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deletedJun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022
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Well stated

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Many Thanks!

Question:

I was under the impression that there is only _partial_ overlap between chronic public nuisance people and drug users. In particular, I've read comments that "Alcoholics go home and beat their wives. Opiate users go home and their wives beat them".: I also have a vague memory that stimulant users tend to be more of a hazard to people around them.

Can anyone suggest better (but hopefully somewhat compact) information?

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"but would be irrelevant for determining *if* they are chronic public nuisances. "

Fair enough. My suspicion (if the quoted rule of thumb about opiate users is true) is that that class of drug users is probably not a chronic public nuisance - but this is a guess.

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> I find it very, very hard to believe that the increased unhappiness of ~5000 people being put in some "meh" warehouse outweighs the increased happiness of probably tens to hundreds of thousands of people in San Francisco who don't have to deal with chronic public nuisances anymore.

Utility Monster v. Shut Up And Multiply, <current_year>'s most consequential court case. I can already see the picketers outside the courthouse, hoisting their "No One Is Happy Until Everyone Is Happy!" signs.

(If I were selected for that jury, I'd probably find in favour of the defendant...but, wow, what acrimonious proceedings so far. Most of the evidence is only barely admissible. Surely we can do better.)

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Sorry, my legibility is declining the longer I stay up, really should check myself for clarity and "is there actually any real value in writing this reply?"

Utility Monster would be the opposing position, that the obligation to alleviate individual suffering doesn't diminish, even for large values of obligation and suffering. Failure mode is the perfect becoming the enemy of the marginally better. Shut Up And Multiply is an old kinda-deprecated LessWrong saying about the correct way to think of unfathomably large numbers, part of the logic for your proposition. Failure mode* is, uh... https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/3wYTFWY3LKQCnAptN/torture-vs-dust-specks

A less snarky, more useful reply woulda been that I generally agree with your reasoning, with specifics negotiable. I seem to remember Scott's post about the 26 gubernational candidates mentioning one who wanted to, like, build high-rise parking structures to warehouse the homeless. Seems obviously kinda farcical at first, but it's the same sort of necessary evil; if it's good enough to be a Serious Policy Proposal for a state governor's campaign, then it's not totally outside the Overton Window. Properly pricing externalities is really important for accurate cost-benefit analysis; this is one of many tricky issues where morality frequently impedes empirical quantification. Like, it's noble and idealistic to say we ought to judge a society by how it treats the least among them...but, like climate change, the average person doesn't actually want to sacrifice terribly much to improve the lot. So something like warehousing is likely within the feasible-solution distribution.

*Ongoing disagreement as to whether this is indeed a failure mode.

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How would this keep people off the streets? It seems like it would keep people dispersed, but still on the streets. And if anything, the loss of accumulated capital (social and otherwise) might keep people on the street.

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Which runs back into the problem of there aren't enough shelter beds, shelters are closed during day hours, they often have policies that make them less helpful, and now you've got a large concentration of poverty again.

Plus it sounds like the plan is going from "busting up large camps" to "busting up camps of more than 1-2-3 people".

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Why not just round people up at that point? Unless the goal isn't solving the problem but instead just encouraging people to move on to the next jurisdiction/city.

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You are never going to solve the problem, or even improve it, by promoting a model in which people are free to pitch a tent, claim public space, dump trash, etc., wherever and whenever they want. There are some basic social norms that have to exist.

If folks don't like the rules at the shelters, then the public is just somehow obligated to have no rules for these folks at all?

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This _is_ what's done to a large extent.

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With fairly good reason... I'm renting my spare room to a fellow on social assistance. He takes his meds and is always very nice and pleasant with me; but he's utterly destroyed the carpet in his bedroom in only 4 months and it will need to be ripped out and replaced before I use that room for anything else. (Oh, and he brought cockroaches with him.) If I were renting out the room for financial gain, taking him as a tenant would have been stupid.

And this guy is a very stable, just relatively low functioning dude who doesn't have any addiction issues besides nicotine (which I smoke more of than he does.) The vast majority of the "Riff-Raff" (as he calls people permanently on government assistance) are far harder on their homes.

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I'd sooner just making renting out space illegal than refuse to let a landlord choose his tenants. Because the only rational response to "I have to rent out my units to anyone, including people who will trash them" is to raise prices to compensate for the additional repairs.

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Or alternately "I'm not going to bother ripping out that carpet and exterminating the cockroches since the next guy will be just as bad" so you do have people living in squalor; the prices may be low, but the street might seem more appealing if the room is dirty, infested, and rundown and needs repairs to leaking roof etc.

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When my wife and I were in the process of moving from a condo to a house in the same city, we considered renting out the condo, since it was going to take considerable time and effort to sell it. This was in New York State, which has some protections for tenants. We decided not to rent it, partially because of this, and partially because we were concerned about the possibility that we might get a bad tenant who would trash the place. The end result was that it was unoccupied for about a year. C'est la vie.

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We had a tenant who flooded the basement with several feet of water and then didn't tell anyone until winter came (it had ruined all the mechanicals washer/dryer/furnace). That was great! Rented out the place for 7 years and lost money overall due to that and one other negligent tenant.

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Gaa! I sympathize. Yup, that sort of scenario gave me nightmares. And I'll bet the "lost money overall" is before counting the value of your time.

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Discrimination is difficult to prove. Also, landlords then have incentives to act in ways when they search for tenants that makes it (even) more difficult to prove.

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There are lots of mental illnesses that are chronic, i.e. NOT treatable; only manageable. It seems VERY reasonable to expect that they're over-represented among the 'visibly homeless' people.

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deletedJun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022
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How does the "attract homeless people to the area" part work exactly, though? Are they reading about how great being homeless is on a message board? Are there hobo signs? Is there a strong homeless gossip network? I know it seems like I'm ribbing you, and I am a bit, but I think it's worth taking the time to consider how exactly this works and how far homeless people are going to be willing to travel to get to a place that is "better for being homeless". Most people want to stay in neighborhoods where they know where everything is and know the people and have contacts they can call on. The poorer you are, the more that's true. If you have $10K in the bank you can take a chance on moving, and you have a buffer to simply buy assistance in your new location. If you're homeless and you get on a bus and travel 100 miles, you don't know where it's safe to sleep, where it's safe to eat, or anyone who will let you crash on their floor for a night. You better be real, real confidence about how strong the homeless community is in that new location. (Not to mention that if you stop being homeless, which is the goal, you're now not homeless 100 miles from the places you know.)

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deletedJun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022
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Agreed. Homeless people actually make decisions on where to move and are not just sort of blown around by the wind. And yeah, people still get knowledge by talking to other people. The open air drug market in the Tenderloin in San Francisco may not have a billboard or a website, but just about everyone knows where it is and how to find it.

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My roommate moved in with me from living in a homeless shelter. He's 60 and has told me a lot of stories.

One of the things I've heard from him and many hitchhikers I've picked up, is that "homeless" folks and the general "Riff-raff" as he calls them like to travel just as much as anyone else. And being unemployed, they have lots of time to do it, but little money.

So people take buses or hitchhike to different cities just to visit them, same as any other tourist. (But since they don't have a home or a job to go back to, "Just stay" is a much more viable option once they're there than it would be for you or me; so part of it is right there) And while they're travelling, they're exchanging word of mouth info with other people.

So some mixture of "I went to San Francisco for a visit and decided not to leave" and "I heard from another dude that San Francisco is a great place to be homeless/get drugs/meet people/ect." seems to be the main information vectors.

And nowadays people can read things on the internet; many "Riff-Raf" who can't afford a cell phone plan will still keep an old phone to connect to the internet at McDonalds or elsewhere with open wifi.

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> How does the "attract homeless people to the area" part work exactly, though? Are they reading about how great being homeless is on a message board? Are there hobo signs? Is there a strong homeless gossip network?

Absolutely

Even among people that are 'long-term homeless', some still find, e.g. an occasional couch to crash on for a few days. And lots of homeless know lots of 'nearly homeless' people, if only because they both do the same kinds of drugs. And lots of them have cell phones and call/text their friends, of which some are likely to be homeless too.

I knew two people – that I have in mind in particular – and they were both 'basically homeless'; they basically squatted in illegal 'housing'. They had friends all over the neighborhood, some of whom would squat where they could, or sleep on the literal streets. I had several conversations with one of the two people I'm thinking of about how they might fare if they moved 'back home' in another state. I am VERY certain that homeless people are absolutely sharing the same kind of info about their conditions.

I would be very surprised if people AREN'T/WEREN'T sharing things along the lines of "It's great out here! Drugs are cheap; lots of shit to steal and sell right away. You should come visit! Take the bus; it sucks, but it'll be worth it."

