Thursday, June 29, 2006

Covering The Basics

There's some encouraging news on the homelessness front, from William Tucker, at The Weekly Standard. Homelessness is on the decline, and in a significant way:

At a remarkably underreported conference in Denver in May, advocates for the homeless met to discuss a pattern of falling homeless populations across the country. In the past six months, New York has announced a reduction of 13 percent, Denver 11 percent, Portland 20 percent, Miami 30 percent, Philadelphia 50 percent.
It appears that one of the most successful solutions is simply the availability of truly basic shelter, which was disappearing rapidly with the enforcement of ever stricter building codes and requirements. According to Tucker, much of the single room transient housing had been lost:
The principal victim of "reform" has been SROs--the single-room occupancy hotels that were the last resort of winos and stumblebums in bygone days. Entrepreneurs used to take old factory floors and other buildings and turn them into "partition hotels" where people could sleep behind thin walls for as little as $2 a night. It might have looked like blight, but it was functional housing for transients. "In Chicago, SRO units declined 80 percent between 1960 and 1980," reported veteran social worker Richard White in Rude Awakenings: What the Homeless Crisis Tells Us (1991). "In the past twenty years, there has been a net loss of 22,000 low-rent units in downtown Seattle. . . . [A]n increase in the number of homeless singles there in the past five years has corresponded directly to the loss of these SROs."
That was in 1991. Apparently, however, now that trend is reversing, and Tucker credits the declining rate of homelessness to the development of housing, like the fifty units recently put in in Seattle, where single rooms share a kitchen and bathroom facilities. This may sound "substandard" to anyone who has never lived in a dorm, but it's a reason to be grateful for people who would otherwise be living under a bridge. It's an interesting article, and for those of us who tend to be sceptical that the government ever does anything to make problems like the issue of homelessness any better, Tucker points out some actual public policy successes. Check it out.