1091 Comments
Jul 9·edited Jul 9

My plan is “be arbitrarily cruel and draconian,” as defined by “the damn liberals.”

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author

I still think it's worth explaining how. There are lots of possible draconian policies, ranging from pretty justifiable to totally idiotic.

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Plus, new government policies are virtually always messy and inefficient. When you avoid giving specifics, you get to dance around that fact, which hardly seems fair. The implementation problems become more obvious when you get into the details.

Cruel and draconian policies will be executed no more competently than kind and gentle ones; we shouldn't let people pretend otherwise.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

Depends. One cruel and draconian option is to announce an end to police resources for investigating the killing of homeless people. Vigilantes would change the incentives for homelessness. With some surveillance this would double as a way of identifying all the vigilantes while they're only killing those we've already given up on, and we could always go back on our word and prosecute them for murder.

I'm not saying this is a good idea, mind you. Just pointing out that the idea-space is vast.

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See, this is a perfect example. Once you say that stuff out loud, it's immediately obvious that it would be a giant horrible clusterfuck.

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And what we have now isn't? It at least has the merit of being a different clusterfuck. But it allows the well-to-do to escape seeing the consequences of their behaviour, so morally worse perhaps.

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Compared to state-sanctioned random street murders, current policy is awesome.

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>And what we have now isn't?

Compared to that? No, of course not.. It's not even close.

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Isn't the answer to "who killed this homeless person?" usually "this other homeless person"? I don't think vigilantism is involved much, if at all, and stopping police investigations wouldn't make much of a difference to the numbers of homeless people getting killed.

https://jacobin.com/2022/05/homeless-homicides-data-surge-victims-suspects

"Figures from the Los Angeles Police Department show that people experiencing homelessness are roughly twice as likely to be victims as suspects. According to the city’s open data portal, which goes back to 2010, unhoused people have been victims in about two-thirds of homicides in which someone was identified as homeless (417) versus suspects in about a third (215).

Tellingly, an LAPD public records request for data since 2017 shows, if you remove homicides where both the victim and suspect are homeless — likely leaving more of the oft-sensationalized “stranger danger” cases — the proportion of houseless victims to suspects tilts further: 171 to 51, more than three to one.

The public-records request data confirms a rapid rise in annual totals of homicides involving a “homeless/transient” victim and/or suspect: from thirty-eight in 2017 to forty-four in 2018, fifty-two in 2019, seventy-one in 2020, and 106 last year — likely an all-time high. Going back further, to 2010, the portal’s data shows a similar recent spike: for 2010–19, the total homicides including a homeless victim and/or suspect was 364. Already this decade, it’s 268.

Two agencies shared numbers with me that seem to confirm a recent surge: In Denver, a police spokesman notes, fifteen of the ninety-six homicide victims in 2021 were homeless. In San Diego in 2020, Lt. Andra Brown notes, unhoused people were victims of four and committed three homicides; last year, they were victims in eight but committed just one."

Killers who are not themselves homeless persons seem to be criminals already, going by this case:

https://abc7.com/los-angeles-homeless-serial-killer-shooting-update-today-homicide-search/14133694/

"The suspect in the three fatal shootings of homeless people in Los Angeles was identified as a man who was already in custody after being arrested earlier this week in connection with the murder of a San Dimas resident who was shot during a follow-home robbery, authorities announced Saturday."

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This is not but reminds me of wet streets and rain.

Yes of course right now vigilantes don't do anything, because they'd be prosecuted. If you talk to people affected by homelessness, however, you stay to think that one out of every hundred or thousand might be willing, were there no enforcement, to solve the problem.

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>Isn't the answer to "who killed this homeless person?" usually "this other homeless person"?

"[T]wice as likely to be victims as suspects" suggests that it isn't, no?

Anyway, that aside, a few recent murders of homeless people in Southern California that got media coverage turned out to have been done by thrill-killers who presumably thought that it would be easier to get away with.

Of course, that could just be these cases getting more media coverage because they are at first mysterious and senseless, as distinct from "homeless person A and homeless person B got into an argument at their encampment, whereupon B stabbed A at their mutual encampment in front of a bunch of witnesses who knew them both," as the latter case would be resolved quickly without a lot of sleuthing.

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Just pointing out that just because a homeless person is twice as likely to be a victim as a suspect doesn't mean that the killers aren't usually other homeless people. Even if we know all the killers, there's likely to be less than the number of victims, because a lot of people who kill are relatively likely to commit more murders. But in reality there's going to be a lot of cases where no suspect can be identified.

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There seems to be a little bit of fiddling with the figures - yes, if you take out all the cases where the homeless person A was murdered by the homeless person B, then you are left with the homeless people murdered by the non-homeless. That may or may not be higher proportionately, but there doesn't seem too much wiggle room if, in San Diego in 2019, there was one homeless murderer and eight homeless murder victims but in 2020 there were three homeless murderers and four homeless murder victims. *Something* caused that jump up in homeless murderers: homeless victims from 1:8 to 6:8

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How much of these numbers boil down to when a homeless person is killed the PD has no clue who did it, and never learns?

Skimming that article I see the numbers for how many people died (easy to measure) and how many suspects were homeless.

What I DO NOT see is how many suspects (let alone convicteds) actually were non-homeless.

Big surprise that, as per usual with Jacobin, you can't even tell if they are deliberately hiding this data or simply so stupid they don't even realize that it's THE most important number...

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That sounds like a pretty messy solution. I agree that it would be inexpensive. I'm not sure why you think this is a rebuttal to the parent commenter.

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Probably because it is, but thanks for playing.

Implementation =/= no longer implementing. Implementing a return to a long-ago previous policy such as 'if we catch you being shifty in our town the police will beat you with clubs' is different per sec than informing all the armed Americans who are sick to death of problems like this that the police will no longer be implementing the fairly recent effective ban on mob justice.

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Messy, inefficient implementation of policies that protect the law-abiding citizenry and any unintended victims will eventually have recourse may be superior to the status quo for many people. The impact classes are totally different: parents, for example, probably care a lot more about their children not being harassed or dodging needles on the street than they care about the drug-addled ward of the state dumping the needles to begin with. If kind and gentle policies do nothing for normal people, they will eventually give up on them and vote for the cruel and draconian that does.

Also this is clearly a commentary on "damn liberals" calling anything that actually has an impact "cruel and draconian," like maybe not having open air drug markets where people commit slow suicide in public parks.

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People committing slow suicide in public parks is more of a nuisance or a depressing eyesore than an actual danger to the "law-abiding citizenry," isn't it?

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No. Junkies leaving used syringes in the parks that my nephews might want to play in is, in fact, an actual danger to them. I do not want my nephews getting Hep-C (or anything else) because they stepped on something that a junkie couldn't be bothered to clean up. Yes, I have helped pick up other people's used sharps in public parks.

I realize that I'm stereotyping by presuming these are typically left behind by junkies and not diabetics, but I think I can live with that.

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In fairness, the risk of any given diabetic having hepatitis or other needle-transmissible illness still seems high enough to be worth taking seriously.

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I'd be curious as to how many Californian homeless persons are originally from California? Surely there can't be *that* many naturally-occurring crazy people per capita, and if there are, that's a sign of something much more worrisome.

Minimum-security jail sentences might be the most humane short-term option for people who can't look after themselves, and if most people cease being homeless within a year then clearly incurable mental illness is not what's keeping them on the streets.