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Historical anthropologists have mapped all the different types of signs (sort-of pictograms) tramps of old discreetely skratched on farmwalls to inform other tramps of things like: Friendly or unfriendly farmer, whether you can expect to be allowed to sleep in the hayloft, if the dog is dangerous, etc. A lot of relevant, fine-grained information captured through a shared "sign culture". This information exchange has been made much, much easier through the mobile phone revolution. It has really revolutionized hobo life.

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There's that kind of thing too! Thanks for { pointing that out / reminding of it } :)

It's almost like almost everyone is actually fairly intelligent, and creative, about solving their own problems!

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Jack London's writings on homelessness & tramp life anno 1894, is still a great inside view on homelessness. Do not underestimate the homeless. They have agency, like everybody else.

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Maybe – Austin gets plenty hot like this too. Houston isn't _that_ far from it.

Someone I know in NYC tho claims that a lot of 'drug addict homeless' where he lives – East Village – are seasonal/migratory and _most_ of them are 'snowbirds', i.e. leave in the winter for 'warmer climes'.

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Used to work in a shelter in Illinois, got to know the homeless there fairly well. In the fall, a common goal of panhandling was a bus ticket to Key West. Lots of snowbirds among the homeless, yeah. A bus ticket costs so much less than housing.

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Living in a left area, I had only heard the Reagan-as-villain version of the story before (and from many people).

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

"The US might not be so polarized after all, if both the left and the right agree that the solution is to round up all the homeless, strip them of human rights, and lock them for life out of sight into death camps."

Come come, Machine Interface, this is the sort of mealy-mouthed bleeding-heart-liberalism soft do-goodery that created the problem in the first place. The corpses, man, the corpses! You forget that this only makes sense if a profit can be turned out of it, and what better than using the death camp as large-scale human trials and blood donation centres. Probably you can't get any usable parts from the raddled wretches when they do die, but you can at least process the bodies into something like fertiliser and so forth. Plus, the 'testing to destruction' medical trials means that "for life" isn't going to be very long, so expenses can be cut down as much as possible. A bowl of gruel and a pannier of water a day can be done economically.

Dream bigger, man!

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This is ... not helpful or kind or particularly true?

I don't think Shellenberger, or Scott, are of 'the intolerant right'. Jails/prisons can be bad, and along similar dimensions, and yet not be _usefully_ described as "death camps". It sure seems like everyone is not trying to punish the homeless worse than jails/prisons.

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Jun 24, 2022·edited Jun 24, 2022

These are helpful for understanding what you meant by the original comment; thanks.

What I think Scott did differently was use the 'imagery' to describe the way this worked in the _past_, whereas you seemed to be claiming that people _consciously_, and deliberately, wanted to bring that kind of thing back.

I think a REALLY important component of any new policies/solutions is a clear, standard way for people to 'test OUT of' involuntary commitment. I'd hope that people, e.g. the ACLU, would monitor any new system too to, hopefully, ensure that everyone is being tested fairly.

But it's not like there aren't _other_ places that already fit your description of "filthy hovels where they'll have less rights than prison inmates and'll slowly die of manutrition, neglect and abuse.", e.g. 'retirement homes'.

Trying to be charitable, it really is a hard and expensive problem to take care of people that can't take care of themselves, especially in a way that's 'up to' our modern standards/sensibilities.

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It's possible to institutionalize people in non-gulag conditions.

It won't be great but it will be better than what's going on now.

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Lol they're going to get ruined by proggies if they do anything

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I don't think he left it out, I think (can't remember how explicitly the book made this connection) that they know the justice system won't press charges, so why bother bringing them in?

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For once, we fully agree: SF's problems lie squarely at the feet of the NIMBYs.

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I'm not sure why you're saying one doesn't cause the other. Isn't the pathway not building houses -> high housing prices -> homelessness? Yes, the particular way high housing prices cause homelessness is that the upper class can afford the prices and the lower class can't, but that's part of the causal pathway.

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I was linked to a blog recently (maybe a link on Zvi's blog?) that hypothesized that there are two homeless groups. One that swells and dissipates with housing prices, and one that is largely insensitive to those changes, and when it comes to negatively affecting others quality of life, it is the latter group that is the primary source.

Don't know if that is accurate. I hung out with some panhandle for a few months and that wasn't enough info to say one way or another, but it did seem plausible.

If so, fixing housing supply would help a lot of individuals, but wouldn't have much impact in solving the homelessness problem people normally talk about.

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A lot of people go through some economic hard times, but many have relatives and friends who will put them up for awhile on the couch until they are back on their feet financially. These people are more or less homeless for awhile, but they aren't The Homeless.

The people camping under overpasses tend to have alienated everybody who let them in their front door.

Jazz legend Miles Davis tells a memorable story about when he moved to NYC in 1945 at age 18 and his affluent dentist dad paid for his rental of a nice apartment. Much to his surprise, his hero Charlie Parker asked if he could move in with him for a little while because he was having trouble with his old lady. But one day he came home and found Charlie had sold all of Miles' suits to buy heroin. Another day he came home and Charlie was sitting on the floor because Charlie had sold all of Miles' furniture to buy more heroin.

You can sort of get away with this kind of predation on your friends if you are the world's greatest musician. But if you aren't ...

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I'm not so sure that there is a *group* that is actually insensitive to these changes, though there might be a *state* people can get into that is harder to get out of. A simple model that might make sense is that for every person, they can be housed, or in short-term homelessness, or in long-term homelessness. When you're in short-term homelessness, there's a certain difficulty of getting housed when you find an available home, but when you're in long-term homelessness it becomes a lot harder. Different people might have different lengths of short-term homelessness that push them into long-term homelessness, perhaps based on pre-existing levels mental health or education or executive function or whatever it is. Under this sort of model, if there's a small number of people in short-term homelessness at any point, and homes are abundant enough, then most of them are likely to find a home before ending up in long-term homelessness. But if the number of people in short-term homelessness swells for any reason, then the average duration of short-term homelessness will likely swell too, and this will mean there's a greater flow of people into long-term homelessness. It might be that the city recovering to a level of housing abundance doesn't do much to shrink the long-term homeless population, but it does drastically slow the growth of this population on that model. It might be that different things are needed to get people out of long-term homelessness, but housing abundance would still have a big effect on the rate at which people enter it.

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Good to see you around again Kenny.

I am concerned calling it "short-term" vs "long-term" makes it seem like people will naturally bleed from one to the other after a period of time. A lot of the documents I've been reading lately have stopped using those phrases and instead use a Transitional/Episodic/Chronic framework. While I can see some mechanisms for time spent transitioning someone from short- to long-term (increased comfort with homelessness, exposure to health/legal problems, dwindling reserves, increasing reliance on / beginning addictions) these don't seem as strong as it instead it sorting out those that have pre-existing difficulties (poor social skills, impulse control, psychosis, physical impairments, lack of social safety net, addictions).

(found the link I was thinking about earlier, it was from Zvi's blog on his Talent book review https://www.econlib.org/who-are-the-homeless/ )

So, for the example of the four panhandlers I hung out with for ~6 months: One actually had an apartment, they were just supplementing their income. One (allegedly) had a doctor as a father, but was not willing to move home (and accept the rules of being home) and lived in a camp. One was a snow bird and was currently living in a camp but was having sex with my housemate (refused to sleep indoors). One alternated between shelter and camp, admitted to a crack addiction he was trying to get clean from, was diagnosed bi-polar, and was trying to transition back into the restaurant industry (that chapter of his story ended sadly when he asked his sister to use her shower so he could be nice for an interview, she refused, so he broke into her house and trashed her stuff and he ended up in the legal system). For none of that group was the length of time they had spent homeless affecting whether or not they were going to be housed, and the cost of housing really only impacted 3/4 of them (well, who knows if free housing would have kept the bi-polar guy together or not, I still think about him a lot) and these are 4 people selected as safe/together enough that I spent a significant amount of time with them, not the kind of people walking down the street yelling obscenities at passerby.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

There's a housing assocation called Focus in my country that provides emergency, short-term, and long-term accommodation to homeless people. There is a housing project run by them in my town.

https://www.focusireland.ie/

Most of the people who avail of their services are in genuine need and respond well. There is, however, a minority who may be in need but abuse the services. They don't pay their rent. They cause trouble - getting in fights with other people living in the buildings, petty crime, drugs, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, and so on. Eventually they have to be evicted, and then the cycle of "need emergency accommodation - get housed - fuck that up again' repeats.

Cheap housing is not the solution here, because while lack of access to cheap housing is part of the problem for them, they have a lot of other problems which make them homeless.

Absolutely lack of housing and emergency accommodation does make things worse, as you say; a swell in short-term homelessness does go on to become long-term homelessness and that gets worse the longer it goes on. But the unhappy truth is that there is, and always will be, a small core of people whose lives are a mess not because of homelessness but because they can't live a life that is beneficial to themselves.

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I think that is the problem. The most visible homelessness is the most chronic; the people who are visibly mentally ill and/or criminal.

