Conservatives and liberals should agree on housing the homeless.

homeless jesus

The Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban’s Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C. (NPR.org)

In the first post in this series, I looked at some obstacles I see to good policy development. However, I very much believe that there are opportunities ripe for collaboration between unlikely parties, like drugs.

Let me again note that not all ideals will be served here. For instance, these suggestions should appeal to fiscal conservatives, but not necessarily to social conservatives. That being said, there are examples of public policy which will save money, reduce crime, respect the dignity of those affected, and lead to positive social outcomes.

Some of these require more study before widespread implementation, but I believe there is enough data to warrant further inspection and at least merit experimentation.

The Issue: Housing the Homeless

From National Alliance to End Homelessness:

While circumstances can vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford. It is the scarcity of affordable housing in the United States, particularly in more urban areas where homelessness is more prevalent, that is behind their inability to acquire or maintain housing.

By the numbers:

  • There are 610,042 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States.
  • Of that number, 222,197 are people in families, and
  • 387,845 are individuals.
  • About 18 percent of the homeless population – 109,132 – are considered “chronically homeless,”and
  • About 9 percent of homeless adults- 57,849 – are veterans.

The Good News

Recent data indicates that we can largely solve homelessness in the United States and it’s fairly easy. The solution: provide stable housing to the homeless.

Again, from National Alliance to End Homelessness:

Studies have shown that – in practice, and not just in theory – providing people experiencing chronic homelessness with permanent supportive housing saves taxpayers money.

Permanent supportive housing refers to permanent housing coupled with supportive services.

  • A study recent study followed the progress of the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) in Seattle, WA. All the residents at this Housing First-styled residence had severe alcohol problems and varying medical and mental health conditions. When taking into account all costs – including housing costs – the participants in the 1811 Eastlake program cost $2,449 less per person per month than those who were in conventional city shelters, as described in the article from theJournal of American Medical Association.
  • A cost study of rural homelessness from Portland, ME found significant cost reductions when providing permanent supportive housing as opposed to serving the people while they remain homeless. The study specifically noted a 57 percent reduction in the cost of mental health services over a six-month period, partly due to a 79 percent drop in the cost of psychiatric hospitalization.
  • A study from Los Angeles, CA – home to ten percent of the entire homeless population – found that placing four chronically homeless people into permanent supportive housing saved the city more than $80,000 per year.

Conservative Appeal

Conservative beliefs:

  • Personal responsibility
  • Limited government
  • Free markets
  • Individual liberty
  • Strong national defense
  • The role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.
  • Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

As demonstrated above, providing permanent supportive housing saves taxpayers money. A LOT of money. This alone should be enough to enlist conservative support in the cause.

However, let’s examine this through the lens of personal responsibility. One conservative view might be that this is providing a handout to someone who should be working on their own to obtain housing, that we are teaching them dependence on the government. That’s one way to look at it, I suppose.

However, another conservative might argue that permanent housing is the lever through which to encourage personal responsibility in all other areas of life. For instance, it’s difficult to obtain and keep employment without permanent housing. It’s difficult to maintain health conditions and stay on critical medication without housing. It’s more difficult to take proper care of children and be sure they are being educated well (222,000+ families are homeless).

Viewed in this way, providing one benefit allows people to take more personal responsibility for their lives in all other ways. This seems very consistent with a conservative philosophy.

Oh, and 9 percent of homeless adults are veterans. Surely, they have ‘earned’ their permanent housing (if that’s important)?

Liberal Appeal

Liberal beliefs:

  • Government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all.
  • Duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights.
  • The role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need.
  • Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.

In light of the beliefs stated above, I think it is self-evident why liberals should be supportive of these policies. Providing permanent supportive housing is a government response that alleviates social ills and helps to reduce the number of people in need.

Conclusion

Permanent supportive housing is a clear win for all involved. Taxpayers save significant money, individuals and families receive critical help, and society benefits tremendously from a variety of positive outcomes. For people of faith, this policy seems pretty clearly to line up with the ideals of somebody named Jesus.

Politicians, this is an easy one.


Further Reading:

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How to spend money

If you have some money but not all the money, I ask you to consider how you choose to spend it. What things are worth splurging on? What things you should buy as cheap as possible? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before spending money:

Where do I spend the most time? 

We can get a lot of value out of money if we spend it to enhance the places where we spend the most time. You should spend an average of 8 hours a day on your mattress; make sure it’s a good one. The side effects that come from poor sleep can literally wreck your entire life. Spend a little bit more and sleep well.

We recently had an energy audit on our house. Aside from wrapping water heater pipes and replacing light bulbs, one thing they did was offer to install a water-efficient shower-head. Sure, I said without thinking. The next morning, I was treated to a Seinfeld-like shower with no pressure. NO PRESSURE. I immediately emailed my wife and told her not to stress, that a new shower-head was on the way. I believe my exact words were “We are not going to live like savages.”

DeltaI soon installed a Delta 75152 and it was the best $23 I ever spent. Now we are still seeing a noticeable decrease in water usage while getting a better shower than we ever had before. Fifteen minutes a day in the shower is over 91 hours every year. Money well spent.

You probably spend an awful lot of time at work. Why not spend a couple of bucks to reduce the misery of your workday? A nice plant or decoration can make a huge difference if you have a dedicated workspace. If you are on your feet all day, get quality shoes. These things matter in your life.

What do I see/hear the most? 

Screens. The good ones usually don’t cost much more than the crappy ones. You can’t tell by looking in the stores b/c the lighting and displays are not the same as your home. Check out a site like The Wirecutter and trust their research. You will be thankful later.