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I agree with that. “Arbitrarily cruel and draconian as defined by the damn liberals“ is merely a bounding box, not a specification.

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I think that you have to go pretty far along the fascism axis before you make a difference. If you are advocating for rounding (some) homeless people up and killing them (which would both be in your bounding box and also objective-limit effective, but at a price a damn liberal like me would not be willing to pay), then instead of vaguely gesturing at it, please state it outright.

If you had something short of that in mind, please clarify why you think it would change the behavior of homeless people where current disincentives fail.

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My cruel and draconian policy is "yes we will criminalise persistent homelessness and the more mentally ill you are, the longer your sentence".

Since nobody wants to build asylums any more because of stupid Hollywood shit like "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", my new prisons will be called "prisons" but they will in fact be asylums to treat the mentally ill homeless, hopefully get them stabilised, and enable them to have a roof over their head, food, clothing, bathing facilities, and some kind of routine before they get turfed back out on the streets. If there isn't a plan in place to support the person once released, that's an extension of the "sentence" so they won't be turfed back out to live on the streets while we flail around to get them some kind of halfway house or accommodation.

Needless to say, there will be strict inspections to make sure the 'prisons' are not hellholes and that the government money is being spent effectively. I will go all-in on being a horrible cruel draconian by permitting charitable bodies -including, gasp! religious and double gasp! even Christians - to be involved, particularly in the post-release "help people get jobs, accommodation, ongoing support and treatment, half-way houses, assisted living, whatever they need" phase.

Staff will be properly trained and properly paid, but nobody is going to get rich off this. There will be no 'private nursing homes where one nurse is looking after a hundred patients while the owner buys their second luxury home' arrangements. However many we need to provide a decent ratio of care will be hired. Anyone who thinks they can have a side hustle smuggling in drugs, booze, porn, or exploiting the inmates will go for a long trip on a slow boat to China.

(That may or may not be a metaphor).

Maybe some of the inmates are in such a state that they can never live independently, even with support. Well, they'll be our lifers.

Yes, I am willing to get the "You Fascist Monster!" medal of honour from the damn liberals and bleeding-heart progressives for my bold policy initiative.

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No way the owner of these 'private nursing homes' only has two luxury homes. They have at least four, plus the 'corporate hunting lodge'.

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Two in their name, the rest in the names of spouses, family members, or offshore tax haven foundations 😁

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This creates a really tantalizing incentive for some of the more ambitious Christian organizations: to declare lack of faith as mental illness. After all, only a crazy person would reject Christ and thus embrace the Devil, right ? It is our duty to bring these poor benighted souls to the Lord !

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That only matters if the Christian organization is both in charge and evil enough to want to commit people who aren't mentally ill, in which case they can do what they want anyway and your hypothetical doesn't really matter.

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That's not an issue of incentives so much as a two part demonstration of coordination.

Centuries ago when society was full Christian, this scenario was just the norm.

Now when society is mostly not practically Christian, this scenario is almost impossible.

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I wouldn't mind this if the inmates had 24/7, guaranteed, uncensored Internet access. (Except in the specific cases of people where doctors *seriously, specifically* think *unfiltered* Internet might make their condition worse.) I think with the modern world being what it is, the lack of Internet access is one of the most prima facie inhumane and torturous aspects of forced instutionalization *or* regular prison. It cuts you off from, potentially, some of the most meaningful human contacts in your life. The fact that it's limited even for lifers/long-term mental patients is I think an archaism as much as anything — people treat it as if it's like "not giving them a free TV set", as opposed to what it really is, potentially cutting them off from their loved ones forever.

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I don't think the internet needs more crazy people on it.

Loved ones can write letters to stay on contact. If they're too lazy to do that, they were probably going to dump their mentally ill loved one eventually anyway.

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Medals aside, how are you going to pay for this? And where is the political will to actually do it, and do it right (no hellholes), and *fund doing it right* going to come from?

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

We're already throwing tons of money, depending on what country you are from, at it. Why not take some of the $848 million San Francisco is allocating to homelessness support services and build, staff, and run one prison/asylum with it?

https://hsh.sfgov.org/about/budget/

"The proposed budget allocates $846.8 million to HSH in FY 2024-25 and $677 million in FY 2025-26.

With ongoing Our City, Our Home funding, HSH’s budget has more than tripled since the first year of the Department’s operation.

92% of the proposed two-year budget would be appropriated to homelessness response system services, including 60% ($916.6 million) to housing. Housing costs go towards subsidies and services that keep households who have exited homelessness stably and successfully housed as well as new units."

The running costs are going to be the largest chunk of change we need, but if they can afford to throw hundreds of millions each fiscal year at the problem, they can afford to stump up fifty million to keep one prison going for the year each year (I have no idea if it would cost fifty million, but I'm thinking about having decent facilities and plenty of qualified staff).

'More than tripled'. Take a gander at that and think about it for a bit. Started in 2016/17 with a modest budget of $224 million, now proposing to spend $847 million in 2024/25. I'd be ashamed to look my diabolic stony-hearted fascist monster compeers in the face if I couldn't make a go of one lousy little asylum in its own grounds with fifty million in my hot little hands to do it up right.

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>Medals aside, how are you going to pay for this?

Okay, can I just say I am very, very tired of the response to "let's build prisons and asylums" being "but how are you going to pay for this" as if that is an unanswerable response, the end of the road?

Here's the answer: The government does all sorts of expensive stuff. This can go on the list with the rest. And yes, I will happily -- indeed, eagerly -- pay increased taxes to see the mentally ill derelicts taken off the streets. You can bill me personally! I will dance a little jig on my way to the mailbox. I will even draw a little smiley face on the check.

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I support this plan. It happens to be a lot like the plan I was going to lay out, but decided to read some of the comments before doing so. So maybe I'm just biased towards ideas that seem similar to the ones I'm already thinking about.

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"Too far along the fascism axis" seems to include anything that gets clean streets and no open air drug markets when Xi Jinping isn't visiting. Is it a timing thing: it's okay for a week or two, but not for months or years?

It's unclear to me if you think gassing the hobos is the only thing that will make a long-term difference (and is of course wildly unacceptable), or if you're jumping to a grossly uncharitable example just for the fun of it. Forced relocation to comfortable but not downtown housing is probably too far along the fascist axis too.

Where, even vaguely, is the acceptable liberal line that doesn't let a small minority of anti-social people inflict themselves on the innocent citizenry with virtually no recourse? Is there one?

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Noting is acceptable to liberals, certainly modern liberals. Perhaps thanks to the brainwashing effects of social media, they operate purely on emotions, groupthink and conformity.

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I believe that there are a large number of liberals who are not progressives or communists. People who can think. People who can make tradeoffs. People who can hear an idea without emotional hysterics when a word they don't like is used.

I have to say "I believe" (instead of "I know") because I have not heard from anyone who meets this description in a long time. Social media makes it worse. I bet there were always emotionally unstable people within the left, but those people had no way to publish anything I might read until the internet made it easy.

I miss the reasonable left. I wish I could hear from them. I know many of them are now small-R republicans.

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The APEC cleanup wasn’t some remarkable accomplishment—they just shuffled people around to Oakland and neighborhoods further away from downtown.

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Several comments throughout the thread seem to think any form of relocation is unacceptable so I still think it fits my frustration with that above comment. I figured the cleanup was some sleight of hand.

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Well for starters I'd say we don't need to criminalise being homeless, we just need to criminalise committing crimes.

