Free stuff for the homeless doesn't work out the way Oakland's 'tiny houses' advocates thought it would

Seems the idea of "free homes" for the homeless, touted as a panacea to end the problem, isn't quite working out the way its advocates said it would.

In Oakland, at a concentrated community of "tiny homes," given out by the city to the homeless, the result was this, according to The Oaklandside:

A fire Monday morning incinerated three tiny-home shelters at a city-run transitional-housing site at E. 12th Street and 2nd Avenue, across from Lake Merritt.

Nobody was injured, according to authorities, but five people who were living in the scorched shelters were displaced. A fourth tiny-home was damaged as well.

Oakland Fire Department Chief of Staff Michael J. Hunt said the cause of the fire, which began around 10 a.m., is under investigation. Twenty firefighters responded to the incident and got the fire under control by 10:30 a.m. Thick smoke from the blaze could be seen from downtown Oakland and neighborhoods around the lake.

And it looked like this:

That is quite a hazard to people crowded into the small spaces as well as the surrounding area.

According to The Oaklandside, this isn't the first fire at such homeless "tiny homes" concentrations:

At least one other city — Redlands, California — reconsidered its use of Pallet shelters after a fire there destroyed 19 of the sheds. That fire was started by a resident using a hotplate, according to news reports.

The press accounts state that the buildings, which were built cheaply as a sort of transitional housing for the homeless, were in themselves a fire hazard, flaming up fast when someone inside one does something dangerous enough to start a house fire.  And it didn't take too long for this to happen, given that the encampment was just opened last December.

Some activists blamed the proximity of the homes to one another.  Others blamed the fact that the buildings were not sufficiently fireproof.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, city officials plan to blame the manufacturers:

The city is looking into what happened, said Lara Tannenbaum, who manages homeless housing programs for the city's human services department. She said it's too early to tell whether the city will consider replacing the tiny homes — which were manufactured by a Washington-based company called Pallet — with something more fire-resistant.

The incident could have ramifications far beyond the Lake Merritt site. A tiny home program in West Oakland also uses Pallet shelters to house homeless residents. So does a site near the old San Jose City Hall, which is run by Santa Clara County.

"It's really scary," Tannenbaum said of the Oakland fire. "It's very alarming. We will have some follow-up conversations with our fire department. And then we will contact the manufacturers."

What's going unquestioned, though, is the merit of the idea itself.

Should the homeless actually be given "free" homes by the state?  Homeownership is supposedly a means of instilling responsibility into people, which is why the idea must have sounded so attractive to city officials who instituted these concentrations.  Home fires, after all, are pretty rare among people who've bought and paid for their dwellings.  These "tiny homes," though, are not quite homeownership, given that there are no property rights, nor rights to buy and sell — there are just "co-govern" tenets to how the place is run, and the homeless were to make the rules:

The area where the fire started housed 15 people who used to live in an encampment at Union Point Park, and who were testing an experimental "co-governed" shelter strategy. Residents helped design the site's setup, and were supposed to help run it.

It sounds a lot like a shantytown set-up commonly seen in Central and South America: the shacks are distributed to the poor; they frequently go up in flames or are subject to mudslides; nobody has the right to buy or sell a unit other than informally due to the lack of a title deed and firmly laid out property rights; and, as a result, nobody can improve the places because everyone lacks access to capital.  Those were the observations of Hernando de Soto, the famous Peruvian economist, in his earth-shaking 2001 book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Succeeds in the West and Fails Everywhere Else.

It seems pretty operative here, too.

Because of this setup, these houses are always going to be a health hazard to everyone around them, even with the most fireproof and expensive and upgraded materials.

The problem is less about materials and more about the homeless issue itself, a topic homeless advocates don't like to talk about.

The homeless are a diverse lot, with good and bad people, but the fact that the bad are treated the same as the good by the homeless lobby means that the irresponsible person, who has yet to learn to take care of himself and others — the person who leaves a hot plate on, or forgets to turn off the stove, or decides to use his tiny home as a drug lab — is always going to make life impossible for the others.  Unfortunately, such people are numerous in the homeless community, given that most homeless cases are derived from drug abuse and, in the Bay Area, homelessness is generally rewarded.

People treat what they have for about the price they pay for it, and with homes handed out for free, there are going to be those who don't recognize the value of them, let alone care about anyone else. 

That's the real problem here, not the "tiny houses."  The leftists who run these cities with tiny homes just think throwing more money at the problem will solve it.

Image: Twitter screen shot.

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