Get the biggest screen you can with the highest quality you can. This will pay off for years when you do not feel the urgent need to upgrade again quickly. It’s far better to save and get the right one rather than settle to get one immediately.

Remember that screens now have multiple uses. I bought a large 27″ display for my home computer. I like having it in a dedicated space with a big screen. I also use it to watch Netflix or stream sports in a pinch. This makes it much more versatile than saving a few dollars and reducing my options for using it in different ways.

Between my television and computer screens, I spend a lot of time looking at them. My life is greatly enriched by having a terrific experience in those hours instead of watching mediocre screens. Also, a decent soundbar can make a huge difference in the quality of your home viewing experience without all the hassle of a surround system.

What do I touch the most? 

Spend money on things you touch the most. Even if it seems silly, this will make a huge difference in your daily life. It’s much better to spend money on a shoe horn you use daily instead of a tie you wear once a month. It’s better to have a well-fitting undershirt you wear daily that makes you feel good than one that is too short and irritates you constantly.

A great towel can start every day off on the right foot. If you love to cook, get some decent pots and pans. Love coffee? Spend a weekend upgrading your skills and drink better coffee every day.

How many times will I buy this item? 

We recently replaced our furnace and central air unit. We chose to spend more money on these because even though they are not highly visible, a more efficient furnace will save us money on future energy bills and add value to our home. We also hope this is the only furnace we buy in the next 12-18 years.

Our garage door also recently broke, splintering the wood (it was an old door) beyond repair. Again, we only plan to buy one garage door and felt that a really great door would add value to our home and give us a feeling of pleasure when seeing it daily versus a door that was poorly matched or saved a few hundred dollars over the course of our lifetime.

What should I not spend money on? 

Think about how many times you use a given item and spend money on the things you use the most. Avoid so-called luxury items that are for special occasions only. Odds are, you can rent or borrow one if needed for far cheaper than buying one and you won’t have to maintain or store it.

Do I care what other people think? 

If the most important thing to you in deciding how to spend your money is that other people know how you spend your money, you are going to make poor decisions. You might have a house that’s too large for no reason and a car that costs too much. You will have a lot of things on display for others to see that you rarely interact with yourself. You will wonder why these things do not make you happier.

Don’t do that. Look at your own life, ask the questions above, and spend your money accordingly. If you spend 3 hours a day in your car, by all means, get the best and most luxurious ride you can afford. But make the choice consciously, knowing that you are doing so because it will bring you joy, not just because the neighbors will see it.

Cutting the Cord

Do you have too much money? Do you have more televisions than people in your home? If so, this post is probably not for you.

Cable Television: $125/mo
Netflix: $8
Hulu Plus: $8
Amazon Prime: $8
High Speed Internet: $55
Grand Total: $204/mo or $2448/year!

That is a lot of cheese every month just to watch television. At one point, I realized what a waste of my time and money this was and I cut the cord. Now those of you who know me know that I love watching television and I really love movies (see my Ebert posts, for starters).

Over a year later, it’s time to see how this experiment is working. Truth be told, it’s fantastic with one exception. Let’s take a closer look at why this works for me and whether or not it’s an option for you.

What can you watch without cable/satellite television? 

Quite a lot, actually. I’m not even going to get into the various workaround options for using BitTorrent or other sites. Nope, these are straightforward, official channels only.

The online or streaming options have improved dramatically in recent years. In fact, I can pretty safely say that unless you are absolutely addicted to sports on a nightly basis, you should get rid of cable television. You won’t miss it. Here’s what $24/month will get you:

Netflix: The reigning champ of streaming services. Here you can find plenty of movies but more importantly, full seasons of past television shows. With Netflix adding original programming like The Fall, House of Cards, and Orange Is The New Black, it’s hard to spend $8 better than this.

Netflix

Hulu Plus: While Netflix gets all the press, Hulu Plus was a deciding factor in my willingness to cut the cord. As a movie buff, having the vast majority of the Criterion Collection available for streaming at a moment’s notice was unbeatable. Add in the fact that they feature next-day episodes of many current television shows (Daily Show, Colbert Report, etc.) and it’s a no-brainer. This has also been the saving grace for me after losing my DVR. Who needs to record programs when you can watch them on-demand?

Hulu-Plus-2-Weeks-Free

Amazon Prime: I’ve been a Prime subscriber for many years, in large part due to the free 2 day shipping on almost anything. Amazon Prime has always been the last resort for video streaming, if there wasn’t anything good on Netflix or Hulu. Until now, that is. Amazon is also running new original programming, such as Orphan Black. However, the real coup for Amazon is the HBO library: Deadwood. The Sopranos. The Wire. Band of Brothers. Oz. Carnivale.

amazon-prime

There is a reason their slogan is “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” These series are in a class by themselves and worth every penny of that Prime subscription.

There are other services as well, including Redbox, Crackle and more. However, the three services above provide more content than I can possibly watch, and they constantly add new material.

So what’s missing?

Sports. Specifically, ESPN. When you consider the sports options currently available on network television and how often you get together at a friend’s house or bar to watch a game, I find I’m really not missing out on much. Certainly not $1500/year’s worth (cable subscription).

We get about 30 HD channels from a small HD antenna, giving us our local channels, PBS, and more. For me, the streaming services + local HD channels are more than enough and I’m a TV/movie junkie. Only you can decide if Monday Night Football and a few other games are worth $1500/year. For me, I’d much rather have the cash.

Further Reading: