In his first post since a Fourth of July break, “the home of New Mexico politics” blogger Joe Monahan provided a snapshot of Albuquerque’s expenditures in the uphill battle to combat growing homelessness in the city, arguing that any “serious discussion about a long-term homeless solution” starts with more taxpayer dollars toward already underutilized housing projects.
He’s wrong, and his own data proves why.
“Ubiquitous homeless encampments has led ABQ Mayor Tim Keller to pledge a ‘more assertive’ policy” on homelessness, Monahan writes.
Yet nothing in Mayor Keller’s “pledge” indicates that the city has any plans whatsoever to be more assertive. Keller announced he would be “revisiting its policies toward homeless and encampments,” employing an “all of the above approach” to address the problem, and called for a plan “to push forward on a better path,” then proceeded to tout the city’s cleanup efforts and funding of housing vouchers and other “resources” that the city itself acknowledges are not being utilized.
He has vowed to “improve public safety and provide pathways off the street” but provided no examples of policies that are actually accomplishing that.
Monahan gives the mayor the benefit of the doubt, writing that cracking down on criminal activity “may win temporary plaudits but the long-term crisis remains which is how to get more people off the streets and a roof over their heads. That’s the proverbial elephant in the room that policy makers in major metros like ABQ have yet to fully face. And that’s because the cost of providing such housing is enormous.”
It is enormous, but the premise is flawed from the outset. Providing free housing to people is not the city’s job, nor the taxpayer’s responsibility. It might be worthy of consideration if there was any evidence that it has worked in the past, but to date, and by Monhan’s own calculations, the continued allocation of money has only made the problem worse.
He notes recent expenditures totaling $15 million toward housing vouchers and $20 million toward affordable housing. He’s aware of but didn’t specifically mention the $5 million tiny home village or the $18 million Gateway Center, which the city has announced will accommodate only 30 people, only women.
Writing about the 40-unit, $6.7 million Desert Hope “affordable housing development” in Las Cruces, Monahan writes that the price per unit averaged only $167,500, “not necessarily an unrealistic amount given that the average single family home price in the state has soared to well over $300,000.”
This is as ludicrous. Comparing homeowners to unemployed, drug addicted, and mentally ill homeless people is one hell of a false equivalence, even if only on the basis that one group purchased their homes themselves, while the other would have one gifted to them at the expense of those who worked for a living. To extol the virtues of a housing unit that costs $167,000 is the epitome of waste. Dozens of manufacturers offer pre-fab “tiny homes” that cost as little as $5,000, but even that assumes the city is responsible for providing homeless people housing that they are unwilling to work to attain, let alone commit to maintain.
And for the record they aren’t willing.
Residents may 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 bold new solution to homelessness.
It failed, not because of a 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 and state will give you free meals, healthcare services, clothes, and housing if you want it–a taxpayer-funded blank check covering the essentials, with no strings attached (no loan programs, no sobriety checks, no employment requirements). The homeless were freed of the obligations of providing for their own basic survival, and thus they were free to stand on a street corner with a sad face and a piece of cardboard for a few hours to pay for the drugs or booze or whatever other vice the city won’t outright cover.
With the exception of a few spells in the middle of winter, Albuquerque’s shelters are never at capacity. Its $5 million “tiny home village” remains virtually empty. Just last week, The Albuquerque Journal reported that despite ample resources, many of the city’s homeless “do not want/are not ready to accept the city’s help via programs that include shelter beds, motel vouchers and supportive housing.”
And yet the city persists, and liberal mouthpieces perpetuate the lie that more money is the answer.
Monahan writes that it would cost upwards of $670 million to provide beds for each of the estimated 4,000 homeless in the city. But with empty shelters, empty tiny homes, and rebuffed resources, why would anyone believe that more beds would somehow solve the problem?
Even Monahan’s readers acknowledge it won’t.
A comment in the blog states that the Desert Hope property hasn’t resulted in a drop in homelessness; it has actually encouraged it.
“Residents who live in homes surrounding the apartments have complained that since Desert Hope opened, the number of unhoused people present in their neighborhood has increased–apparently many who are not tenants of the complex itself. Many oppose a proposed expansion of the property, which would involve the renovation of adjacent storage units. Neighbors have complained about an uptick in human feces, urine and syringes outside their homes. Some say unhoused people sleep on or near their properties, attempt to get inside their homes through unlocked doors or ask for money. . .”
I’ll ask again: if the shelters aren’t at capacity and existing housing isn’t being utilized, why would more housing solve the problem?
The homeless right now have no reason to seek permanent shelter. They have no reason to seek employment. They have no reason to seek a better life for themselves. By providing every essential service they could imagine, the homeless are left to worry only about their next fix.
By providing for their basic needs, the government has dulled their instincts for survival, freeing them to pursue their vices with reckless abandon.
If the city and its residents want to have a serious discussion about a long-term homeless solution, it starts by recognizing what has failed for decades, and what continues to fail today.
Albuquerque’s homeless have no skin in the game. They can camp, loiter, panhandle, litter, defecate, and shoot up wherever they want without consequence. They have no need to work for their essentials, and they suffer no consequences from their dereliction.
More services is not the answer. More housing is not the answer. Even the homeless understand that there is no value in things that are offered for free. The answer is criminal prosecution, mandatory rehabilitation, and work programs as a condition of freedom.
We have to stop doing for others what they can do for themselves. There is no dignity there.