The War on the Homeless

“Anti-government types” are often accused of not caring about poor people because we suggest that communities and charities can help them better than government can. This claim seems vindicated when considering the numerous ways governments both create poverty and harm the poor. The homeless are especially victimized by government laws.

According to the most recent findings, on a given night in January 2013, 610,042 Americans were homeless. From 2012 to 2013, homelessness did decline 3.7 percent and 31 states saw a fall in homelessness. However, 20 states saw an increase. And more people are on the verge of homelessness since poverty increased by 0.6 percent and households experiencing severe housing cost burdens increased by 0.7 percent.

Government anti-poverty efforts already crowd out private giving because of how those policies pervert incentives. Now local governments are taking it one step further by explicitly outlawing giving to the homeless, despite homelessness being a significant lingering problem for the US economy. 33 U.S. cities now ban or are considering banning the practice of sharing food with homeless people.

Some cities have reportedly started to fine, remove or threaten to throw in jail private groups that work to serve food to the needy instead of letting government-run services do the job. The justification for these bans is to prevent government-run anti-homelessness programs from being diluted.

The policy is not only completely backwards, it is simply cruel. It’s difficult to imagine the mindset of someone so obsessed with making government programs responsible for helping people that they propose using force to prevent anyone else from doing so. People often accuse anti-poverty programs of creating a culture where poor people are dependent on the government (which they do), but now we are starting to see policies that institutionalize that culture by force.

This new method of making criminals out of peaceful and charitable citizens is merely the latest in the long line of attacks in the war on the homeless.

Governments create poverty as we know it. They ratchet up costs of living and make it difficult to climb the economic ladder. They do this through arbitrary regulation, licensure requirements, protectionist trade policy, barriers to employment, inflation driven bubbles, urban renewal projects and more.

Author and activist, Charles Johnson, writes, “Government regimentation of land, housing, and labor creates and sustains the very structure of urban poverty … Government regulations create homelessness and artificially make it worse for the homeless by driving up housing costs and by obstructing or destroying any intermediate informal living solutions between renting an apartment and living on the street.”

In other words, government causes homelessness, then pretends to fix it with anti-poverty programs. Now it is making the plight of the homeless even more difficult by restricting their options and forcing them to rely on the government, rather than their family, friends, and communities. It seems that the government is no longer pretending to help the poor. They are explicitly coming out as against helping homeless people.

The war on homelessness is clearly escalating. Governments are ramping up their methods of creating homelessness and making the experience as miserable and tragic as possible. The only way to end homelessness is to get the government out of the picture. Remove the giant roadblock created by government intervention and allow free people to provide for themselves and others.

Instead of preventing families, friends, and communities from helping the homeless, they need to be encouraged to do so. Mutual aid networks, horizontal community efforts, and plain old charities would be a true war on poverty. Social cooperation and voluntary giving is the only cure. Not top-down, cruel laws like these.

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