivate people to engage with the program.

The author recently did a Joe Rogan podcast and did a very good job of explaining this and it's practical effects and differences in detail.

> You get housing when you comply, it's the carrot that is used to motivate people to engage with the program.

Note that Finland famously has a "Housing First" policy that has practically eliminated homelessness there, so that seems to be a direct counterexample to your comment.

And while the overall rate in Finland has been trending downwards, the rate of people living outside as well as long-term homelessness has _increased_ in the past two years in Finland.

Reference: https://www.ara.fi/download/noname/%7B0D67A61D-7980-467C-834...

> Without a national or at least comprehensive state-wide solution for homelessness, this will be a difficult problem to solve.

I wish more people realized this. Every city seems to be having people complain about homelessness. The three cities ive lived in in the last 6 years has. Idk why it is on a city of 60,000 people to try to fix homelessness. Especially when a ton are homeless veterans. The national goverment is dumping their problem on places to small and unorganized to deal with it.

Ok but it's also been documented that SF gives bus tickets, too. Everywhere is giving bus tickets. So if you're using this argument you'll need to show that SF is giving less bus tickets per homeless population.

>One possible explanation: California has become the dumping ground for the nation's homeless population.

>I think the nation as a whole needs substantially more affordable housing.

And San Francisco will never be a place with affordable housing.

Modesto, ok. Manteca, ok. Not SF. No one ever thinks, I'm homeless, lemme go to SF and see if I can find something there.

It's political. Otherwise you'd see more homeless in San Diego than SF.

Perhaps this speaks to your point, but the situation is just as bad in the outlying Central Valley cities. There are currently people camping on the embankment of Highway 120 through Manteca. Stockton's situation only kept getting worse after the 2008 recession, and there are tent camps in drastically unsafe areas along the freeway shoulder there as well. This has been going on for years.

It's definitely a regional problem, not just something isolated to a single city. I often wonder if people move around from town to town as their connections in the community shift, or they get a bad rep with local law enforcement... a friend who was formerly an EMT had an anecdote of a woman he picked up in Antioch for a meth-induced mental health incident who he saw, years later, stumbling around outside the hospital in Oakland in much the same state.

I think it's entirely possible that people come to SF or LA as an intentional destination and then, over time, get flushed towards the outlying cities, if they don't get ground into the dirt first. The current Atlantic article about the changing meth trade features a transgender person on skid row in LA who came there from the Midwest, believing that they could eventually gain access to gender reassignment surgery: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/11/the-new...

San Diego does have quite a lot of homeless, but it isn't as concentrated geographically.

I'd argue that part of the issue with San Francisco is the concentration of the homeless into a small area. You don't see homeless in Atherton, for example. The wealthy enclaves in the Bay Area have zero problem with pushing the homeless out of their areas into somewhere else. In the Bay Area, there aren't that many "somewhere else" left so the ones that remain get overloaded.

I live in SF and while I don't spent a lot of time in Atherton, but homeless is most definitely visible even in the wealthy enclaves. Even before covid there was a small but visible homeless population in downtown Palo Alto (univ ave) and more recently there are tents on the sidewalk in Cupertino just down the street from Apple's spaceship campus. I think it must have become less acceptable to "move them along" during COVID.

Correct. Atherton isn't a great example. There's literally no downtown, so any homeless people would have to set up camp right outside some (very rich) person's (giant) single family home on a street with no sidewalk. Even in less affluent parts of the Bay Area unhoused people typically cluster in business or industrial districts rather than residential neighborhoods filled with single family homes.

You see unhoused people in downtown Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Los Altos which are almost as wealthy as Atherton, and there was temporary outrage last year when it was reported that Menlo Park PD had paid for a one-way cab ride for one of the regular unhoused residents up to Pacifica (they claimed that she asked them to get her there so she could get her hair cut by a friend).

South Bay homelessness has adapted to car culture. A lot of South Bay homeless live in cars or campers permanently parked on city streets adjacent to parks, school fields, and/or business parks. I think most South Bay cities have a "you have to move a vehicle that's parked on the street every 3 days" law intended to discourage this, but it doesn't seem to be enforced.

San Diego county has roughly half the homeless pop of SF city/county while having triple the population.

Isn't San Francisco also much more expensive? It stands to reason that the number of people no longer able to afford their rents would contribute to the problem.

This article was really focusing on the chronic visible homeless; living on the street, public feces, injection drug use etc.

