Sunday Opinion

ABQ Breaks The Silver Rule, Keeps Homelessness Rampant

Photo by Harrison Haines

“Do not do for others what they can do for themselves.”

“Without risk of extinction, there is no evolution.”

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailer.”

All of these quotes speak to the same so-called “universal truth,” which apparently isn’t that universal if the City of Albuquerque doesn’t get it.

Despite more and more resources, funding, programs, studies, shelters, food and busing and housing options, the City of Albuquerque’s efforts to combat homelessness have fallen flat. 

In fact, they’ve had the opposite effect. A study funded by the city found that homelessness quadrupled between 2013 and 2020. 

Only politicians need a study to know what any resident could tell them after running a few errands around town.

When the state funds the essentials and the citizenry funds the vices — handing cash out their window as a form of community service do-gooderism — you destroy a person’s drive. You can do this to children. You can do this to employees. You can do this to wildlife.

People assume the “don’t feed the bears” warnings are for our safety. Feeding the bears brings them near people, where they could attack. 

That’s only half the reason. The other reason is that you kill a bear’s instinct for survival when you remove the requirement to hunt for itself.

You shouldn’t feed the bears because it kills their will to live.

People are no different.

The less you require of people, the less they will do. We are biologically engineered to seek the maximum amount of resources for a minimal amount of energy expenditure. This has served us well throughout our evolution, but it has destroyed us in a civilized society.

Both drivers who give money to panhandlers and city officials who bought the $14 million Gateway Center fail to understand that the more you give away, the more hands you’ll attract.

Some residents remember the 2015 program where city workers picked up transients and paid them $9 an hour to clean up trash around Albuquerque. It was a joint project between St. Martins and the city, and it was nationally heralded as a solution to homelessness. 

It failed. 

There was no shortage of funds or vans or city workers. There definitely wasn’t a shortage of panhandlers or trash to pick up. 

There just wasn’t a need.

Why work when the city or state will give you free meals, healthcare services, and housing, and then you can stand on a street corner with a sad face and a piece of cardboard for a few hours to pay for drugs or booze or whatever vice the city won’t outright provide?

It’s ironic, because state park rangers will tell you not to leave food out when you camp because it will attract animals, and city law enforcement officers say you can cut crime by removing valuables from your car, but city officials think they’ll solve homelessness by giving the homeless everything they need to not leave the streets.

This problem speaks to another (if more banal) truth, about change in general. Whether you’re thinking about changing jobs or pant sizes, the idea that there is no evolution without the risk of extinction is a reminder about the importance of necessity.

It is easy to stay stuck when you don’t have to move. When the lights are on and there’s food on the table, it’s a lot harder to change than when you’re taking cold showers in the dark, or no showers at all. 

I have never been homeless and I do not pretend to understand the perils of that lifestyle. But I have lived without lights. I have survived without hot water. I asked my dad for money and he said no. 

That’s the fork in the road that people should have to contemplate. 

Unfortunately, the City of Albuquerque continues to play on people’s emotions by promoting the idea that more money, more bonds, and more resources will solve a problem that has nothing to do with help and everything to do with will power.

The wolf atop the mountain is not as hungry as the wolf climbing the mountain. Albuquerque seems content leaving a pack of wolves with just enough food and shelter to keep them from climbing.

The Silver Rules says, Do not do for others what they can do for themselves.

We’re literally killing man’s instinct for survival, all on the taxpayer’s dime.

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