The curse of public vagrancy
Welcome to the Third World...especially if you live along America's West Coast. After all, it was really closer than you once thought it was. "Encampments" of squatters abound in parks, in parking lots, under and along freeways, wherever they can get away with it. Why? Nothing more complicated than the combination of mild weather and a woke political establishment.
A fact of climatology is that the west coasts of continents have much milder weather than the east coasts. A fact of politics is the existence of guilty middle-class liberals who form a base of support for all kinds of dystopic public policies. It's one thing to feel compassion for the less fortunate. It's another to embrace them as being innocent victims of our culture's lack of fairness.
The latest euphemism for street bums is "unhoused." The woke establishment boldly claims that the reason there are so many "campers" lounging about is that there's just not enough affordable housing. They are compelled to ignore a basic fact of life: ALL HOUSING IS AFFORDABLE, or else it's vacant. Landlords are not at all pleased to pay taxes and insurance on nonperforming assets. In their further pursuit of dystopia, the wokesters self-righteously impose rent and eviction controls so as to rein in those greedy landlords. The real-world result is that investors, looking to profit by providing the financial support needed to increase the amount of housing stock, look elsewhere.
TV news crews will look high and low to find the exceptional vagrant: a former brain surgeon who got addicted to painkillers while recovering from a bicycling accident until his wife eventually threw him out. Good luck! It is estimated by some that 85% of the public vagrant population are drug and/or alcohol abusers. It is, however, not all that easy to generate reliable statistics from a fugitive population. But the nature of this problem is obvious. Add to this the recent addition of Fentanyl to the drug-abuser diet, and dystopia metastasizes.
Cities and towns have always had Skid Rows. But nowadays there is little, if any, sense of shame among the down-and-outs that would otherwise encourage them to at least avoid public view, let alone actually clean up their act. Also, the visual dystopia is no longer contained in a specific place, but is dispersed to many convenient areas. One limit to this unpleasant phenomenon is the quality of panhandling. All it takes is a cardboard sign and a congested freeway off-ramp, and voilà! Guilty middle-class liberals pony up, and a local drug-dealer gets to make another boat payment.
Oh, there are serious efforts afoot to remediate these grotesqueries. First off, various municipalities (esp. San Francisco) are making their taxpayers provide sterile syringes to the "campers" as a hygienic improvement. They've gone so far as to set up injection lounges so that bums can have a safe, clean place to get high. I remember using a public restroom at Oakland's Jack London Square. There was a used syringe disposal box mounted on the wall above the sink. It had been jimmied open and was thus empty. Where there's a will, there's a way.
The latest fad among the vagrant-huggers is to provide government housing for the "campers." Some schemes involve pre-fab "tiny houses" that are, unfortunately, not sufficiently fireproof. Other forms are ridiculously expensive multi-unit warehouses of failure. There is already an enormous body of knowledge that reveals the folly of public housing projects. The mayor of Oakland once implored the local homeowners to share their domiciles with mentally unstable drug addicts. When asked why she and her empty-nesting husband hadn't already done that, she just said their rather large home wasn't properly configured for such a gesture. Go figure.
There are, however, also many stories of how former encampment residents escaped from dystopia. In a word: incarceration. Hitting bottom and winding up in a severely structured living situation can actually be a good thing, but, of course, not in every case.
This is not a particularly difficult problem to deal with. The failure to mitigate widespread public vagrancy painfully reveals just how corrupt and ideologically dogmatic our urban political establishments have become. Has disgust with the status quo finally reached critical mass among the voting public? The answer, my friends, may be blowing in the wind.
Image: Thomas Hawk.