Many people do become homeless because of higher rents but they are able to take advantage of social safety nets so you don't see them on the streets of SF.

Sounds like you've never spent much time in San Diego.

Who came up with the hypothesis that California is the dumping ground for the nation's homeless? I'd like to know if it stands up to scrutiny.

California itself has a population which is the size of a medium sized European country. It is large enough to have a sizable homeless population. If you are homeless are your chances of getting food and services better in the central valley or in SF? Also, are there significantly less homeless people on the East coast by comparison?

CA has 1/2 the population of homeless in the US but only 1/8 of total population. The eastern seaboard has close to half the US population but obviously cannot have nearly the same rate of homeless.

Something is at play, though it need not be anything too complicated. Good weather and significant resources dedicated to making the homeless comfortable make California the obvious destination.

There are possibly network effects within homeless communities that are hard for outsiders to understand as well.

The economy of California is pretty good vs other states.

People from all over the USA travel to places like California for better economic opportunities.

Misfortunes happen and people become homeless.

Thus you end up with people from "out of state" that are homeless.

Thank you, is there a link where I could cite that information?

I need to write that I was slightly mistaken, CA houses half of the “unsheltered” in the United States and only a quarter of the “homeless.” The unsheltered are highly visible and make up 70% of the total homeless in CA, the highest rate in the nation.

Here is a detailed link from CA: https://shou.senate.ca.gov/sites/shou.senate.ca.gov/files/Ho...


There's multi-billion dollar lawsuits going on because it's been documented as a policy of nevada hospitals.

That is interesting and very concerning but that is 10 people when the homeless population in CA is 151,278 https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/homeless-po...

The thinking is that it's not an isolated incident and lots of PD's & hospitals did this. It's hard to prove because no one will admit to it, and the people being sent aren't always the most reliable witnesses.

I too would like to see some real numbers behind this. But I will say that I took greyhounds and amtrak in / out of CA a lot growing up in the bay area and I had numerous experiences talking to homeless folks who had been put on the train or bus by law enforcement in counties outside CA for destinations including SF and San Diego. I never experienced the inverse of homeless folks getting shipped out of CA. Always stuck with me for whatever a personal anecdote is worth.

This article is fascinating, and surprising:


So that appears to imply that in largely more wealthy cities are sending homeless people to less expensive cities and SF has an active program which is doing this too.

This was surprising to me, in that SF is such a large participant.

Excellent article, thank you for sharing it!

Anyone who wonders how SF keeps sliding further into dystopia, this is why. Because every negative consequence of their politics gets blamed on some other.

Only someone with zero experience with San Francisco in the 70's, 80's and into the 1990's could say that with a straight face.

Disclaimer: I have read the Economist article but not the book it appears to synopsizing/marketing.

It doesn't seem like trying to simplify challenges in large cities to a single dimension like housing is a path to success. Basic needs and social services beyond housing go a long way in supporting people, which (sadly) can't be provided by just addressing a housing shortage/affordability gap.

It's worth taking a look at the SF Point in Time and Housing Inventory Counts data [1] to provide context on this conversation.

[1] https://hsh.sfgov.org/about/research-and-reports/pit-hic/

"as a whole needs substantially more affordable housing.'

I'm fairly sure this is an issue with at least all the western democracies. Not to mention other countries. That issue includes housing that is used as an investment, eg kept empty / kept high priced. Then there's the unsuitability of a lot of housing, eg not enough rooms, too many rooms, poor locations.

If your employee, nanny, maid, servant or dogsbody has a one hour drive to get to work each morning, don't expect them to stick around if they can change to a better opportunity.

The great resignation sums this up nicely. Why work there when I can work here?

A large number of homeless in San Francisco were previous SF residents.

When folks live paycheck to paycheck almost anything can lead to them becoming homeless.

That said, there are more then enough homes for everyone, in the form of vacant homes. https://sf.curbed.com/2019/12/3/20993251/san-francisco-bay-a...

> One possible explanation: California has become the dumping ground for the nation's homeless population.

Even more than Skid Row? To be honest that wikipedia page blows my mind https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skid_Row,_Los_Angeles

> We have a nationwide shortage of housing.