The problem isn't the crazy people who walk around muttering or the homeless who sleep in their car for a couple of weeks, the problem is the crazy or homeless people who actually commit crimes which harm others. Right now the criminal justice system seems to default to giving them some soft sentence, hoping that this is somehow going to cure them, which it doesn't.

Drastically increasing prison sentences for "minor" offences would have two good effects. The criminals who are making semi-rational decisions will be much less likely to commit crimes. And those who are irrational can be safely confined and forced to take their meds.

If this sounds inhumane then I'm perfectly willing to work on making more humane prisons into the bargain.

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How about starting by scaling up production of those GPS tracking anklets already being used for some types of parole? Seems like simply being able to find previously-arrested individuals again, on short notice, would open up a lot of useful options, and "wear this unusually sturdy wristwatch in case we need to contact you again" doesn't seem like the sort of thing that's too heinously excessive to apply for a first offense.

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Yup. To my mind

>There are an infinite number of ways that semi-psychotic homeless people can miss appointments. The half-life of these people’s contact with the medical system is a month or two. So they’ll miss their appointment and get off the drugs. The police aren’t going to start a nationwide manhunt for a psychotic homeless person who’s indistinguishable from all the other psychotic homeless people.

sounds like: This is a lossy system. My knee-jerk reaction is that it needs redundancy. In addition to the locator beacons, what I would add is:

- The half-life for losing contact with the medical system is a month? Schedule appointments once a week _even at the cost of making the appointments lower quality_ . Do perfunctory, perhaps automated appointments.

- Since these people are homeless, have at least their prescriptions held at the pharmacy, _not_ in their tent. Use some flavor of ID - fingerprint, retinal scan, whatever to match patient to prescription at the pharmacy, rather than having them have to keep ID in their tent.

This is all in the interests of keeping as many of them as sane _as possible_. Now, there are large chunks that this won't solve:

Medications with side effects bad enough that people stop taking them, even when they have them.

Expensive housing. That is a huge problem way beyond just the mentally ill homeless, and a whole separate discussion, and a lot of approaches have been tried and have failed.

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"The problem isn't the crazy people who walk around muttering or the homeless who sleep in their car for a couple of weeks, "

No, the problem is crazy people who walk around muttering and shouting and screaming and shitting on the street and threatening people, and the homeless people who sleep in their cars permanently and use facilities that weren't designed for long term living.

There, fixed it for you.

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You didn't fix anything, you just re-conflated the things that Melvin was trying to point out that people are irrationally conflating.

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Wrong, I changed *isn't* to *is*.

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This is a really obvious and sensible solution that Scott seems to have almost deliberately ignored in service of making this problem seem intractable. This is actually a really easy problem to solve and cities like New York have previously solved it before losing the technology in a City of Ember like fashion. Step 1) build enough shelters so that people with nowhere to go don't have to sleep on the streets, 2) enforce the law (you can't do crimes or sleep on the street and if you do you'll go to jail), 3) congratulations you have solved the problem most people care about which is not being accosted by crazy violent people who live in the street. We did it folks, and in only a few hundred words.

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There's a thread down below that talks about privatization of the problem. Perhaps we combine that with "be arbitrarily cruel and draconian". Call it a "last chance" program. If the company can successfully reintegrate you into society, they get paid and the problem is solved. If not, you get drafted in our forever wars and go directly to the front line. Set a fixed timeline for reintegration and define success as the ability to retain a place of residence.

To be frank I'm sick of both the homeless problem and the forever wars, but if we're stuck with both, when life gives you lemons... Damn this is dark.

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Random people who don't want to be there, never mind the whole mentally ill bit, are just a dangerous liability on the front line rather than helpful in any way.

Not to mention the expense and difficulty of transporting them there and upkeep in the meantime.

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I think you're right in modern warfare as conducted by the US, but I do think historically a lot of this was done

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Convicts have been used a lot over the centuries in various roles; untreatably psychotic mental patients less so; any army with the state capacity to conscript mental patients has relied on either ordered formations or complex weapons to some extent.

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Isn't this in fact what Russia is doing today in Ukraine?

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

I considered the liability aspect after posting and my mind came up with: paratroopers. Effectively human weapons turned loose behind enemy lines. Best case you damage your enemy, worst case they defect and become another country's problem.

Indulging the idea further: this seems to potentially be the current play with "asylum seekers" in the US at least according to some sources.

I don't see cost as a real counter argument as it is likely less than a lifetime on government services.

And I have to reiterate how abysmally dark these ideas are and that I'd rather both problems (war and homelessness) be solved more compassionately.

The more I think about it, the more we're really just on track to gladiators.

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However expensive it is to take care of a homeless person now is nowhere near as expensive as training a single paratrooper.

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The US military already have things that you can drop at the enemy from the air to inflict not-very-targeted damage. They call these things "unguided bombs" and they come at just a few thousand dollars apiece, and don't require food or much space when stored.

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Ehh, kind of. Certainly, a conscript-based military has to be designed in a different way than a volunteer one, and you do definitely need at least some volunteers (to be commissars/blocking troops, at the very least) but Russia has demonstrated that it can be made to work even in modern times.

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I'm not sure they're demonstrating it can be made to work - the invasion seems to be a shambles compared to expected performance, and they're still picking fit young men who they just don't value for some reason rather than incorrigable homeless people off the street - generally the young men have families back home, something to lose, and the general ability to do things.

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You said "Random people who don't want to be there, never mind the whole mentally ill bit, are just a dangerous liability on the front line rather than helpful in any way."

Conscripts are "random people who don't want to be there". Apparently they're helpful in the proper framework. They would definitely be a liability if put into a designed-for-volunteers system, and they are definitely always less useful than the same amount of volunteers, but apparently that's not enough to make them infeasible.

Now, yes, chuck insanity into the mix and it gets a bit trickier (although I imagine a well-designed boot camp might be able to mitigate a lot of the insanity prior to deployment), but you explicitly claimed that that wasn't necessary to conscripts' uselessness.

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Yup, and even Russia briefly looked at the idea of conscripting their own homeless and said - "nope!". There was some politician voicing the idea early in the war, and reports of isolated cases of this happening, but it didn't really go anywhere.

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Well the draconian fascist in me would say that we wouldn't send them to fight the serious wars, just little wars that we start for the purposes of giving the hobos something to do. You can't invade Russia with an army of American hobos, but maybe you can invade Papua New Guinea?

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

Government interventions are often useless, but "let's solve the problem by privatising it" is even more useless. What happens is that the entities interested in such schemes see $$$$ instead of public service, are more interesting in wringing out the maximum return for the shareholders, and often do worse than the government agencies in the first place.

'Get recruits by emptying the prisons' and 'jail or the army' is a time-honoured practice for militaries, but 'use the homeless' isn't a good substitute. You need people who are minimally competent and trainable to be soldiers, and even criminals need to be more the "robbery" and "juvenile petty shit" than "multiple murders and assaults" types.

https://taskandpurpose.com/military-life/join-the-military-or-go-to-jail/

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It depends on your approach. Prigozhin was having great success with the prison-to-military pipeline (perhaps a little too much success, in fact, which is why he's dead now). The magic recipe appears to be to have a core of loyal (and well-paid) veterans who will babysit the convicts (by shooting any dissenters and wannabe deserters), and to send the convicts into the meat-grinder as quickly as possible. Putin tried to take over Prigozhin's business (after the latter's unfortunate spontaneous mid-air explosion), but (possibly due to the overall corruption level of the Russian army) is not having nearly as much success. His convicts keep deserting, or worse, surviving the meat-grinders and returning to their home towns, to resume committing whatever crimes got them thrown in jail to begin with.