So if there were more cheap housing, the person who is homeless because "I got out of an abusive relationship but I haven't the resources to rent/buy housing" or "I lost my job and my debts ate my savings" or the like will be best served.

The person who is homeless because of mental illness and so on won't benefit if housing cost ten dollars, because they'd sell that house to pay for their fix. And it's the second group which may well be smaller but is the one most disturbing ordinary people trying to walk down the streets between their job and getting back to their own apartment.

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If you're assuming that chronic homelessness is an intrinsic state, insensitive to environmental factors like housing affordability, and you're also assuming that the 'homelessness problem' (in the sense of unpleasantness/inconvenience to housed people) is due mostly/entirely to the chronically homeless, then how do you explain the fact that the problem is getting worse?

It seems to me that you can't have it both ways. One of the following has to be true:

a) It's possible for transitionally/situationally homeless people to become chronically homeless under certain conditions, probably involving the prolonged inability to secure housing and the mental/physical stress of prolonged homelessness.

b) Some of the community problems associated with high rates of homelessness are attributable to transitionally/situationally homeless people, probably because some of those problems are a result of behaviours that are situationally-rational in the context of homelessness.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

If there are 20,000 bedrooms in a city and 30,000 disjoint sets of people who can share a bedroom, 10,000 of those sets will be not in a bedroom. If you gave everyone a billion dollars, 10,000 sets would still be not in a bedroom as long as those dollars couldn't be spent on constructing additional bedrooms or moving out of the city.

There's a direct causal linkage there, at least to the extent that "no houses" is the problem at all (if there are houses not being used, well, that's a different issue).

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That would be the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigeonhole_principle

Of course, in real life, there is likely some demand elasticity. While price hikes push everyone down a few steps on the housing ladder, they will also decrease demand as people tend to move elsewhere.

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It's strongly related, and I did think of mentioning the PHP, although the way the PHP is usually stated isn't quite strong enough for this application.

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One responsible response to high housing prices in California is to move out of state. I've known plenty of working people who have.

Are the homeless in California Californians who don't like working, so they don't move out of state?

Alternatively, many in California suspect that a lot of the homeless moved to California to be homeless: for the nice weather, panhandling and petty crime opportunities, and lax enforcement. A big investigative article in the Orange County Register blamed the explosion of white people living in tents along the Santa Ana River a few years ago on the recent explosion in the drug rehab business in California: some addict in Kentucky gets 3 months of rehab from insurance, so why not go out to sunny California for 3 months? But after 3 months he still likes drugs and his old lady back in Kentucky moved in with his best friend so he can't crash with her anymore while spending his rent money on meth, so he doesn't see much reason to go home, so he heads over to the camping section in Walmart and is soon camping under a freeway overpass. (By the way the homeless sure own more stuff than they used to in the late 20th Century.)

The homeless industry is adamant that that's NOT what's happening.

Of course, like in the semi-fictional scenario I outlined above, it's arguable whether the drug rehabber turned homeless is a Californian or an out-of-stater. Lots of people move around the United States all the time. It appears that California tends to drive out Americans in the middle ranks of society and collects Americans of the most irresponsible stratum.

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> Of course, like in the semi-fictional scenario I outlined above, it's arguable whether the drug rehabber turned homeless is a Californian or an out-of-stater

It seems astounding that we don't have any information about this. With all the money going around for homeless programs haven't we sent some sociology grad student around to _ask_ them where they're from? Sure, they won't always tell the truth, but their answers might be illuminating.

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I don't think the part your quoting is about knowledge, but definition. If you move to California for rehab and decide you like the environment and policies enough to stay, whether to count you as Californian is a definitional issue.

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One could get around this by asking them for the last state where they had a residential address.

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I think the part of the causal relationship that (and thank you Scott for getting at this) is that "open air drug markets and people yelling GRAGH at you on the street" *creates NIMBYs* because The Voter(TM) does not want to live in a feces and needle infested miserable block of dilapidated buildings that no one can afford to fix because the *next* person is going to set them on fire or cook meth in them and condemn the building.

So when "building more housing and density" has a causal relationship with those problems, The Voter(TM) wasn't born yesterday and will activate to stop you.

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An uncharitable reading of “if their neighborhood got denser, it would start looking … litter-filled, decaying, disgusting, unsafe, and ambiently miserable to exist in” makes it sound like the density is the cause of all of the problems.

But it’s also plausible that high land prices lead to both high density and high housing costs.

If housing costs are the problem, then part of the solution is to build more housing, which necessarily leads to more density somewhere.

But if density is the root of the problem then the NIMBYs are right and we should not build more housing and just let prices rise to the stratosphere.

Density without disorder definitely exists in places (mostly outside North America), so I lean toward the YIMBY explanation.

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The density *is* the cause of the problems, because our current urban policy status quo is incapable of mitigating the downsides of density. That isn't *required* to be the case by any respect, but it is the situation as the Voter in a United States city sees it.

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I think the obvious solution here for SF at least, where they want the density, is to build an enormous arcology at the far west end of Golden Gate Park. Replace the golf course, they'd have that nice little lake there, and SF could easily have a whole lot more urban density housing. Might need to extend the underground BART line out there, though. Conveniently, they could just build the BART station directly into the arcology. Make it as tall as the Burj Khalifa, section it into 500 square foot apartments (though, I dunno, maybe that's too big in SF) and I bet you could easily house another 100,000 people.

Homeless problem solved, and they'd have a nice new landmark. And being that large, I bet it'd look amazing lit up in Pride colors.

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Part of the distinction is that even if you rent controlled all the apartments down to a level many homeless people could afford, if there just aren't _enough_ they will still go to the wealthy and connected first. So the distinction makes it clear you can't just subsidize individuals housing costs, you just gotta make more houses.

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A SF with more houses and lower housing costs is goin to be a magnet for more people moving in. I am guessing each affordable housing unit maybe decreases the homeless population by .05 homeless, less?

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Build more houses -> house prices fall -> more people move to the city -> house prices rise - > new equillibrium established

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deletedJun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022
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Those all sound plausible.

I guess the question then is: why don't cities like San Francisco apply the same policies?

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Bangor, Maine seems like a better option.

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Because the type of person who lives in the cities may not like homeless people, but they don't want to treat homeless people as basically lepers who need to be tossed out of the city.

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https://www.ppic.org/blog/whos-leaving-california-and-whos-moving-in/

Clearly this isn't the case.

The issue is that homeless services bring homeless congregations, and while a single homeless person or the abstracted "the homeless" are sympathetic - large congregations of homeless people bring all of the social ills commonly associated with Urban Decay. Suburbanites moved out of the city to escape urban decay, why should they let the failures of the progressive, nice , moral urban dwellers spill over into their town? City dwellers have volunteered to deal with these problems for you for no other reason than to write morally superior posts on the internet about suburbanites - let them deal with it!

Perhaps if there were actual breaking up of open air drug markets and police did something about crimes on public transportation and prevented them from being a direct pipeline to the surrounding area becoming a blight - there'd be more support for suburbs to actually house the homeless and provide services.

As it stands, there isn't - and the path from A to B is difficult, criticizing people for having a morally inferior amount of political willpower to Do the Right Thing(TM) does not convince large congregations of voters to Do the Right Thing when every time in the past they have done the right thing, the exact same, abominable results occur without fail.

You need to *innovate* in the policy arena.

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*applause*

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It also helps that there’s nothing for a homeless person in a suburb. Cities have things for everyone, and that’s why people of all sorts go there. But suburbs have nothing for you unless you are accepted into a private space like a home or office.

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The suburb is cheaper precisely because it has less demand for the space, because there is less economic activity going on. Once you have a job it's fine to move to a suburb, but it's harder to find a job when there are fewer jobs near you.

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Substack says this is a "104-minute read." This is good value for the money.

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Every time I think of spending a week or two writing a long post, I get nervous that people will get angry that I haven't posted anything else that week or two. But nobody seemed to notice the gap this time, and I conclude all of you are very forgiving.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

This was an excellent, old-fashioned longform review in the SSC style and I'm very grateful for it. Exactly the kind of content wherein I think your comparative advantage is strongest (especially given the breadth and specific types of topics the book in question touches on).

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Agreed, Scott Alexander with depth is the best.

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Here here!

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Are you aware that it's 'Hear hear'?

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Daniel's sig says "Writes adventures in English". Maybe that was one.

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I was not aware! Thank you

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On the old-time internet, we used to write "read, read" because that was what people were doing, not hearing.

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i enjoy these but the length does make them hard to share because unfortunately for most people on the social media anything longer then twitter length is considered rude to even share.

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The examples of charts, “reproducing the method on this other data”, for example. Those are so obviously good and correct that they are shocking by way of highlighting just how rare they are.

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I fully agree. Love the old school, long form stuff. It really gets me thinking deeply and I genuinely come away feeling like I've learnt something.

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I was captivated reading this - it is my favourite kind of ACT / SSC post.