First, you must understand that the population of San Francisco is growing, but slowly. Over the last decade San Francisco grew by just under 10%, which sounds like a lot, but it really isn't when looking at a larger data set compared to many other metropolitan areas. San Francisco is now the 17th largest city in the US, which I believe is unchanged from a decade ago. Looking at the data a huge number of cities are growing dramatically faster than San Francisco.

The fastest growing big city in the US is Seattle, which grew over 27% the last decade. That is a lot of growth, but Austin, Fort Worth, and Denver grew at nearly the same rates (26%, 26%, and 24% respectively) and the first two were 50% larger, which is a phenomenal amount of growth in raw numbers. This year Austin bumped San Jose to become the 10th largest city in the US and last year Fort Worth became the 12th largest city. 10 years ago Fort Worth was the 18th largest city in the US. In the next 10 years Fort Worth will also likely surpass San Jose and become the 11th largest city in the US, though its only the 5th largest city in Texas.

Why is it then that housing supply is a major issue in San Francisco, but not in these other cities that are growing so much faster? It cannot be due to geographic constraint, because Seattle and Dallas are geographically restricted as well, Seattle due to ocean and mountains and Dallas due to encapsulation by suburbs.

Secondly, when this conversation comes up people in the bay area tend to be unable to differentiate housing from houses. More specifically from any place to live versus owned single family real estate. This is likely due to restrictions on size and affordability not present in many other locations. There is a substantial difference with regards to equity, taxation, value, availability, and inflation.

Third, the actual data suggests absolutely no relationship between housing inventory and growth. Most people want to quibble about some high school economics class they once took with regard to supply/demand without looking at the data. The supply/demand relationship typical of retail does not apply to fixed assets. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_asset

In high growth markets the speed of population growth is a direct correlation to the availability of inventory. This means that the more housing that exists for purchase the more the population grows to accommodate. When housing inventory shrinks, often because they can only build so many houses at a given speed, higher density housing units are introduced in place of single family homes, thus further accelerating the rate of growth. This is not observed in San Francisco because San Francisco is not growing that fast and has constraints on home ownership not present in many other locations.

Even more unexpected is that house prices, as in actual houses that people own, is only loosely associated with demand. In my area houses have increased in value about 34% over the past year and continues to climb, though very slowly now. That price growth was due to unassociated economic material constraints that have since recovered and now the supply of new single family homes are again exploding and new apartment complexes are popping almost as fast. Access to existing inventory was not interrupted and growth of new units did not dramatically slow during this price volatility, yet prices sky rocketed and demand remained constant.


> Why is it then that housing supply is a major issue in San Francisco, but not in these other cities that are growing so much faster?

There's the actual rate of growth vs demand- and the demand for h I using in SF was quite high in the 2010s compared to other metros.

[citation needed]

The data does not support GP's assertion:

70% from San Francisco

22% from rest of California

8% from out of state

Also, the data disagrees with the general sentiment of "Mental Health" issues amongst Homeless people. Only 5% were homeless because of mental health problems. Most of them, almost a quarter are homeless because they lost their job.

Basically, many things in this report goes against the general opinion of people of the Bay Area. Misinformed public leads to misinformed decision making and policies.

Responding to GP:

> I don't think the mess in San Francisco is entirely due to local policies. I think the nation as a whole needs substantially more affordable housing.

This is wrong. It is precisely due to the policies of SF city. The sooner people realize and accept the faults of San Francisco city's governance, the better it will be for the city. Same lessons can be applied to Portland (used to be ranked 3rd in the nation according to Oregonian, now it is ranked a whopping 66th out of 80), Seattle, and Los Angeles.

To OP - thank you for the link, it's illuminating.

> Also, the data disagrees with the general sentiment of "Mental Health" issues amongst Homeless people. Only 5% were homeless because of mental health problems. Most of them, almost a quarter are homeless because they lost their job.

The same study also quotes (p. 28): "Seventy-four percent (74%) of respondents reported living with one or more health conditions, compared to 68% in 2017. These conditions included chronic physical illnesses, physical disabilities, chronic substance use, and severe mental health conditions. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of respondents reported their condition limited their ability to hold a job, live in stable housing, or take care of themselves, compared to 53% in 2017."

This points to the fact that regular, long-term medical care is the singular issue in the homeless. I had no idea that things were that bad. 15% have a traumatic brain injury? Holy hell.

Losing one's job is not mutually exclusive with drug addiction and mental illness.

That's absolutely correct. San Francisco should be a city lined with gold given the wealth and income base. Given its fortunate context it should be more like Singapore and a lot less like a slightly nicer Los Angeles.