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There's a far better option along the same vein: instead of pointlessly butchering them, give them homes in the conquered territories. In fact, you can open that up as an option to everyone, and solve more problems.

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I'd have no problem sending them to the front with the promise that if the effort is successful, they would share in the conquest. I think I disagree with giving territory to someone who didn't fight for it.

All of that said, my preference would be for neither homelessness nor war to exist. We're too damn rich of a country to not have asylums big enough to adequately treat the psychotic patients we turn out on the street.

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I see where you're coming from, but in my view, they WOULD be fighting (albeit a prolonged lower-intensity conflict), to HOLD valuable territory in hostile conditions. For this to work, I expect you'd need far more manpower than your soldiers can reasonably provide. Perhaps you could give your soldiers rent from the properties for a few decades before transferring ownership to the residents?

I expect the homeless would make poor soldiers, but perfectly adequate settlers.

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Ah, I see where you're coming from! Sort of a great frontier approach. I'm on board.

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Lebensraum! Though that wasn't intended for the mentally disabled.

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I can see the bastard shaking his head in disbelief. "Only ze Americans could think to combine lebensraum mit mental illness, ach, mein gott."

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The Euphrates will be our Mississippi.

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What conquered territories? What wars of which country are y'all guys talking about? I thought it was a post about the US homeless.

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That was tried in Vietnam. Google "Mcnamara's morons." It didn't go well.

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What I could see working in conservative states (only) is low-cost, tented prison camps, like the WWII Japanese American "relocation centers", i.e. internment camps. These were situated many miles inland, often in remote and desolate locales.

No one has the right to be sustained on other people's dime, i.e. by forcing other people to pay taxes under threat of imprisonment themselves. If you can't survive a low-cost relocation center/internment camp, you can't survive in the modern world. Oh dear, never mind, how sad. Let's move on from emotions, and protect productive society.

Such camps would be extremely unpleasant. So be it. That should be an excellent deterrent. If internees demonstrate the ability to contribute to society - or at least not to be an active detriment - they should have a way to earn their release. If they don't, they should be offered a painless way out: e.g. equip every cell with a ligature point and a length of rope, and confer upon people the discretion what to do with their lives.

Nasty? Yes. Realistic. Also yes. Better than how LA or San Francisco are currently dealing with this? Definitely yes.

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"Enslave the homeless" might effectively be the same thing, but that would make it private rather than government-run (always an improvement!).

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'Enslave' is probably overwrought, given that these people wouldn't be actually earning their keep; it's also not in line with my actual intent. If we're striving for a pithy one-word encapsulation of my preferred policy, it would be: 'Exile', i.e. get these people away from productive decent citizens who deserve to be allowed to live their lives unmolested.

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Parachute them into the Alaskan wilderness…

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Forced labor for the homeless was the traditional solution. But there really aren't a lot of jobs any longer that are economically meaningful if you're both completely without qualifications and actively hostile to the task.

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You don't really need it to be economically meaningful, you just need it to keep them busy and (ideally) to help offset the cost.

Many low security prisons are prison farms -- I doubt they're particularly efficient as farms go, but it keeps the prisoners busy and sometimes teaches them useful skills that they can use to go get a job once they're released. If I had to be in prison I'd choose doing farm work over sitting around all day.

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As a political compromise, how about making them not quite so unpleasant and calling them "rehabilitation centers" rather than "internment camps"?

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Earn their release? Why not put these camps deep in the Alaskan wilderness, fifty miles from the nearest road? Don’t stop anyone from leaving, but make it very clear that nobody is going to be looking for them. Maybe give them tracking bracelets or ankle monitors or something; if they shed those they shed them. If you can get through fifty miles of roadless wilderness and back to civilization you are probably reasonably fit and thoughtful; if you can’t and gambled and lost…well, not our problem. Good day to be an Alaskan buzzard.

Besides, you could argue that you aren’t technically stopping them from leaving. Meet your requirements, or take your chances in the Alaskan bush. If you can find a way to get a buddy with a snowmobile to meet you at the fence…well, it’s public land, nobody is going to stop snowmobile guy from riding through it or you from meeting him.

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I'm plagiarising this idea if I'm ever appointed King-of-the-World! ;)

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Because it can be countered by just a small number of dissenters who want homeless people to be free and are willing to make daily snowmobile runs.

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Reminds me of https://detoxcampcomic.com though admittedly that's a slightly different "undesirable" demographic and involves a lot of supernatural elements.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

I'm surprised that most places (?) don't sweep up the homeless, put them on buses, drive them 200 miles away and dump them there to be homeless somewhere else. It could either be made legal or semi-legal, or done completely illegally in the confidence of getting away with it.

This obviously isn't anything like an actual solution, but it's *got* to be tempting to "solve" your local problems.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

"Wet houses" for drug users is probably a decent option - essentially a simple shelter where you can get your drugs injected by professionals until you die or you decide to try to fix your life. It's vastly cheaper for society than the homeless financing their drug habits through crime, anyway.

This way, there'd be no need for force - a roof over your head and your drugs is what they *want*.

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IIRC this is already done; it’s called Greyhound therapy.

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I'm unsurprised at hearing this. It makes too much sense from a local perspective.

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If most homeless people stop being homeless within a year or so, how does incurable mental illness explain the homelessness crisis?

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Completely different populations. Chronically homeless are not the majority of the homeless population, but they are the modal group that people think of when they hear the word "homeless," and they're the ones disruptive enough to normies to constitute a "crisis."

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Wouldn't there be rather more room in homeless shelters and housing projects if the ~80-90% that are not mentally ill were induced to leave California and/or get off the streets?

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....No? I'm saying the majority of that 80-90% don't interact very much with the shelters and aren't visibly on the streets. They're couch-surfing, sleeping in cars, etc. Those people moving might free up resources in food banks and the like, but shelters are still primarily going to house the same population of chronically homeless they do now.

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It's an odd definition of "homeless" to include everyone currently bunking with a neighbour, and if that's true I'd be curious about the source of the statistic.

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Th part that's missing is that you do not distinguish between

- things that are difficult/impossible because of the law/convention AND

- things that are actually immoral. (yes vague term, opinions differ...)

You simply elide the one with the other. Let's not do that.

If we do not do that, then the space that opens up is forced confinement that is not "prison". It doesn't occur in a prison, and it doesn't require as much infrastructure (ie is cheaper than) a prison because we don't need things like armed guards and searchlights; a facility placed in the middle of nowhere that's essentially like a homeless shelter today basically does the job. The main additional constraints are limitations on dealers being able to visit whenever they like, and making it not exactly trivial to simply walk out the place, or be driven out.

Now, given the above design is this "immoral" (as opposed to "illegal/unconstitutional"? Well that depends on your mental model of a schizophrenic.

(a) Is the person happier living in filth and squalor than in a regimented environment? The homeless advocates claim no. I don't trust a damn thing they say, but if we go along with this claim, then we are in fact providing the schizophrenic with the housing and structure that it is claimed they desire, so what's the problem? The fact that they no longer have access to street drugs?

