Last week’s edition of the alternate weekly of record featured a story on Portland’s homeless population. The story starts off by noting that then-Mayor Vera Katz convened a commission in 2004 to come up with a permanent solution to homelessness in 10 years. The projected completion date would be about now. The reality is that the most recent survey in January found some 1900 ‘unsheltered’ people on the mean streets of Portland, up from the 1400 counted in 2007 when the first such survey was taken. That would seem to be the antithesis of progress.
As might be expected, there is much wailing and wringing of hands on the city’s inability to reduce, or even stabilize the homeless population. Many feel that various governments aren’t throwing enough resources at the problem, others point to a basic lack of compassion on the part of those who aren’t homeless. Whatever the reason for people living on the street, it’s a real problem, and not just for those unhoused. Venturing to downtown Portland is an exercise in avoiding aggressive panhandling and people sleeping and living on sidewalks. It’s not as bad as San Francisco, but it’s enough to make people think twice about going downtown.
A part of their story, Willamette Week interviewed 10 homeless people. It’s a group filled with the usual suspects. One guy lives n a boat, so he doesn’t really count as homeless. A fair number are former or current drug addicts, and a surprising number are young people who voluntarily quit jobs to join the Occupy movement, and just never left. Nearly all of the interviews are people who choose to live without a home. So according to this small and unscientific sample, homelessness is less about victimization and more about choices. But why would someone voluntarily choose live on the street, or in a vehicle? One of the people sums it up quite nicely, and illustrates why any organized effort to assist every person out of homelessness is bound to fail.
“It’s easy to be homeless in Portland. There’s 19 different places to eat a day, it’s OK to sleep outside. The cops let you sleep under the bridges, they just wake you up at 7. You have all this extra money because you don’t have to worry about an apartment or you get free housing.”
This is a good illustration of the general form of Jevons Paradox. The Paradox is specific to the relationship between energy efficiency and demand, but the general form can be summed up as: An increase in the availability of a resource will increase demand for that resource. While compassionate people have vastly increased the resources available to the homeless, they’ve also made it very easy to be homeless, and made Portland a destination city for those who don’t want to meet their societal responsibilities. Those who want to assist people whom they perceive as victims are blind to the fact that their efforts are enabling the very behavior they’re seeking to eliminate.
I understand that there are people who are forced onto the streets for very real reasons: loss of income, fleeing an abusive partner, abandonment, and numerous other tragic life events. Many people in those circumstances don’t want to be homeless, and make use of the available resources to regain a productive place in society. I respect those folks, and have no problem having some of my tax money used to help them. What I do have a problem with is tax money going to people who have no plans to be producers, and are quite content to exist as takers.
If a person doesn’t want to participate in society, and seeks only to take what others will give them, that’s fine. There should be a place in a free society for that. If people want to use their own resources, and those of other like-minded individuals to support free-choice homeless, that’s fine too. It’s their money. I’d just ask those folks to remember that the more resources they make available to a population, the larger that population will grow.
Today In History
1906 – Cub’s Pitcher Jack Taylor ends a string of completing 202 games (187 complete, 15 relief) by Dodgers in 3rd inning
Complete games are as rare as hen’s teeth today, and this guy threw 187 of them.
1910 – Dodgers & Pirates play to 8-8 tie, both have 38 at bats, 13 hits, 12 assists, 2 errors, 5 strikeouts, 3 walks, 1 pass ball & 1 hit by pitch
1939 – Yankees set AL shutout margin with 21-0 victory over A’s
1948 – Satchel Paige at 42, pitches his 1st major league complete game
Satchel Paige is one of the best pitchers no one’s heard of, but is probably best remembered for his assertion that “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
1978 – Yanks score 5 runs in top of 7th. but rain causes game to be halted & thus score goes back to previous inning, Balt wins 3-0
Under current rules, a game is considered ‘in the books’ after five complete innings.
1988 – Ronald J Dossenbach sets world record for pedaling across Canada from Vancouver, BC to Halifax, NS in 13 days, 15 hr, 4 min
All of the routes I could find have the majority of travel through the US, and it’s about 2750 as the crow flies, or a little over 3800 miles if the crow is riding a bike. Assuming the Canadian routing is a similar distance, that’s around 250 miles a day. Every day. For perspective, most amateurs are happy to complete a ‘century’ (100 miles) in a single day. Some single day pro races are around 200 miles, but they’re not riding that distance day after day.