We could view homelessness as a moral failure… or a failure of capitalism… or a failure of individuals to live productive lives… or a problem in need of resources we can’t afford to commit…
Or… just spitballin’ here… a waste of potential and precious human capital.
For this discussion, we’re leaving out the moral and ethical dimensions of the issue. We’re not declaring an obligation to protect our most vulnerable. We’re putting on our green eyeshades and considering homelessness from a purely bottom-line point of view.
To hear the Scott administration tell it, extending the emergency motel voucher program is kind of like taking a pile of money and setting it on fire. It produces a bit of transient warmth, but it’s otherwise a waste of resources. Legislative Democrats and even some housing advocates often fall for this: They tacitly accept the premise instead of making the economic case for (a) giving everyone a roof to sleep under in the short term and (b) ending homelessness in the longer term.
When you look at it that way, you find that we can’t afford not to end homelessness. There is abundant evidence that addressing homelessness is an economic winner — not just in the long term, but almost immediately. So let’s stop talking about whether we can afford $72 million for another year of motel vouchers or $31 million for a stripped-down version of the program or a few hundred million to provide enough housing for all. Instead, let’s talk about the economic positives of a humane policy choice.
(I don’t pretend that any of this is my idea, but it ought to be more of a factor in our policy debates.)Continue reading