The rest of us accept that while we have some flexibility in our lives, we may well have to live in a place that is far from our first choice for whatever reason - school, job, military commitments whatever.

I don't see why this basic fact of life for everyone else becomes an unacceptable burden for the homeless. You can live housed by the state -- out somewhere in Northern California far from the vices of the city and the rest of the population. Or you can live illegally on the street in LA, subject to being arrested for breaking the law in multiple ways. These are much the same choices the rest of us face.

An on-going problem is lack of honesty by advocates. What is the claim that the state owes these people? Housing? Or "housing wherever I want, of whatever form I want, subject to no oversight, with the ability to hurt my neighbors as much as I wish, and with ample access to street drugs"? Because the arguments always claim the first, but then veer off into the second as soon as details are required.

(b) the schizophrenic is not the only person in the equation, there is also the rest of society. The traditional thinking has always been that to take advantage of living in society you are expected to follow social rules; and if you are unwilling to do so then society doesn't owe you anything.

Once again the issue is not "illegal/unconstitutional", it is is this an immoral viewpoint?

The liberal stance has always been "your rights end where mine begin", and this seems to fall into that category, in much the same way that we're willing to ban political entities explicitly committed to ending liberal democracy.

So yes, by all means bring up the issues of law because they delimit what is possible. But don't confuse the issue by claiming that the *legal* bounds of the possible admit for no "reasonable" options beyond those bounds. The law can and has been changed. The constitution is not a suicide pact.

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Sometimes hard choices must be made and someone will be hurt no matter what, but cruelty as a goal in and of itself is never a good look. Unless your goal is to sound like a Hollywood movie villain, in which case, great job!

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As Nick Lowe's girlfriend observed way back in 1979: you gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure.

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Other reason a homeless person might miss their prescribed social-worker or psychiatry appointment: they have an unrelated physical illness that makes it difficult for them to travel halfway across the city day of, and they aren't allowed to simply communicate with the social worker by email.

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I'm curious what the process is like in rural areas that lack a hospital with a psychiatric ward. I live in a remote area where inpatient psychiatric care is not readily available.

Does a rural police officer still have to find a way to transport someone to a suitably large hospital wherever one can be found?

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

I don't know about the 'States, but in Australia: yes, you'll be strapped down in an ambulance (with IIRC a policeman in the back with you) and driven to the nearest city large enough to have a hospital with a psych ward. I haven't had personal experience with this in places where said large city is more than a day's drive (though I imagine that doesn't happen in the 'States), but my guess would be that you get taken by plane.

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This is roughly the case in Canada as well; though the person will first be assessed by a doctor in their local area who can order a 72 hour hold; and at that point the person will be transported to one of the few hundred hospitals designated to involuntarily hold psych patients for up to two weeks (with extensions after that). In very remote communities this can indeed involve plane transport since we have areas not accessible by road; but its rare and in practical terms people with that level of psychosis requiring revolving involuntary admissions aren't staying in those remote communities.

Relative to how Scott described the process above, our definition of "harm to themselves or others" is a lot more literal and less vibes based. We're never admitting a person for whom that isn't VERY clearly true (and not just for involuntary admissions- due to bed you can't really be admitted as a voluntary patient unless you're meeting the criteria that could make you involuntary). However the vibes play out in the opposite direction- if its a huge logistical challenge, a physician in a very remote area is going to try a lot of other options to make things work in their community before signing a Mental Health Act form.

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I can see this logistical challenge scenario playing out here in the United States as well. Ambulances, ambulance drivers, emergency physicians, they are all in short supply and I am guessing there would be a tendency to try to avoid the substantial investment of time to transport someone to another region and complete all of these processes.

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I think that only really is a thing in really remote Alaskan communities and in that case…if Timmy develops schizophrenia, maybe aided by dank Alaskan weed, he gets hauled to Fairbanks or something by police Cessna.

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Often it's to bus them to the nearest major city, which is why American downtowns have so many crazy homeless people.

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Huh, that makes more sense than my guess that in rural areas, they tend to starve to death.

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This also applies to non-crazy homeless people. Rural areas and smaller towns/cities will often have a little capacity for addressing homelessness, such as basement cots in a few churches, but the general answer is to drive/bus them to somewhere with more capacity.

Many small cities are happy not to develop that capacity. They would rather send the problem elsewhere than address it locally. Even if they were willing and able to address it locally, there are strong second- and third-order effects of being within driving distance of a major city and having a reputation for generosity towards the homeless.

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In rural areas, such people generally not homeless because housing is much cheaper, houses are much larger, and they or a relative/friend usually have a place they can stay in despite their conditions.

See: https://twitter.com/aaronAcarr/status/1504619986580557829

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

I think you are incorrect, at least if you are speaking from the United States context. In my career I don't deal directly with homelessness, but I sometimes work with people who do. I've consistently heard that homelessness is a significant rural issue, and when it's come up directly in my career, there certainly seems to be an extensive problem in rural Kentucky.

Is this an issue that you track on an ongoing basis? I'm surprised to hear the claim that homelessness is not a rural issue, but perhaps in some regions of the world it is not.

This is some national coverage from a few years back: "Unsheltered And Uncounted: Rural America's Hidden Homeless" https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/07/04/736240349/in-rural-areas-homeless-people-are-harder-to-find-and-to-help

"When it comes to homelessness and housing issues, one-third of rural Americans (33%) say homelessness is a problem in their local community, while more than one in ten have experienced several types of housing problems in their current residence..." https://www.rwjf.org/en/about-rwjf/newsroom/2019/05/four-in-ten-rural-americans-report-problems-paying-for-medical-bills-housing-or-food.html

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I've only glanced at the articles, but a rural definition of a homeless problem is unlikely to match an urban one. When "in town" refers to a village of a thousand people, even *one* homeless person is a visible problem.

"Difficulty getting to medical services"? Most rural counties don't have bus service, so you're walking if your car doesn't work.

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Neither of the links you provided disputes the data Mark linked to. The data from Mark *is* from an organization that regularly tracks this type of data. The claim is not that homelessness is not a rural issue, only that it is not as bad as it is in urban areas.

On Kentucky specifically, from the 2023 HUD Point in Time homelessness report:

"Over the longer period, from 2007 to 2023, the number of people experiencing homelessness declined in 25 states and the District of Columbia. [...] The largest percentage decreases were in Louisiana (42%), West Virginia (41%), Kentucky

(41%), and New Jersey (41%)." Page 18

So homelessness may be a problem in Kentucky, but that problem isn't especially bad relative to the rest of the country (rates of homelessness in KY are below the median for the country), and improving (though the report notes a 20% increase from 2022-2023, which was typical throughout the country).

https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/2023-AHAR-Part-1.pdf

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I am currently in charge of a project to implement mental health crisis response teams in an area pretty much like this (regional city, large rural parts of the county). The police officer transports the person the the nearest emergency department, and, depending on the rules in the area, has to stay with them until they are admitted there, or the person is assigned someone to watch them while in the ED. Then they stay in the emergency department until someone finds a bed for them in an inpatient psych hospital, which could be many hours away or across the state. The hospital then has to arrange transport for them. In the area I’m launching this program, there are no inpatient psych wards for under 18s in the entire county, so the hospital staff have to call around to all the other hospitals in the region until they find them a bed. Kids stay in this emergency department for an average of about five days, waiting. The average length of stay for people in the ED for mental health reasons in this region is 12x that for people with only medical reasons, because of the difficulty of finding beds, and because they aren’t legally allowed to be evaluated until they are sober.