And makes GP assertion even less likely when counted at per-family-with-children.

47% is from within SF the rest is from elsewhere


Top cited primary cause of homelessness: "Lost Job" (26%)

Top cited obstacle to obtaining employment: "No Permanent Address" (28%)

No permanent address is self reported. In general those who aren't employable are unreliable for self-assessments as to why (although I don't doubt the lack of address is a hinderance -- for sure it would be).

Similarly, lost job tells us little about the bigger picture. What led to them being a lost job away from being homeless? Was it living beyond their means? No family? No friends willing to take them in? Being raised poor with no social net and working jobs making no money?

You have to really do a deep analysis to get in deeper to understand how people ended up in the situation they did, what roads they could have taken but didn't, what are societal ills that brought them there, and thus what to ultimately do about any of it.

Given the amount of money ($1B+) SF spends on homeless yearly, personally I wish we could find a way to use that to actually do something WPA style and employ them to do various jobs to actually improve things (and hopefully their life as well) versus just continue to maintain status quo.

> the amount of money ($1B+) SF spends on homeless yearly

> TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS, 2013-2019 > 7,008 (2013) 6,775 (2015) 6,858 (2017) 8,011 (2019)

Are both of these figures correct?

Wikipedia[1] says it was $241M in 2016 but notes

"However, much of this spending is focused on housing the formerly homeless, or those at risk, and not the currently homeless"


You're right, depending on how you itemize things. However, there's $1B+ spent on human welfare and neighborhood development [1], much of which crosses over in one way or another either supporting the homeless or trying to not make people homeless with programs like food banks. If you look at where that's going [2], you'll see the areas with the highest unemployment are getting most of these funds.

[1] https://sfgov.org/scorecards/finance/expenditures-and-revenu...

[2] https://www.sfdph.org/dph/files/mtgsGrps/FoodSecTaskFrc/docs...

good link; good read

The article itself says that 30% of the homeless people say that they were already homeless before they arrived.

I've given up on affordable housing in California.

I feel we need to open up vacant federal, state, and local land to free camping.

(Neusome is doing some good work. Near Candlestick Park boat launch, there is a lot set aside for RV's, and car, to those that are homeless. Could you imagine parking overnight without getting a ticket? I've know two people who were living out of their cars. They both told me it as a nightmare of cops ticketing them, and whatnot.

Sausalito has a dedicated spot for homeless, but it's no model of success. The town decided they didn't want low income, or homeless individuals mored off shore. Anchorouts have been in Richardson Bay for over a 100 years. The town let a private harbormaster decide who stays, and who's boat is going to be crushed. People had knowhere to go, so they set up tents at Dunphy Park. The Liberal citizens didn't like looking at the homeless, so the town moved them.

So basically Sausalito crested their own homeless problem?

The new spot of dirt the homeless were given came with a bunch of rules. (Homeless have a lot of problems. A huge list of rules is not the answer. I happened to read a Section 8 lease awhile ago. It was 47 pages of rules.

Cops are handing out tickets for minor infractions. The one that got me were two $500 tickets. The cops said, they won't pay them, so the fine doesn't really matter.

As usual the cop missed a lot of legal training when going to the academy. You don't pay a ticket, and it eventually turns into a bench warrant. The homeless are housed eventually in jail. Brilliant!

Local rant over.)

As I said previously we need places they can camp.

We need outhouses, and hand washing stations, and maybe a place they can cook.

Their are some people who will never get off the streets.

I'm done waiting for housing.

Oh yea, don't like stepping in crap; provide porta potties.

I have a hard time finding free restrooms in SF, and I'm not homeless.

Watch the increase in Homelessness in CA in the next few months. It's going to be ugly.

I don't feel like debating anyone. The way homeless are treated has bothered me for years.

Homeless people want to move somewhere warm and dry year-round. For homed people, that is less of an issue. And maybe I'm wrong, but I really doubt housing prices are the reason. You can have adequate shelter for very cheap with roommates, if you don't want to live downtown. That certainly beats the pants off sharing under a bridge with 10 strangers and their tents.

To be real with you, a housing situation where you’re 5+ people in a 4 bedroom house isn’t a solution.

“Very cheap” is relative.

So fitting 5 people in a 4 bedroom is not a solution, but sleeping under a bridge is, which currently happens.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact