Mayor Inserts Sanity into Homelessness Crisis: Enforcement First

By Steve Pomper 

It’s easy for us to retreat to our political factions regarding responses to increasing crime, but it should be more than that. Cops serving in blue jurisdictions want to enforce the laws equally when addressing homelessness, addiction, and mental illness-related street crime. Unfortunately, many blue city leaders won’t allow cops to enforce the laws equally, if at all. Fortunately, that may not be the case in all blue cities. We’ll get to that in a moment. 

Single-party, blue city leaders care more about creating a leftist utopia than dealing with the reality on the streets. American cops are frustrated and demoralized. However, it’s not only about political parties. It’s about a political ideology’s hold on city leaders. Which better addresses homelessness? Is it a “Treatment First” or a “Housing First” approach? Conservatives tend to prefer the former, progressives the latter.

But there is one mayor who’s created success where his Democrat colleagues have made it elusive. According to Chris Rufo of the Discovery Institute, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is implementing something related to Treatment First with a law “Enforcement First” priority.

Homeless addicts often only get treatment after they’ve been arrested—sometimes, after multiple times. This was superbly conveyed in Eric Johnson’s documentary, Fighting for the Soul of Seattle, on KOMO News 4.   

Rufo wrote an excellent article which appeared at The Heritage Foundation: Homelessness in America: An Overview. In it, Rufo tackles the increasing homelessness, addiction, and mental illness crisis in many Democrat-run cities—and also acknowledges this welcome example of a Democrat’s success.

I agree with Rufo that “Housing First” programs are counterproductive. Providing housing to someone whose reason for being homeless is not addressed first, simply guarantees the crisis will worsen. Would you send someone to physical therapy before you’ve addressed the injury that caused their disability? Of course not.

Providing housing first (or alone) does not address someone’s addiction or mental illness. As Rufo says, it’s “a human problem, not a housing problem.” He also writes, “Ultimately, as we have known since the 1990s when street homelessness first became prevalent in major cities, homelessness is the result of the loss of human relationships, including those with family and community.” Simply providing housing does not rectify this loss, it only removes a human being’s pain from public view. The government becomes an enabler.

Many Housing First promoters also promote a so-called “harm reduction” component. They believe, for example, rather than coerced drug treatment, following an arrest, they prefer creating “safe injection sites.” They say such facilities reduce harm because medical professionals monitor people injecting heroin.

But while “safe injection sites,” such as those in Vancouver, B.C., boast “no one has overdosed within these facilities,” Rufo notes, “the surrounding neighborhood has seen more overdose deaths than ever.” Reportedly, the city of Seattle is now providing heroin pipes at city expense at a notorious city-operated downtown homeless shelter. They are also instructing addicts about shooting up rectally, which reportedly provides a better high (not a way to get someone to quit, right?).

And Washington State wants to follow Oregon by essentially legalizing all drugs. The libertarian in me understands the drug legalization arguments. However, it does not understand using government funding and facilities to enable people’s addictions.

Another form of housing first are the so-called “harm reduction” efforts euphemistically called, “drunk hotels.” The proponents’ argument: chronic street inebriants, aside from booze, consume a huge amount of city resources. So, it’s better to provide them an apartment where they can drink themselves oblivious outside public view.

Housing First proponents built one in Seattle in 2005, operated by the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), that’s known by its address, 1811 Eastlake. It’s located just outside my old patrol area boundaries, just before the entrance to my freeway onramp to go home after shift. I can’t tell you how many times I saw an ambulance or police car out front as I passed by.

Housing First may appear compassionate, but, again, why would anyone endorse the drug addicted and mentally ill on the streets go untreated, especially those who commit crimes? Is it because leftists don’t want to be wrong? Or worse, they don’t want to chance a good idea might come from a conservative?

These blue city politicians need to return to “Treatment First” (Enforcement First) policies such as Houston’s Mayor Turner has done. Rufo links to an article from ABC 13 KTRK. In the piece, Mayor Turner expresses impressive commonsense that too many Democrat city officials lack or refuse to use. “‘The most effective tool to reduce or eliminate panhandling would be for Houstonians not to give,’ Turner said, ‘And as hard as it is not to, what we have to realize is we cannot be enablers.” Exactly! Turner calls it, “tough love.”

I remember telling people on my beat, “You can’t keep tossing birdseed on your lawn and then complain when it’s covered with bird crap.”

Adopting this rational approach, Houston “Between 2011 and 2019, the city reduced homelessness by a remarkable 54 percent,” while the problem “continued to skyrocket in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.”

Mayor Turner allowed police to enforce drug laws and laws against camping in prohibited areas. According to Rufo, the ACLU sued Houston over its efforts to return sanity to its public safety efforts against street crime—Houston won!

They (you know the they I mean) always say, “follow the money.” This also applies to the homeless advocates’ Housing First, anti-public safety efforts. The homeless industrial complex (HIC) is a real thing. Think about it. The funds that are ostensibly targeted for the homeless, don’t go to drug-addicted, mentally ill homeless people, per se. The private and government funds first flow to non-profit HIC intermediaries. But it seems the HIC has created a non-profit golden goose that keeps directors and administrators in lucrative salaries, while employees are lucky to make minimum wage, and the homeless folks remain addicted and go without mental health care?

In 2018, I wrote an article at Lifezette about some of these social service agencies extorting homeless folks by doling out housing and shelter only if the person agreed to demonstrate for leftist causes. I also used information from Chris Rufo for that piece.   

It seems, the homeless and addicted must settle for whatever residue trickles down in the form of HIC agencies’ “services.” I know it’s cynical; but the HIC needs human misery to exist. Some may say it’s the same with law enforcement. However, crime has always existed and always will.

However, public homelessness, addiction, and mental illness does not exist on a massive scale everywhere. Even in blue cities, the problem has never been as bad as after leftists started throwing truckloads of money at homelessness, thus creating the HIC.    

Los Angeles is a glaring example of hurling taxpayer money at the problem. Rufo tells us voters approved a $1.2 billion (that’s billion with a b) bond for fewer than 5,000 “Housing First units.” Proponents would sell this as a positive. But, L.A.’s homeless population is around 59,000. Encouraging, and in cases where people get arrested, coercing people effective treatment can help solve this human problem.

People like to say homelessness and its related street crime is not an easy problem to solve. If they mean an individual battling his or her way out of addiction or a person with mental illness adapting to a medication routine, they’re right. But if they’re talking about homelessness and its associated criminality, just ask any cop, and they’ll give you the answer: Enforcement First.  

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