Sometimes it’s really as bad as it could be.

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"And anyway, now we’re back to Housing First, the solution that all of these “We Should Do Something About The Mentally Ill” articles treat as their foil."

That seems to happen a lot!

I think it's probably because the Housing First people are right, and it's pretty much impossible to fix somebody's other problems while they're homeless. We keep trying to find ways around that fact, but reality refuses to cooperate.

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I mean, "build more housing" will be helpful for people who are homeless for simple financial reasons, but I gather that's a fairly different set of people from the destructive people on the street that people are complaining about, and that those people are often homeless because, in addition to the financial problems, anywhere they try to live, they get kicked out for wrecking the place. So what do you do about that?

Admittedly I guess one answer would be "build *so* much more housing that even such people can afford to buy their own house from which they can't be evicted", but I don't think that's really possible in a city -- the way you build more housing is by building *up*, not by building lots more individual houses that a person could buy. (I guess condos exist, but I have to assume those have *some* sort of provision for dealing with people who wreck the common areas and/or structure of the building itself, right?)

(...hell, even when you own a house outright, you don't have arbitrary legal right to wreck it, right? Building codes exist for a reason...)

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Social housing for the mentally ill exists, there just isn't enough of it. We could have more, if we had more housing overall.

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My solution, which mixes housing first with being cruel and draconian, is "build cheap kinda-crappy housing in cheap areas instead of downtown San Francisco". This does require overcoming some nimbyism and also some objections of the form "but it's cruel to force people to move 50-100 miles away to single-room tenement apartments", but it does actually solve the main problems.

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And it requires interventions at a much higher level of government than is typical for this problem. The state of CA or a hypothetical Greater Bay Area Co-Prosperity Sphere could do this; no city government can.

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Certainly if I were redesigning the US I'd take a lot of powers away from local governments and give them to the states. Local governments should do zoning and garbage collection and parks, they shouldn't be running their own goddamn school systems or police forces.

I'd probably break up some of the bigger states as well to get everything at a more reasonable scale.

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AIUI, local government powers derive from those of the State, so the State can take them back at its own discretion.

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I'm thinking about a Greater Bay Area Co-Prosperity Sphere, and wondering who would be the equivalent of the Japanese in that case. Would it be tech moguls who think they know best and are going to force their solutions onto everyone else? What about homeless NGOs that force every non-SF city to take Sf's homeless, making it seem like they've solved the problem by making everywhere else worse? Or would it actually be an effective institution run by competent leadership (maybe an AI)? Clearly, we should create the GBACPS and find out.

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This creates ghetto towns - which create a new set of issues - and if these locations are not integrated with accessible community services, what's the plan for treating the underlying issues?

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The main issues with ghetto towns are just that they're full of dysfunctional people, but those people are going to exist either way. (In this case I don't think it would create whole towns - the actual number of crazy homeless people who harass passerby is surprisingly low, they're just very prolific).

Re community services - seems easier to build those outside of a busy and expensive downtown area anyway. I don't expect they'd be especially well done, but then they're not especially well done now either. I at least don't expect they'd be worse.

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who pays for the community services in the ghetto? If the local council isn't receiving rates etc from residents, then you're saying that some other community needs to carry that cost. I appreciate SF downtown needs a solution, but sweeping people up and moving them somewhere else isn't solving the problem, it's just tidying it up for the people living in downtown SF. Supporters of this policy aren't looking for a solution to homelessness/mental health, they're looking for a service to create insulation against a problem being located on their doorsteps. If the problem were dispersed across all communities, the cost is evenly spread across the services required to address it, and the chances of keeping it on the agenda might be higher.

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"Out of sight, out of mind."

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Why is it important for them to be "in mind"? If the mind only furnishes vexation with them, or solutions that are de facto draconian, isn't it better that the taxpayer should stop thinking about them at all, so that homelessness may take an ever-increasing share of the public budget without any pushback?

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The goal isn't first and foremost to treat the issues, it's containing and preventing them from being an nuisance to the rest of society. Although, it does allow community services to be concentrated at that location. Seems like the best of bad solutions to me.

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Also, it seems to be often the case that the issues aren't treatable. Perhaps things have changed, but I knew a guy who was periodically inssane because he stopped taking his medications...intentionally. Because the side effects were intolerable. He was a professional quality pianist...but couldn't develop a career. (Truthfully, while he was professional quality, he wasn't better than the median for that profession.)

OTOH, most of the time he was an engaging conversationalist, honorable, truthful, and a good enough friend that I tried to babysit him though one of his episodes...but couldn't. He developed paranoid hallucinations.

Note, however, that when he was on his meds he didn't remember the times when he was off them, but only noticed the side effects of the meds.

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That's fine. I admire you for expressing this framing. The cost of sweeping up the nuisance doesn't address the pipeline that creates that nuisance, so do you assume that moving the current homeless population to the new location, will mean that next month, you'll expect to clean up the newly arrived homeless people and send them to the ghetto? Do you genuinely expect that the politician that proposes a budget to send community services to ghetto will win votes / donations from tax payers of the cleaned-up communities, to fund the community services that will support the needs of the residents of the ghetto?

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If you keep them there involuntarily, that’s just an asylum. If they are there voluntarily, you’re going to have the same issues with treatment compliance.

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One largely-missed option is to permit people to build cheap housing. Society has, in its infinite majesty, decided that neither the rich nor the poor are allowed to buy cheap housing, and it's kind of a problem.

I go to a convention in San Francisco every year. A bunch of my friends do crazy stuff like pack four people in hotel rooms. I don't; I look for the terrible hotels where the room is *at most* twice as large as the bed and there's shared bathrooms on every floor. These used to be legal to build for straight-up residence, and they no longer are, but they're much cheaper and frankly only slightly less convenient.

We allow college kids to live in these situations - why don't we allow adults to live in these situations?

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There's lots of cheap housing, it's just not in San Francisco. I don't know why the "we should build cheap housing" conversation always seems to start and end in the few places where that's geographically impossible.

Why is it always "We should build more shitty apartments in San Francisco" instead of "We should build more trailer parks in Arkansas"?

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

Housing is expensive throughout the Bay Area, not just San Francisco.

> Why is it always "We should build more shitty apartments in San Francisco" instead of "We should build more trailer parks in Arkansas"?

Because people want to live in the Bay Area, where jobs and their existing families/friends are located. They don't want to live in Alabama. If you build more trailer parks in Arkansas, they will sit empty.

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But the people in California don't want more people, so it's really just too bad if more people want to live there.

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It should be the other way around. Let's say I own land in California and want to build an apartment building on my land, and people want to rent those apartments. That should be my business, and it's really too bad if my neighbors burst out crying at the sight of an apartment building.

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There's plenty of perfectly sensible middle class people with good jobs who have left the Bay Area because it's too expensive. If you're choosing to sleep in someone else's doorstep in San Francisco rather than a warm trailer park in Arkansas then... well, that's a choice you shouldn't be allowed to make.

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You can't afford that warm trailer in Arkansas if you don't have a job because there are no jobs in Arkansas.

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There's housing that is cheap because land and construction prices are cheap. There's virtually no housing that's cheap because it's designed to be minimal. That's what I'm arguing here - "let people have cheap housing, not all housing needs to be high-quality".

If you're in Nowhere, Arkansas this isn't as useful of a thing to be able to do because even a one-bedroom house is pretty cheap. If you're in the SF Bay Area, it is.