The shorter posts are a joy. But when you find time to chew on a subject, you are something really special.

The wait was bearable.

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I did *notice* the gap, but I'm not angry about it! You can write what you want to write.

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founding

This short innocent 500 page essay on city planning, ethics, praxis, the universe and other funny topics was so well hidden among the other book reviews nobody noticed it anyway :)

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Don’t exaggerate. It’s only novella length. :)

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I would be fine with an article every two weeks indefinitely. Quantity is overrated.

(But who keeps track? Whether by email or RSS, we will see it when it's done.)

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Surely having more excellent posts in the archives would be better for readership in the long run anyways.

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Naw, longer is much better. Having the guest book reviews also really helps fill the interlude.

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I didn’t notice. I would probably notice if it had been months, but 1-2 weeks barely registers. Your output is already sometimes difficult to keep up with if you try to read all of it.

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I noticed it, it made me feel better about not blogging for a month.

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founding

These kinds of posts are why some of us are reading you! :)

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We noticed. How dare you decide independently when to write?! We all strongly support sweeping de-waitization!

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founding

LOL

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I noticed, but I much prefer 1 high quality post over 4 meh posts

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Some content every week is important, but fortunately your book review contest does a great job of filling in the gaps. This is the perfect time to right something meatier, and you succeeded with this post.

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founding

Agree with many of the other commenters: I really appreciate the deep dive, and even though I don't care personally about Shellenberger or the book per se, the stats and analysis are worth 104 minutes on their own merits. A worthy addition to the ACX pantheon!

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I've been missing seeing this kind of content. Thanks!

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I started reading this by email and didn't see that note. Now it's two hours after I meant to go to bed. Ugh.

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Definitely not to be read while sitting on a bench waiting for the next barber to be available. That’s what “Rolling Stone” is for.

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Huh. It took me about 60 minutes. Good to know

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Want to get this out there early, rather than a couple hours later after I'm done reading: Scott, this review likely would have changed how I voted in the recent midterm elections. I didn't have the luxury of reading Shellenberger's book (retroactive campaign apologia?) before filling out the ballot, and casual perusal of commentariat characterizations were...not as trustworthy as I'd have liked. Thank you for this public service.

(For whatever it's worth, living in the same region, I do extra-appreciate your more local takes.)

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"a combination of law enforcement and social services" would solve a lot of America's problems

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Unfortunately, half the country doesn't trust law enforcement and the other half doesn't trust social services.

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I trust neither

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There's a Venn diagram with you in the middle somewhere

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well, I have my own thoughts on ethics, but it occurs to me that as a broad political group libertarians (I don't exactly identify as one but I have libertarianish leanings and will sometimes ise the label for the sake of convenience as its the closest thing that people who are big on such labels will understand that explains somewhat many of my perspectives) would distrust both groups as agents of the state. That seems like a significant, if comparatively small, logical demographic response that somewhat reflects a different viewpoint then neatly dividing people's responses to said groups in half.

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of topic, but this Horns problem is the worst.

I rapidly oscillate between not trusting centralized authority and not trusting the mob. Shit is just hard.

Like, I don't want to live under a Soviet style state capitalist "Communist" hellhole regime; I also don't want to live under a 1800's-today style railroad baron small business tyrant defacto authoritarian society.

The solution seems to be unions; but then those can degrade into actually the mafia really easy to.

But also, our current federal noncentralization means that we cannot accomplish a god damn thing, compared to the actually pretty tyrannical monoculture days of the 1940's-1970'sish.

The solution is clearly to declare me absolute immortal god king with power over the heavens and the earth. Simply place your lives into my hands it'll be fine lol

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AFAICT, most systems can be made to work tolerably well, to the extent that they are run by non-sociopaths.

The problem is that power selects strongly for sociopathy.

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I think of political ethics very differently then most. I'm not worried about god's eye view sandbox models, my ethics are personally applicable and in some sense "better or worse" if there is an idel alternative, but I feel the sandox idea "as if i could change society myself" seems silly because you cant so why not have your ideal society be actually ideal?

As such, I would point out that my highest principle is non-violence (or rather thats where I draw the line between one person's freedom or another, tech that could directly alter the brain would be similary because the idea is actions have consequences but violence literally prevents the exercise of freee choice)

If one is against the iniation of coercivie force and doesnt bother mking the dubious distinction of whether its "government" one sees the robber baron era was very authoritarian as it was full of coercive violence, it just wasnt always "official government violence" although sometimes it was.

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Yikes, you nailed it.

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The trouble seems to be they send in law enforcement when social services are needed, and social services when law enforcement is needed.

There's no good answer anywhere. The old days when you could get a troublesome relative committed for life with (basically) a snap of the fingers were bad, there's no denying. The new days when a combination of "anti-psychiatry" movement and government penny-pinching meant the old Victorian asylums were closed down (and generally sold off to property developers) while the former inmates were left for 'care in the community' (which never eventuated as funding for social services to support them didn't appear) aren't much better.

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"which never eventuated as funding for social services to support them didn't appear"

Unfortunately, that is my best guess for what would happen here (usa) if we tried to implement the Amsterdam solution.

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What this book partially advocates to do seems to be send both police and social services to everything. This will probably be nearly twice as expensive, but if it's effective, that'd be great.

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I mean... do we spend less per capita on the mentally ill now than we did when we had asylums?

It seems like we pour millions and millions into "Social Services" that largely just amount to some college grad getting paid to spout (good but) cliched advice at people once a week or so. Like, our social services budget in my city is huge, but... I have zero confidence these social workers are actually fixing any problems.

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"I have zero confidence these social workers are actually fixing any problems. "

Knee-jerk response: RCT

Take a random half of the cases that social workers respond to and omit their response. Pre-register the outcomes to be examined, and compare outcomes in the cases with and without the social workers' responses after some period of time (a year?).

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Know of any that have been done?

I suspect that it would be hard to convince anyone in my country to allow this study to take place, as the general belief seems to be that these workers are very needed; and that hiring more of them would solve all our problems. And if that's true, then denying access to their services to a control group would be bad.

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"And if that's true, then denying access to their services to a control group would be bad. "

Quite true - but that "if" is exactly the open question.

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I think Ian's point is that people these days are not scientists-first-seemingly-obvious-ethics-later and moreover that they call people who still are that thing "mad scientists" and arrest them.

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And here's a weird potential confounder: if social workers are supposed to be so overworked they can't help anyone, then cutting their caseload in half for the RCT might allow them to better focus on the remaining half, which would make them actually able to do their jobs properly for once. This would lead to an over-estimated effect size, relative to what you'd see in the current baseline. I'm not sure how to account for this.

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So is the claim here that:

- Mental illness and drug abuse are not important contributors to the homeless being unable to follow shelter rules, find a job, rent a place and make payments on time?

- Concentration of homeless and attendant mental illness/public drug use/use of streets as toilets does not depress local economy and make even more people homeless through lack of opportunity?

Otherwise, it doesn't really matter if homelessness or addiction/mental illness came first, the point is that it's trapping the homeless and everyone else in vicious circle until these issues are addressed.

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author

See Part d of the concluding section.

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The Amsterdam model, sure, my point is that it doesn't matter in a big picture if mental illness or addiction is not the biggest initial cause of homelessness so long as it's a huge factor in not being able to escape it / lack of opportunities to do so in the neighborhood. On one hand, high housing prices are an obvious most direct driver of homelessness. Even drug users and mentally ill can often do some basic work, which might be enough to rent an apartment with roommates in an expensive area. Same goes for other cases like physical illness or losing a job, where small savings or help from family might tide one over with low cost of living. On the other hand, someone with a clear mind can almost always save for a Greyhound ticket to a more affordable place with basic jobs available. But one can't just move away from an addiction or mental illness.

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You might think so, but I think the claims made in the book which seemed to suggest homelessness was very much just a product of addiction and mental illness are not strongly supported by the data like the book suggests.

In terms of what you imagine, there are structural factors that make things much more difficult then you sre suggesting. Many jobs today assume and require basic status and info that a person lacking a home just doesn't have. It seems like you are imagining what you might do if you suddenly found yourself without a place to live, but this is a case where likely you are not fully comprehending the degree to which people can find themselves in circular traps that dont allow for easy escape. On the other hand, presumably you could find ways to fulfill the requirements of having a job if you suddenly lost your home.

You are probably correct in the sense that whatever factors caused a person to be homeless in the first place are likely serious impediments to re-integrating into sociaty (that you don;t have)

For example, I was born with a genetic auto-i mmune disease, and I am very aware I am only ever a few steps away from being in that situation which if I were in it, given the realities Ive encontered with help for my illness, it would be very unlikely I could extricate myself from the situation.

