Are We Helpless When it Comes to the Homeless?

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By Howard Hills

By Howard Hills
By Howard Hills

Homelessness has become yet another topic ironically like the weather, everyone complains about it but no one ever does anything about it. Of course, anything anyone proposes to do about it costs too much, is never enough, and will not solve the problem.

Did you ever notice that those who complain the loudest about how bad the problem has become are the same ones who make the most noise opposing any plan to do anything about it?  But can you blame them?  Many feel with some justification that our quality of life is diminished by a pronounced unregulated homeless population, creating conditions that are unacceptable but defy simple solutions.

But maybe those who just bemoan the negative impacts of homelessness while surrendering to it by inaction merely are expressing a depressing social realism. Perhaps helplessly expecting the worst is the best we can do, and those who reject all solutions because none is certain or perfect are prophets of an enlightened fatalism.

After all, nationally public debt is at an all time high.  Without casting partisan blame, at the federal level the government has made promises that can’t be kept without borrowing more than the government can afford to pay back. The wealth producers are tapped out, the expectations of wealth consumers are inflated, and the difference is made up by increasing public debt.

Participation in the workforce is at an all-time low. We are on a recessionary plateau euphemistically described as a jobless recovery, combined with debt-financed government intervention to prop up distressed markets, all with no end in sight.

It is a safe bet homelessness will continue to be a growth industry in America.  So maybe at both the national and local level homelessness is an issue the do-nothing-because-every-option-is-imperfect crowd is just ahead of the curve, and the rest of us are living in a pastime paradise.

We also are in an unprecedented political season in the life of our nation when most historically normative restraints on government servitude to special interests have been overwhelmed.  In other words, the checks and balances dynamics in our political economy are not operating efficiently to produce optimal outcomes that empower stakeholders inclusively and equitably in order to serve the greater good.

What all this means for our nation generally and our town specifically in dealing with homelessness is that making the perfect the enemy of the good forfeits our ability to control our own destiny. So instead of engaging the agents of influence over this issue we abdicate the power to define our town’s policy on homelessness to local, county and state public assistance bureaucrats, professional homeless advocates, and, of course, any judge who is beguiled by the ACLU.

The alternative would be for the citizenry to participate in a focused if painfully complicated deliberation with our elected leaders and the principal stakeholders.  The goal would be to clearly define terms and conditions for a commitment by the town to address requirements for a well-defined homeless population whose presence in our midst cannot be denied or ignored.

By meeting whatever legal and social obligations we as a community decide to accept, we then can assert the legal, political and moral right to regulate the larger homeless population in a way that is fair to all concerned, and ends our current feelings of frustrated helplessness.


Howard Hills is a third generation native of Laguna Beach.  Opinions expressed are personal and not those of any person or organization with which he may be affiliated.

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