Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Real progress on homelessness, from the last damn people you'd expect.

I've tried not to be too political on this blog. Couldn't really avoid it with the government shutdown, but all my previous blogs were mainly political, and I wanted to break away from that. But this issue is near and dear to my heart; I've seen homelessness up close and personal. Some of the closest people to me were homeless once, and the general hatred and indifference of society to their plight fills me with sadness and rage all at once, so I decided to post about it.


Utah is the reddest state in the nation. Redder than Texas. Redder even than Nebraska or Oklahoma. It is more Republican than a white guy in a Duck Dynasty shirt taking off his gun holster to have sex with his wife on a bed made of money. Utah is so Republican that Mexicans not only don't want to immigrate there, but insisted we take it with us along with Texas and California. Utah is more Republican than saying hi to a cop on your way to a stockholders' meeting. Utah is more Republican than Sarah Palin saying anything.

Point is, you would not expect Utah to be the first state to solve homelessness. And yet.

Now, the Republican coalition is built on two things: hating everyone not like them, and being the cheapest bastards on the planet. Generally, the hatred aspect won out in the context of homelessness: Republicans have slashed funding programs that combatted homelessness, criminalized just about every aspect of vagrancy on the state and local levels, and generally operated on the idea that if you just bludgeoned homeless people with enough police truncheons, the Violence Fairy would magically give them homes and jobs and cure all their mental issues and dependencies.

However, the math is straightforward: the average homeless person costs the government $16,000 a year through ER visits and jailtime, whereas giving them an apartment and a social worker only costs $11,000 a year. Cheap bastardry won out over hate in Utah, where John Huntsman, the Republican too sane to be nominated for President, signed a law giving apartments to the homeless. There's no conditions here: if they fail to get clean and find work, they get to keep the apartment anyway. Even if they never find work, it's still cheaper for the taxpayers to give them a house than pay for the health consequences of being homeless.

I'm being a little snarky in this post, but there's a reason why this is happening in Utah, of all places: Mormonism. As the image macro up top indicates, Mormonism is filled with really nice people. Moreover, when they first started settling in Utah, the Mormons were small-c communist, sorta. They believed in hard work, but also taking care of each other. During the Great Depression, Utah was the only state where the federal government didn't have to step in to help people out; the LDS Church was already doing so. They're social conservatives, yes, with all the unfortunate Prop 8 supporting that entails. But unless their leaders tell them to block other peoples' civil rights, they generally stand ready to help each other and non-Mormons too.

So an idea like this could get passed, if it could be proven to at least not cost too much money. It'll be saving them money, as it turns out, but there's no need for "other"-ing politics as practiced by the rest of the GOP. To the Mormons, the homeless aren't moochers or welfare queens or social detritus: they're people, people that need to be helped. They've allied themselves to the GOP because of dumb social conservative issues, but in economic respects they're fairly progressive. Salt Lake City has one of the best public transit systems I've ever seen, red state or blue.

Anyway, the Mormons seem to have given the rest of the Republican coalition cover to stop legislating against the homeless. Casper, Wyoming has begun a pilot program along these lines, and if it works in Wyoming other Republican areas might adopt it too. I can only hope that basic human decency becomes a bipartisan value once more.

Because by the look of it, poor-hating has begun to be bipartisan. Granted, the Dems have always had this sort of elitist Wall Street segment, the rich people that realize that Keynesian economics, a social safety net and moderate regulation serves their interest better than laissez faire economics. But I never expected to see the day that someone with a "D" after his name would literally commit violence against the homeless, and find some support for his actions no less.

Hopefully, the reddest state of all will shame Democrats that ought to know better into stopping this trend before it starts. And hopefully, within a decade or two, nobody will have to sleep rough in America ever again.

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