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I am not saying most people live perfectly settled lives, then get into cocaine and end up on the streets, although there are well known hit the bottom stories to that effect. Say it's much more common that people miss one rental payment because of unforeseen expenses, end up on the street and understandably use drugs to take the edge off otherwise unbearable situation. The point is that addiction than becomes the most important and difficult thing to overcome in order for such a person to get back on their feet. Otherwise even if money/housing is provided, one is going to spend money on dope, or get kicked out of housing for breaking drug or other rules, or get in trouble with the law and end up in jail. And tolerating petty crimes and bad public behavior like San Francisco does has too much of a cost on the rest of society.

In terms of other factors, consider that undocumented immigrants manage to support themselves despite lack of skills, language barrier and legal risks to self and employer. As a legal immigrant, I spent some time sleeping in someone's basement in exchange for helping them with basic repairs. And I have generally happy memories of that time period, but it was only possible because I was sober and reasonable and the family was not scared to have me around.

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"Say it's much more common that people miss one rental payment because of unforeseen expenses, end up on the street and understandably use drugs to take the edge off otherwise unbearable situation. " Is it so in the USA? The most common (maybe 60%, my estimate) life history of the many opioid addicts I've met in Germany includes really bad childhoods and substance abuse from the early teens on. Homeless people here are to some extent immigrants without access to much welfare, also some addicts whose substance or mental health problem got so bad that the welfare system was not sufficient any more to provide them with a place to live. The latter sometimes get back into the system when their physical health deteriorates.

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Addiction and mental health issues also often cause one to be enough of a nuisance to their family and close friends that such people are unwilling to let one live with them in the medium-to-long-term.

Having someone respectable to live with, store basic possessions with, use the shower of, and get your mail at the address of, is a pretty big step towards not being homeless.

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I think part of the issue is that the review of the literature that Scott undertook is not comprehensive. I don't see Dennis Culhane mentioned anywhere in the review and he is very prominent in the field, one of the pioneers of the Housing First model.

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I think you would be surprised what percentage of homeless people (high single digits at least)? are homeless simply because they lack/(lacked) the imagination to look for roommates at their moment of crisis, or see it as beneath their dignity. Particularly the working homeless (which is a population people love to talk about, but when interviewed are often very weird people making bizarre life choices).

Then once you have been on the street a while it becomes very hard to get off without support for the type of person who finds themselves there.

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That doesnt appear to be what Scott is saying. Rather that the statistics just arent reliable, and he was "fact checking" the claims in the book. As far as alcohol/drug use goes, many people are homeless turn to those because time has a way of really dragging when there is nothing to do and nowhere to go.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

Some thoughts on claim 1 (going to take quite a while to read through the rest):

As for why the rates of homeless are higher in dense/rich compared to sparse/rich, a dense and rich area provides more expected value for petty crime and panhandling, two major sources of income for the homeless. Higher general crime rates in the city also could cause the police to have less of an ability/will to persecute the petty crimes that the homeless usually commit, leading to an even higher risk-adjusted expected value.

Additionally, suburbs are probably going to have a higher rate of upper-middle class families with young children, and I suspect parents/police are going to be less tolerable of crazy homeless people yelling/chasing their kids around, which might explain why suburbs are also less tolerant.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

I think this ascribes waaaay too much to homeless people loving to commit crime, and people wanting the cops to beat them up and throw them in jail.

Imagine that you are very poor. You can live out in the suburbs, where rows and rows of houses are only interrupted by the occasional convenience store (overpriced everyday goods in small quantities) and restaurant (expensive to eat at - a loaf of bread costs less than basically anything at McDonald's). Or you can live in the dense city center, where all the places you might buy anything are all right next to each other, and all the Walmarts and other places to buy cheap goods in mass are.

I know if I was so poor that I was forced to live out of my car, I'd park in the Walmart parking lot, not outside my house that's ten minutes drive down the highway from the grocery store. While San Francisco, presumably, is not a car-heavy environment, I'd imagine the same basic principle applies.

EDIT: My brother lived out of his car for a bit, asked him where he parked it - churches and Walmart.

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I think you're typical-minding towards people who's complaint against them is they shit on the sidewalk and bellow nonsense at passers-by.

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People who shit on the sidewalk and bellow nonsense at passers-by *also* need to eat food, have blankets, have clothes, etc, despite being very poor, so no, I don't think I am.

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You can watch countless videos of the "soft white underbelly" variety of homeless people describing retail theft for drugs. There are no Walmarts in any dense city center I've been in, which is many of them, and even the occasional Target is usually on the outskirts. Last work trip to NYC in 3 visits to the bodega I paid $10 for a 10 load (or so) container of laundry detergent, $3.50 for a gallon jug of water in milky #2 plastic, and $5 for a can of Modelo, which at only 2x the normal suburban price was actually the best deal of the 3. The slummy areas of Brooklyn and Bronx are cheaper but still usually more expensive than any nearby suburbs, and isn't where the homeless hang anyway. Homeless people aren't buying bread, they regularly beg outside takeout restaurants. Every pizza place in midtown NYC has one by the door. Cheap prepared food like pizza and sandwiches are usually comparable to suburbia, NYC does have it beat with the $1pizza though. About the only thing I've found to be cheaper in the cities is hard drugs - by far.

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Economic activity of *all* sorts is easier in the city than elsewhere. It’s why the richest people and the poorest people flock to cities. If you’ve already got a stable set of work and social activities and aren’t looking for anything more, then the suburbs have some advantages (particularly since you don’t have to pay for the ease of access to economic opportunity that rich and poor people will pay for).

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A few observations:

1. I don't see how we can have this conversation about homelessness in California without noting that San Francisco's budget for homeless services, in one year, is $676 million. LA's is apparently close a billion. This is why many of us are not sympathetic to pleas that we're 'not helping the homeless'.

2. Related to 1- this doesn't address allegations that many of California's homeless are from elsewhere, but deliberately moved to a few metro areas due to nice weather and generous social services. (Or, I've heard stories that their local town put them on a bus to SF). If .2% of the population everywhere is basically OK with a lifestyle of camping on the street and doing drugs, and then they all cluster in one area- that area will likely end up a mecca of homelessness.

3. In terms of law enforcement and comparisons with Europe, it's worth noting that they have vagrancy and loitering laws there, and we kinda really don't. US courts struck most of these down as unconstitutional in the 70s. If you want to camp or openly defecate on the streets of London, Paris, Berlin etc., the police will clear you out with force. I know Scott tackles law enforcement issues in this piece, but vagrancy is a pretty big one. You can't commit a crime if you're not physically present in the area to begin with! Europe combines social services with a firmer hand and less of a civil liberties culture than we have here.

4. Speaking of Europe's firmer hand, I'm fairly sure that they have a lower bar to forced institutionalization for the loudly mentally ill than we do. (Again, in cases like O'Connor v Donaldson in the 70s the SC raised the bar to lock someone away). Is 21st century Germany's asylums like Scott's dramatic description of 1950s America? I would lean towards no. There has to be some kind of middle ground to force treatment on the severely ill. Three different doctors who can't be in the same practice all have to sign off? A separate non-hospital employee doctor is required to check patients every few months and issue an opinion?

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This would match the observation that most homeless in a metro area became homeless in that same metro area, but would add a mechanism whereby a metro area's homeless are even more concentrated in the downtown core than they otherwise would be. Suburbs are successfully expelling homeless people and urban cores are not (because they have no-where to send them without institutions except to prison would would be paid for by the urban core anyways).

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These numbers are from 2019, but you might enjoy them:

Houston Texas has reduced its homeless population from ~7,000 to ~4,000 in the last 10 years even as the metro area's population increased from 5.8 million to 7.0 million, and they did it by doing a housing-first solution that was viable and scaleable because housing costs were low. They housed 17,000 formerly homeless people during that decade (notice that 17,000 >> 3,000, so a lot of homeless people are transiently homeless). Houston's funding to homeless programs was $38 million in 2019, compared to LA's $619 million, and LA's homeless population went from ~25,000 in 2009 to ~55,000 in 2019 while the LA metro area* went from a population of 12.9 million in 2009 to 13.3 million in 2019.

So to compare those 2 cities:

Both have about 1/3 of the population of their metro area in the city proper.

Houston provides $12,700 in funding per 2019 homeless person

LA provides $11,254 in funding per 2019 homeless person

Houston's metro area increased in population by 21% in the last decade

LA's metro area increased in population by 3% in the last decade

Houston's homeless population FELL by 42% in the last decade

LA's homeless population ROSE by 120% in the last decade

It's all about housing affordability, not Texans being better about things than Californians. Dallas is struggling to get its homeless population down partially because its real estate is getting less affordable than Houston:

https://www.texastribune.org/2019/07/02/why-homelessness-going-down-houston-dallas/

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>It's all about housing affordability, not Texans being better about things than Californians. Dallas is struggling to get its homeless population down partially because its real estate is getting less affordable than Houston:

CA is not as affordable to Texas in large part due to state regulations - labor, permits, zoning, etc. Something that CA and TX both have control over and TX is pretty clearly better at.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

The thing is, as Crimson Wool points out, building cheap housing out in the middle of nowhere with no other amenities and no means of transport isn't much of a solution. Some people *will* prefer to be 'transiently homeless' and stay in the city centre where they have access to amenities, or be near their friends/family.