(But this should be allowed in Arkansas as well.)

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I'll quote a comment of mine from below:

> And climate aside, I think a lot of it is the combination of wealth and leftiness in SF. The combination of those two things implies: a) good odds of handouts, b) funded social services, and leftiness implies c) permissive legal environments, but also wealth implies d) high property values. Thus, homeless accumulate in places with high property values, but not through the obvious causal connection.

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Actually, a lot of San Francisco's problems date back to a Supreme Court decision that city governments could not limit their public assistance programs to residents of the city. This might have been specifically designed to destroy cities that had generous public assistance programs.

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How do you define the residency of a homeless person?

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How do you define the residency of a homeless person?

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How do you define the residency of a homeless person?

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Why is it geographically impossible?

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Making housing cheaper will make a lot o fthings better, but it won't do much for your untreated life-wrecking mental illness.

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Housing the homeless would remove a lot of the barriers these people have for treating their mental illness since police / social workers now can know exactly where these people are. Which should in theory make it easier to get them to take medication or go in for appointments...

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Actually, as our host pointed out, treating someone's mental illnesses gets a lot easier when they're housed.

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That might or might not be true, but what does it have to do with my question?

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Because San Francisco is on a relatively small peninsula, and other than the park space, it's *already* covered in buildings. And still, more people want to move there, so the value of the land is very high. And construction costs are high.

Now, I have proposed building a series of half-mile cubed arcologies the entire length of Golden Gate Park, but most of the residents of San Francisco whom I know have objected to this idea.

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San Francisco has fairly low density compared to eg even suburbs here in Singapore.

Though I can believe that it is _socially_ impossible to build more. Just not geographically.

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Manhattan is roughly 4 times more dense than SF. We could absolutely build more on the peninsula.

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Arkansas already has cheap housing, so marginal gains are lower.

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Part of the issue is that even in the places with 'cheap housing' it is still very expensive, which makes the solution of 'give everyone a house' cost a ton. Housing could be significantly cheaper everywhere, even if places like San Fran are the focus because of their exorbitant prices.

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I agree, but with a caveat: shared property tends to create problems. Housing projects are a great example of this. Rowhouses work much better, and I've seen tiny single-room houses specifically for this purpose. But that probably runs up against "cheap", again.

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The sort of stereotypical example is Wild West boarding houses, where the tenants are just long-term renting and don't own the property. I am personally totally fine with that but I believe it's currently not legal without behaving a lot more like a hotel.

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Boarders need to be people who aren't horribly disruptive, though possibly having the option of being a boarder means that fewer people do a serious downhill slide.

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To me it seems like some combination of allowing some type of cheaper via less/shared space and some relaxed building requirements but still humane and structurally sound housing, and at least enough asylum beds to house all the worst offenders, makes the most sense.

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If people run their boarding houses privately, they can decide who to rent to.

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I wasn't talking about problems caused by sane law-abiding people...

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Singapore does just fine with people owning individual flats in a larger building.

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Singapore executes drug traffickers, regularly imprisons drug users for several years, and also uses judicial caning on drug users, robbers, vandals, and voyeurs.

This is only a very very small selection of cultural differences that make something work in Singapore that would absolutely disgust your average San Franciscan or otherwise urban American. Start caning drug users and maybe a few years later you could have social housing. Don't put the cart before the horse.

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I wasn't talking about problems caused by sane law-abiding people...

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This. Re-legalizing poorhouses solves a lot of these issues.

(Ofc, this is generally not what housing first people mean)

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You're 100% right. The problem is that most people think we definitely need more housing, but in their heads they imagine more spacious, well-furnished apartments. That's not feasible, or even terribly helpful. The illegality of small, spartan apartments is the issue. We need to permit the construction of cheap, crappy housing, because that's the logical step up from homelessness. We've removed the bottom rung of the ladder.

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Building any housing would help.

If you build on the top end, people across the wealth spectrum will all move up by one rung, freeing an existing crappy unit on the bottom rung.

That process is called 'filtering' if you want to do more reading.

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I don't think that's quite right. Agreed that building any housing will lower the price of housing overall.

But consider as an extreme example: a city where regulation prevents an apartment being listed smaller than 1000 square feet. This is going to place a floor on apartment prices even if a ton of new housing is built. Someone who can only afford to pay $200/month is still going to be out of luck. They will be priced out by people moving from other cities, or by non-residential uses for those apartments, because renting such a place for $200/month is always going to be a loss for the landlord.

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The more popular phrase from the quote you're alluding to is "majestic equality."

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Fair point, though also you apparently haven't visited a college dorm recently.

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The super fancy California college I went to had much bigger rooms, about 4 times the size of a bed for singles or twice that if you have a roommate.

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There's a crucial dynamic that this overlooks - many people get dramatically worse _after_ they hit the street. When you go from having a fixed home to being homeless, suddenly you lose most of whatever support network you might have had (because they can't find you), your physical health takes a toll, and you're more exposed to bad influences.

There's a crucial difference between:

1. Building housing to keep prices low will help keep people off the streets, and

2. Putting the currently homeless in housing will help them get off the streets.

Both things can be true but with significant differences in details.

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If you build more housing for everyone, that significantly brings down the cost of government subsidized housing, usually through 1) reducing competition for government housing units from non-needy people (lowering the amount of gov housing you will actually need to achieve your objective), and 2) by reducing many of the regulations needed to make private housing easier to build, you also reduce the regulations needed to build government housing.

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I liked something I've heard Chinese developers did - they offered housing swaps when they were buying land.

If you were a current homeowner, living in an old run down home, they would house you while they were building an apartment tower and then give you several of the new units.

Honestly, this wouldn't work on homeowners in the US (where the old homes are in better states of repair and the residents are vehemently opposed to apartments even if they're nice new amenities). But it might work on landlords as a kind of three-for-one deal in a package where the developer builds 30.

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There is an age gap in this. The people in charge lived through the era where we did build enough housing for all the poor people. They were called housing projects with several high rise buildings filled with virtually free housing. They were hell on Earth because it put all the poor people together. And poor people are disorderly.

They were all torn down.

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It's chicken and egg, though: the people who respond best to getting housed are likely to not have been homeless long, or are otherwise stable.

The worst, and the most visible, problem is the "crazy junkies in tents on the streets" homeless and just putting them into housing and then saying "job accomplished" is not enough. They won't take their meds, they may be incapable of independent living, they may trash the place or simply live in squalor or end up with predatory types taking advantage of them.

There does need to be ongoing support and engagement, and that is where people fall between the cracks, as listed by Scott above: miss appointments, can't get new appointments, can't handle the bureaucracy, don't take their medication, are just one more in the caseload of overworked social workers, etc. Putting them in housing is the first step, but it isn't enough on its own, and sometimes it may be better not to put them into housing until they're stable enough to handle independent living.

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It's housing first, not housing only. And I don't think there's any way around it. I don't think there's anyone who's better left homeless until they're more stable, because I don't think you can expect anyone to get more stable while they're homeless.

My brother used to work in the Youth Services Bureau, here in Ottawa, so I've heard a decent bit about this. Housing people who aren't capable of living independently is a hard but well-understood problem. It's mostly a matter of money, and if housing wasn't so mind-bogglingly expensive it would be cheaper.

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>if housing wasn't so mind-bogglingly expensive

Room, meet elephant!