There are a scale of reasons people become homeless, and it really can be that someone who did have a home but is suddenly out of it for whatever reason (landlord sold up, they moved out because of abusive relationship, they lost their job) and needs emergency accommodation while they get back on their feet can't get it, because the social services don't have any free space. Those are the people who will be the success stories for projects like "Housing First".

What does seem to be the new problem that Shellenberger's book is highlighting is the apparent large increase in the worst kind of homelessness - the mentally ill, the criminal, the junkies, etc. People who don't want to go into shelters because they won't be allowed drink/take drugs or that the shelters are too dangerous, or that the person in question is so far gone they can't handle anything other than a hobo camp or sleeping on the street. *That's* the question to be answered - how did this happen, if it happened; what can be done about it; if ordinary people genuinely feel unsafe, are they unreasonable to ask for police intervention, etc.

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"The thing is, as Crimson Wool points out, building cheap housing out in the middle of nowhere with no other amenities and no means of transport isn't much of a solution."

It is if the housing is cheap enough that people can afford the housing + a (second-hand, decrepit) car on a minimum wage, which many people in Texas can do (sub-minimum wage, in the case of many of the illegal immigrants in Texas).

"What does seem to be the new problem that Shellenberger's book is highlighting is the apparent large increase in the worst kind of homelessness - the mentally ill, the criminal, the junkies, etc."

2019 America's drug overdose death rate is massively higher than 2001 America's. The difference is 14.6 per 100,000 per year, or (using 2019 population) 48,579 deaths per year.

https://drugabusestatistics.org/drug-overdose-deaths/

The total American homeless population is roughly 552,830

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness_in_the_United_States

Of which ??? are in "the worst kind of homelessness" (almost certainly less than 1/3 since 2/3s are in shelters, probably more like 1/10th but I have no firm data for that guess).

Since people in "the worst kind of homelessness" would be people we would expect to stay homeless until they die (barring extraordinary interventions), the fact that the ratio of "extra overdose deaths" : "total people in the worst kind of homelessness" is 1:3 suggests that the phenomenon of expansion of "the worst kind of homeless" (if it is happening) could be easily explained as an outgrowth of the opioid crisis.

The follow-up question is, are all cities with homeless populations experiencing an increase in "the worst kind of homelessness", or is California's policy mix causing its homeless problem to be much worse than Houston?

(I don't know how to answer this question, because "are those 4,000 homeless in Houston in 2019 more disruptive than the 7,000 homeless in Houston in 2009?" is a question that official statistics are unlikely to capture accurately)

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So I do think housing affordability does matter, but

>It is if the housing is cheap enough that people can afford the housing + a (second-hand, decrepit) car on a minimum wage, which many people in Texas can do (sub-minimum wage, in the case of many of the illegal immigrants in Texas).

Doesn't this only hold for people who can hold down a minimum wage job?

>Of which ??? are in "the worst kind of homelessness" (almost certainly less than 1/3 since 2/3s are in shelters, probably more like 1/10th but I have no firm data for that guess).

Why would you assume that none of the worst kind of homeless are in shelters when one of the reasons people give for avoiding shelters is the desire to avoid the worst kind of homeless?

Probably also worth remembering that some of the worst cases of homelessness are currently in jail or prison (I don't think such people count as homeless) but will be homeless again when they get out. Given the population sizes involved this probably doesn't move the numbers much but I think it is worth remembering.

The rest of your post just feels like fuzzy math supported by wild assumptions (and just looking at overdose deaths strikes me as inadvertent cherry picking, people in such conditions can survive that way for years/decades, not every homeless addict is addicted to opioids and not every mentally ill homeless person is an addict).

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"Doesn't this only hold for people who can hold down a minimum wage job?"

It holds for people who can hold down a minimum wage job a % of the time that exceeds (1 - their savings rate while employed), yes.

"Why would you assume that none of the worst kind of homeless are in shelters when one of the reasons people give for avoiding shelters is the desire to avoid the worst kind of homeless?"

(1) Shelters have a variety of rules that make it much harder to maintain an active drug habit

(2) It can be extremely unpleasant to be around a large number of homeless people in a setting without any locked doors without any of those homeless people being in "the worst kind of homelessness"

(3) Shelters have rules like curfews that would tend to expel people experiencing "the worst kind of homelessness" if said homelessness was a major mental health problem (since they would struggle to consistently be back in time for curfew)

"Probably also worth remembering that some of the worst cases of homelessness are currently in jail or prison (I don't think such people count as homeless) but will be homeless again when they get out. Given the population sizes involved this probably doesn't move the numbers much but I think it is worth remembering."

Yes, this is a fair point since the prison population at ~2M is ~4X the size of the national homeless population, so a relatively small %age change in the composition of the prison population could result in a large shift in the composition of the homeless population, especially the smaller category "experiencing the worst kind of homelessness"

"The rest of your post just feels like fuzzy math"

Yes

"supported by wild assumptions"

I was offering simplifying assumptions to try to estimate the size of the problem. It's easy to lie with statistics but it's much easier to lie without statistics. Where are the errors in my numbers? Do you have different, less wild assumptions, or a different framework that would be useful?

I was trying to sketch out the case for "the increase in the size of the US drug problem is easily large enough to explain a significant increase in the number of people experiencing the worst kind of homelessness", but I acknowledge that this is a sketch rather than a clear proof

"and just looking at overdose deaths strikes me as inadvertent cherry picking, people in such conditions can survive that way for years/decades, not every homeless addict is addicted to opioids and not every mentally ill homeless person is an addict"

The increase in the number of people addicted to various drugs would be massively higher than the increase in the number of additional drug overdose deaths per year (unless there was a background condition of collapse of available services for preventing overdose death, and in fact the opposite of this happened, we got various drugs that administered in a timely fashion can save someone from dying of a previously fatal opioid overdose and then distributed those drugs to nearly every EMT / firefighter in the country).

Since the increase in the number of additional people addicted to various drugs is much much larger than the overall homeless population, an increase in "number of people experiencing the worst kind of homelessness" could be parsimoniously explained purely by this phenomenon, and it is reasonable to think the two are connected given that many people experiencing the worst kind of homelessness are observed to be addicted to hard drugs.

Causes of "people experiencing the worst kind of homelessness" appear to be (mostly) severe mental health problems and/or drug addiction. A massive increase in the addict population & the availability of certain kinds of very strong drugs could then explain nearly all of the change in the "people experiencing the worst kind of homelessness" population without needing any other factors.

Here are other factors that might increase the population of "people experiencing the worst kind of homelessness":

Reduced mental health in the general population (also observed)

Reduced state coercion to prevent homeless misbehavior (also observed in California)

Increased housing costs (also observed in California)

New drugs specifically causing mental health problems at a higher rate than old hard drugs (sometimes claimed but not clearly observed)

There are several other factors on that list that might have contributed, but I would suggest that the change in the rate of overdose deaths (useful proxy for rate of hard drug use) has increased more dramatically than anything else on that list (with the possible exception of the provision of policing services in SF and LA).

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> 2019 America's drug overdose death rate is massively higher than 2001 America's.

Well, of course it is. The Feds incentivized the heroin dealers to sell poorly cut carfentanyl instead.

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"poorly cut carfentanyl"

Is there any study of what fraction of overdose deaths are from inconsistent dosages from drug dealers?

My personal bias is against the drug war as a whole. I'd rather not have our rulers edict what we are and are not allowed to have in our bloodstreams. That said, the number of overdose deaths in the usa per year (~90,000) is above the number of vehicular fatalities (~40,000), which is the threshold that I use for when I count something as a real problem.

My impression is that drug overdose deaths have at least three components:

1) deaths from inconsistent dosages

2) suicides

3) deaths from the drug habit itself

Presumably (1) would go away if the drug war went away and recreational drugs were supplied through reputable pharmacies.

Depending on the causes of the suicides, those might be unchanged (though presumably switching to different means) even if recreational drugs were to magically vanish.

(3) is part of the 'justification' for the drug war - though we don't ban tobacco or alcohol on similar grounds.

Can anyone point to an approximate breakdown of the overdose deaths between these categories?

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Texas's package of housing regulations resulted in much more affordability, yes, but that's different from "the Texas administrative state's ability to implement Housing First is better than the California administrative state's ability to implement Housing First", which is the claim I was (implicitly) trying to rule out.

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It is not different. The administrative state is writing the housing regulations. Housing First is directly impacted by housing regulations. The admin state in Texas can implement housing first because of their conscious policy decisions, they have not tied their own hands.

Maybe you can argue that the individual offices that are in charge of implementing the housing first policy are largely the same. But those offices are only a small part of the larger admin state.

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Jun 24, 2022·edited Jun 24, 2022

If I'm understanding you correctly, we both agree with the statement "The ability of a municipality to implement a Housing First approach to homelessness is largely determined by the cost of housing in that municipality", and we both agree that "Housing costs in a municipality are largely determined by the governments that govern that municipality [city + state]".

Taken together, I agree that the failure of Housing First in California is the fault of Californians and the success of Housing First in Texas is to the credit of Texans, but I disagree that the difference is only due to the "administrative state"

(1) I would refer to the administrative state in this case specifically being the policy-makers involved in crafting homelessness-addressing programs

(2) Even if you defined the administrative state as all non-elected officials, those non-elected officials do not have the power to change California's housing regulations to match the Texan standard. Many of the cost-increasing regulations are state-wide laws like CEQA, and other things at the municipal level that increase property costs are so locally popular with Californian voters that if the administrative state tried to unilaterally overturn them they were be overruled by local voters. California YIMBYs are focusing on the state legislature as the actor with the power to actually make changes large enough to affect housing prices.

Summary: there is a large difference between Texas and California, but the fault is in Californians not just California's administrative state.

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>If I'm understanding you correctly, we both agree with the statement "The ability of a municipality to implement a Housing First approach to homelessness is largely determined by the cost of housing in that municipality", and we both agree that "Housing costs in a municipality are largely determined by the governments that govern that municipality [city + state]".

Yes

>Taken together, I agree that the failure of Housing First in California is the fault of Californians and the success of Housing First in Texas is to the credit of Texans, but I disagree that the difference is only due to the "administrative state"

Ok then don't know why you said the below unless you narrowly meant the homeless response / Housing First only. Which I mean isn't exactly clear. Not to be a dick

>It's all about housing affordability, not Texans being better about things than Californians. Dallas is struggling to get its homeless population down partially because its real estate is getting less affordable than Houston:

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Any clue how much of that decrease in Houston was migration? Such as away from hurricanes or to places like Austin when it ended its camping ban?

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I don't think that's covered in the study, but AFAIK the supermajority of homeless populations of most metros studied became homeless in that metro area. The homeless don't seem to migrate between metros very much.

Plus, by quantity the fact that the # of people linked up to substantial housing assistance is ~5x the size of the reduction of the homeless population is consistent with the Housing First approach having a big enough impact to move the supply/demand curve of homelessness in Houston, but to confirm that w.r.t. California I guess you'd need to try to find an equivalent number for the number of homeless people in the LA region who received equivalent substantial housing assistance (scaled by metro pop difference) during that time, plus an adjustment for the fact that LA's housing costs increased much more than Houston's over that decade (from a higher starting point).

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> Speaking of Europe's firmer hand, I'm fairly sure that they have a lower bar to forced institutionalization for the loudly mentally ill than we do.

I'm not sure of that. I don't have a source any more then you do, but I think I remember reading a complaint that institutionalization is too hard in germany, and should be easier, like in the US.

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In Germany this is state law, so there are differences. In my state, one physician can get someone locked up until next noon with a convincing formal notice to the judge in charge. Next day, a judge has to see the patient and decide for how long or if at all the lockup continues, seldom more than two weeks. When, later, hospital staff thinks, it should take longer or shorter, they notice the court again.

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That is broadly true.

It's not sth lightly done but it can help with immidiate crises.

German law says that in the event of acute danger to self or others, persons deemed mentally ill can be admitted to a psychiatric hospital by relatives, guardians, the social psychiatric service, a local court or the police - even without their consent.

After being admitted involuntarily, the patient has the right to speak to a doctor within 24 hours. Either then they are discharged, the person voluntarily consents to treatment, or - if the psychiatrist and patient disagree - a judge must be called in within the next 24 hours. The judge makes the decision based on a conversation with the patient and the assessment of the doctor. Upon judicial referral, individuals who are deemed to be an acute danger to themselves or others must remain in the closed psychiatric ward for the duration of the judicial order. They may also have to undergo compulsory treatment. The aim is to stabilize the patient and prevent further escalation of the crisis.

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The biggest thing in this area that I'd like to see the USA import from Germany (all of Europe? I dunno, only ever hung out in Berlin) is the hard separation between the "call the police" and the "call an ambulance" emergency numbers.

I mean, there might be lots of other great stuff too, but I would absolutely adore that one.

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>Or, I've heard stories that their local town put them on a bus to SF

I've heard claims along these lines, too. When I looked into them via poking around on Google, it sounded like what's actually going on is that one of the tools in the standard "social services for the homeless" toolbox is to identify people who are stuck somewhere with no local personal support network but have friends or family somewhere else in the country who could help them out, and to offer to buy these people a bus ticket to wherever their friends or family are. When used as intended, this seems like it'd be almost trivially low-hanging fruit: for a couple hundred dollars worth of bus fare and maybe half a day of a social worker's time, you get a situationally homeless person off the street and into the care of a private citizen who already knows them and is willing to help them get back on their feet.

On the other hand, it isn't always going to work as intended. Maybe the friends or family are already sick of trying to help them (which would explain why they haven't already sprung for bus fare for their homeless friend or relative on their own initiative). Maybe they're willing to try help at first but it doesn't work out and our homeless guy winds up back on the streets again. Or maybe the program sometimes gets abused by homeless people who just want a bus ticket to somewhere that seems like a better place to be homeless, and overworked and under-resourced social workers don't scrutinize their claims too closely when believing them means both less work now and a reduced local homeless population once their clients get on the bus.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

One item I think is relevant to the end of 1: Suburbs are by and large designed for cars. If you don't have one it's hard to get to the suburbs, hard to leave them, and hard to buy food and etc.

The best way to avoid homeless may just be to move slightly further from public transportation. I would be very curious if there are any studies on the relationship between public transit access and homeless population within a metro area rather than between them.

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Big If True...but I'd hope the real problem, or at least the eventual actual policy changes, would be something else. As someone both financially and physically (okay, probably more like psychosomatically) incapable of car ownership*, my quality of life is strongly tied to public transit access. The more a city gets towards dense, walkable, car-optional design, the more people like me end up living there - sometimes specifically moving for that reason alone. It'd be regressive to put the squeeze on us in order to reduce homelessness. Can't necessarily speak for others, but it'd make it much harder for me to keep a job as well. Seems important for preventing homelessless.

(OTOH, as an unabashed public transit hawk, I openly admit to being biased. "Check your priors!")

(Also incidentally, your user icon pleases me, as a fellow Mola mola fan.)

*And principally opposed to rideshare on economic grounds, nevermind <vast litany of other indignities not involving Softbank>. I seem to remember that Scott disagrees with this characterization, or at least claimed that rideshare frequently passed a cost-benefit analysis for employing his former (SSC-era) patients, but am having a damned hard time finding a citation. At any rate, it's a suboptimal kludge solution to bridge the gap between the public transit-dependent and suburb-like homelessness rates.

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You don't need to oppose rideshare, rideshare economics itself opposes rideshare and now that we're entering a bear cycle I don't expect rideshare to last very long.

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I, too, dream of a day when over-financialized equity printers stop getting VC life infusions. Profits are supposed to matter at some point - eventually Somebody Else's Money means Your Money.

It was more a last-minute throwaway proactive defense against an imagined argument that the carless will be okay with reduced public transit, since rideshare can pick up the slack, and therefore Shut Up And Multiply means reducing homelessness is the greater good. But on re-read that really isn't implied by your comment, so it was an unnecessary reaction on my part. I apologize.

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This is what it comes down to… people like me would like transit connected walkable urbanism, homeless activists accuse us of pushing “playgrounds for the rich” at the expense of homeless and poor people’s freedom, they mostly win, and consequently most middle class people live in sprawl.

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I'd love to take public transportation, but you need to make sure it's nice to take instead of some moral obligation. And "nice to take" means no homeless on it.

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Yeah in Minneapolis/Saint Paul they spent all this time/money starting a light rail system. The activists ensured that the homeless were allowed to use it for shelter, and now very few people who have an option use it.

It is two parts of progressive policy that is in very grave conflict.

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Exactly. Like all people, homeless people have a preference for places where it is easy to access all the things they need to do for their current life and for their life aspirations. If you make it harder to get around, then you will discourage people of all sorts, including homeless people, from living there. For people who don’t have as strong a desire for new economic and social opportunities as others (already in a stable job, already with a family) that isn’t as much of a cost as it is for other people, so those kinds of people flock to suburbs.

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Scott actually mentions this in the conclusion section, subsection d:

> Also, what about NIMBYism? People have cogently argued that many of our worst problems - from high housing prices to declining technological progress - are downstream of our decision to stop building dense cities and walkable neighborhoods. But a big reason we don’t build dense cities and walkable neighborhoods is that people (correctly) hate and fear them. They accurately predict that if their neighborhood got denser, it would start looking like the dense parts of San Francisco - litter-filled, decaying, disgusting, unsafe, and ambiently miserable to exist in. The reason we don’t have better public transportation in the Bay Area is that people protest every time someone tries to build a BART station in their area - and the reason people protest every time someone tries to build a BART station in their area is that they weren’t born yesterday, and they’ve seen what other BART stations and the areas around them are like.