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I very much agree it's not housing only, but the trouble is, such programmes cost money, and to trim down costs things like support services will be pared down. So instead of having the community nurse calling every week to make sure the client is managing, that will be once a month, maybe, if you're lucky.

So what seems like an easy quick fix will be to stick people in cheap, possibly government-built, housing and then leave them to sink or swim, and a lot are going to sink.

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Housing First is also an infinite money pit, especially if there's no willingness to remove people that refuse treatment and will continuously destroy the housing and terrorize their neighbors.

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> pretty much impossible to fix somebody's other problems while they're homeless.

I get this argument, but is it any easier to make someone not homeless when they have other problems? Will they wander away from or destroy their home before their illness is under control? Will they be unable to get a job and resort to begging on the street in order to eat, taking up too much time to do anything else? Will they voluntarily take their meds (or remember to do so) just because they have a roof and a bed? Or do you still need some (probably draconian and invasive) infrastructure at the same time?

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Idea: have, after steps 1-5, have private companies in charge of getting the people help. For each person who lapses, goes back on the streets, and gets arrested, the private companies pay a fine. For each person who becomes a successful and functional member of society, the private companies get a large financial reward. This would unlock the ingenuity of the free market to figure out what to do in particular cases, which would probably involve the companies carefully making sure that people figure out the mess with insurance. So basically I'd just have a step 8--funnel them to private companies who are financially incentivized to care for their well-being.

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Where do they get the money to pay the fine?

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Presumably from the large financial rewards for the success cases

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Fake homelessness to get "fixed" in order to earn the reward in 3... 2... 1...

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The private companies are the ones that pay the fines, to be clear, not the homeless.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

But you need to avoid Goodhart's law: Such a company would have huge incentives to "filter" the easy-to-reintegrate homeless from the problematic ones. One obvious way is for the company to have "reasonable employee protection practices" which somehow always end up classifying the worst homeless as threatening or a danger to the staff and thus excluding them. More extreme, such a company would be incentivized to make people homeless to easily re-integrate them. A scammer could e.g. take children of employees who are leaving for university and first make them "homeless" for a few days and cash in on the rewards. More grey area schemes are certainly also possible.

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Idea: they'd have to take the homeless who meet criteria 1-5 at random! Also, if they filter easy-to-reintegrate homeless, that might not be so bad compared to the status quo where it seems even those guys are being failed.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

So they have to take on homeless people who has previously assaulted their staff? That seems incompatible with employee protection laws. What if the staff gets a restraining order against a homeless person?

If they are allowed to filter, there will be a race-to-the-bottom where the most successful company will be the one that filters the best (since removing your 5% worst homeless is much more profitable than making the homeless you have 5% more likely to re-integrate. Remember that most homeless people re-integrate quickly if left alone).

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Maybe require them to be taken at random unless people assault their staff or commit other crimes to their staff, in which case it's their choice whether to keep them. Alternatively, set up betting markets for individual homeless about how likely they are to have various positive outcomes, and then reward people only for beating the betting markets.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

If you can filter homeless people by making them commit crimes against your staff, then the most profitable company will be the one who is hyper-vigilant against anything that could be a crime, and also provokes or fabricates crimes.

(I'm not trying to shit on any market solution: obviously "make the government run everything" has an incentive problem, so does everything. My pessimistic side thinks the only good solution is "have high asabiyya" and people will do what's right damn the incentive.) But I think your proposals thus far have too obvious incentive problems that would be too easy to exploit, because filtering will be so profitable for this specific problem.)

Betting markets are great of course, I'd support that.

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Glad we agree on betting markets. Yeah, I think there might be some way around this--maybe have heavy oversight so that people don't goad mentally ill people into attacking staff for profit or allow heavy suits for that sort of thing.

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I really like your arguments, my lived experience is so far that when markets evolve organically, they mostly work fine, but when states try to create artificial markets, they fail in these ways. The reason is probably as a small family business grows into a big business, they retain some of the asabiyya-ran elements of their small family business past. They want to do things the socially accepted way.

My basic instinct is that if we need to have some interventions, they should be as direct as possible with as few moving parts as possible. Just build government owned hostels.

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why would filtering would not be hard to prevent if the company has no control whatsoever over who they get?

Like the government makes a contract with the company that says "we will assign 10% of cases to you." then the company gets 10% of the cases as determined by a random number generator picked by the government. How does the company filter then?

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> Maybe require them to be taken at random unless people assault their staff or commit other crimes to their staff, in which case it's their choice whether to keep them

OK, so now you've just created an incentive for me to get my most problematic clients to assault my staff. This doesn't sound great.

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Yeah, speaking as someone who knows two people who used to be "staff", I'd prefer some other solution that wouldn't have put them in danger.

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you could make it that once someone was a selected client, you still get the fine if they arent integrated regardless of whether or not they keep being your client

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Police and prison guards have to do that too, don't they?

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Whatever legal mechanism allows Private prisons to impression people who previously assaulted their staff should allow these companies from taking on people who assaulted their staff.

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This can be problem with studies of ways to reduce homelessness. When you dig into them, you can find out that they recruited solely from among populations who had already been filtered for ability to follow rules and live cooperatively in groups (such as being residents of a shelter that requires things like "no smoking" and "no drug use" and so forth).

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The UK tried the privatisation solution with its probation service (the people who help ex-prisoners get their lives back on track). It went horrifically for basically the reasons you outline: writing contracts for these services is nigh impossible.

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But I wouldn't be surprised if the contractors made out like bandits for a while.

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>Such a company would have huge incentives to "filter" the easy-to-reintegrate homeless from the problematic ones.

This would be an actually good thing. If the "homeless problem" is, in fact, several different problems of different difficulties and which require different solutions, being able to separate them would help a lot.

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As long as you have multiple companies in competition you could do something similar to an auction to assign cases. The easiest ones that everyone is eager to take on naturally pay the least, then the reward increases until someone decides it's worth their time.

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Jul 9·edited Jul 9

Good idea really. You should write this up more fully, and push it to people of influence in red-state large cities. (Because I don't think blue states will go for this level of private involvement)

Besides providing an "insurance advocate" as you describe, the company might pay some minor costs for the homeless person (like insurance copays or transit passes), pay for a bit of financial counseling, and so on.

It's not obvious to me what Goodhartian complications could arise, but it strikes me that a trial program could be run, and adjusted or cancelled if Goodhart interferes too much.

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And when the private company pays out the reward to shareholders in the form of a dividend, rather than reserves it against future fines and declares Chapter 7?

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I can't think of any reason any for profit organization would sign up to do that.

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Social workers have pretty similar incentives in practice - they already want people to become successful and functional members of society, using ingenuity where possible. I like Ethan’s suggestion onto make companies bid on involuntarily-committed people to assist, as a way to combat Goodharting, but I still think the free market’s ingenuity would go towards gaming the rewards rather than improving outcomes. These companies would still try to improve outcomes where possible, but they wouldn’t have the force of the free market behind those efforts - it will always be easier to game the rewards than to solve the problems listed under “threaten people into attending appointments”. These companies will still use ingenuity to help their people, but in the same “where possible” way that social workers would.

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what is the normal path that leads to "these kinds" of homeless people? i've been radicalized by the Land Value Tax + UBI Georgist movement. i want to believe that many people who end psychotic could have helped themselves earlier in life, if we didn't have a housing crisis and weren't wage slaves to the landlords.

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