I agree with Scott that this leads to all sorts of bad outcomes. Even though this is California and everyone living in the suburbs is probably driving a Tesla anyhow, I can't help but think that public transportation has some important scale advantages over individual mobility, so anything which turns it into a net negative is bad?

By contrast, when the suburb of Munich I was living in was connected to the municipal rail network, there was generally much rejoicing. Of course, it did not exactly lower the rents, but the ability to take a train downtown was a net positive for basically everyone living there. While there is always something to complain about the rail network (more expensive than driving by car, frequently late (esp. S-Bahn), sometimes crowded, other people generally), I find it generally tolerable.

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Do want to emphasize that this is an issue where transit agencies Have Noticed The Skulls, and it's a genuinely hard problem from inside the system too. Most easier fixes that *might* discourage the homeless also *definitely* discourage the regular ridership, the burden of which falls hardest on those non-homeless who need it most. They also discourage transit employees and lower their reputation with the public, so say goodbye to easy funding. Everything from hostile station architecture, more transit cops (BART police are infamously trigger-happy), higher/better enforced fares, cutting service routes and times...

Here's one particularly infamous local example. I used to do a bit of work with this agency's union, can confirm veracity. Very Sad: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-23/elizabeth-lo-s-short-sundance-film-hotel-22-shows-the-plight-of-silicon-valley-s-homeless

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> Most easier fixes that *might* discourage the homeless also *definitely* discourage the regular ridership

"Better enforced fares" doesn't harm regular ridership unless they're regularly jumping the turnstiles.

If you can't have cops that don't kill people, then it's time to move to a city that has their cops under control.

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I occasionally ride BART. The rampant fare evasion makes me resentful of other riders and somewhat fearful because of the general sense of lawlessness.

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Yeah, I'm always sus of "enforcing the community's norms will harm the community" arguments. Like everyone is a slacker.

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yet another book whose central premise is "_______________ is the fault of progressives / libs / environmentalists". the genre must make some serious $$$.

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Yes, there is a market for honest examinations of reality

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This is unsurprising when you realize that progressives/libs/environmentalist have had a 30-year run of governing the entire West Coast and--unsurprisingly--there are still many problems, and many new ones.

Ideologies can and should be criticized for their failures, and the response of those ideologies should be to adapt.

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Exactly. The sardonic implication above of this "genre" as being surprisingly active to the point that there must be some sort of uniquely sinister ideological/financial factors at play is at odds with a basic grasp of two-party politics. For every book about "_______" being the fault of progressives/liberals/environmentalists", there are plenty of books which claim that __________ is the fault of conservatives/neoliberals/religious people.

There are a lot of politically motivated authority figures in the US, and there are a lot of problems. Thus, there is plenty of criticism on the basis of [insert proxy for one party or the other], and some of these criticisms will even be largely true and valuable.

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Are they failing worse than, say, Texas or Florida? The review points out that SF has about the level of homelessness we should expect for its housing prices and climate.

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If you reserve all criticism for only those who are failing the worst, then I'm afraid we'll all be stuck discussing Malawi for the rest of our lives.

As for whether San Francisco's particular approach to homelessness is worse than that of Houston or Miami, my takeaway from this review is that it might well be. After all, even in your question, you implicitly removed and responsibility San Francisco might have for its housing prices.

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The book doesn’t seem to focus on housing prices, which seems to be the main driver here.

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No argument from me on that point. I remain rather unconvinced on most of the premises, though I find the idea SA implies that "housing first" is a poor idea in San Francisco because of its high housing prices to be intriguing.

My main concern in this thread is just to defend the idea that liberals are deserving of criticism.

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I actually reject the entire notion in this book that housing first was tried in a meaningful way. There is a monumental difference between a housing first label being applied by politicians, and like - actually passing YIMBY policies, building lots of actual housing, and rezoning.

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This book argues (convincingly in my opinion) that the homeless population is homeless largely due to drug abuse, mental illness, and overall inability to productively and effectively survive and thrive independently within modern society. Housing prices have nothing to do with that.

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...kind of seems like they do, given the R-squared values shown in the first paragraphs of this article. You can try to explain that homelessness is a combination of these factors, but you cannot entirely dismiss the fact that housing costs are empirically highly correlated with homelessness.

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This notion has already been staunchly refuted in the literature. House prices explain homelessness, mental illness rates do not.

This book doesn't even engage with the mountain of evidence against it's claims.

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Texas/florida criticism has its own publications, examples include the new york times and Vox.com

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I particularly enjoyed the latest handwringing over Chesa Boudin getting the boot because San Francisco is a reactionary, right-wing, conservative city.

Such a pity the sole brave liberal political officer was done down by the iron grip of the Republicans and other conservatives on city politics!

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Personally know several voters who treated that as a Single-Issue Emergency and voted no recall solely because a bit of the Wrong Kind of Money backed the campaign. Without doing any other research. So it's definitely a ridiculous post-hoc rationalization, but seems to have been effective pre-hoc too. "Reversed conservatism is not progressivism!" Except in SF, where there's always some Shadowy Neoliberal Cabal to blame for intra-coalition failures if no Foreign Republicans can be found to scapegoat.

The heavy racial skew of the final vote tally went curiously unremarked in my (almost all-white) local circles as well. Surely an oversight and not at all related to the earlier school board recall, whose results weren't remotely similar and definitely didn't have any of the same Wrong Kind of Money backing that campaign. Strange time to be an Asian in SF.

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I think the counterpoint would be that a huge portion of the "normal" policy books are basically the inverted argument, but it doesn't need to be in the title because it is implicit.

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Okay, and the hegemonic establishment media is the exact opposite. You gonna take pot shots at them? Or just the small players opposed to them?

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What book would you recommend about the un-housed homeless issue on the US West Coast ?

From Youtube videos and from my partners recent experience in the US it seems that it has really changed for the worse recently.

I've read San Francsicko and as an outsider thought it was a really interesting book.

I don't live there, but again from reports it appears that Seattle has similar issues as San Francisco, Portland and LA but Bellevue does not despite having a substantial downtown.

Would anyone who lives in that area be able to comment ?

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Bellevue is not a substantial downtown in the same way as these others. It has a cluster of office buildings, but my understanding is that it doesn’t have the walkable access to many other things that downtown Seattle does. My understanding is that not many metros in the United States have the true multiple nearly equal centers that Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth and Oakland/San Francisco have.

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Seattle is actually a good case study for this, because the way I commonly describe it is "lots of different cities wearing a trenchcoat" - the geography makes both car travel and transit travel between center locales pretty cursed, and there have been a lot of different primary industries that employ a *lot* of people that are located in each of these cities. Bellevue/Redmond is where Microsoft is situated, downtown Seattle is where Amazon is situated, Boeing is both north and south of the city itself for access to industrial level footprints.

The downtown of Seattle *looks* really big and dense, but it doesn't take that many blocks before you're in a neighborhood full of midrises and SFH. But there are lots of "Centers" like this in the metro area over all.

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A recurring theme in this post is problems caused by a sort of motte-and-bailey of mental illness definitions, where sometimes someone is implicitly talking about only the most extreme cases, but quotes statistics that include all cases of depression and anxiety.

It would be good to avoid this ambiguity. The term “severe mental illness” used here seems to do that but is still confusing if you don’t know it’s a term of art. I wish 1) there were a completely different phrase, and 2) there was consensus on where to draw the arbitrary line.

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It's funny, my initial thought is that most of the problem is the motte-and-bailey of homelessness definitions, and it's almost an exact mirror. Especially when looking at the relationship between housing costs and homelessness, it seems like it's hopelessly confounded by the difference between someone who can't make rent and is sleeping in their car or on a friend's couch and someone who has been living in a tent for years (I think "chronically homeless" is the term of art).

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Under the broadest definitions of "homeless" that I've seen used, you can be "homeless" if you're staying in a hotel for a few weeks while you sort out more permanent accommodation. By those standards I've been homeless several times in my life.

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Some federal definitions include people who say had an apartment 9 months, slept on their sister's couch for one night, and then had a new apartment for the next 3 months. Now how often those people actually get counted is another issue, but when organizations are really trying to goose the numbers they loves including or not including such situations depending on what suits them.

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The other thing you have to be careful of there is length-biased sampling. The average person who is currently homeless has been homeless for longer than the average person who has ever been homeless.

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That's a really excellent point. Even when I was in that situation, it was only... 50 days or so?

Which still wasn't exactly a vacation, but it's not trying to get back out of it after years and years. And I was trying really hard to fix it as quickly as possible.

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