The Homeless and The State


This piece will certainly have a different tone and style than others I have put on this site. Typically I write about libertarian in more of an educatory, even-mannered style. Based on the events of today, however, I think a different style is needed. The philosopher Zhuangtzu once warned his readers that he was going to speak very recklessly, and so today I follow in his footsteps. Today I write recklessly in the hope that it provides more of an insider perspective on a morally bankrupt, needlessly confusing bureaucracy that further ruins an already downtrodden group of people. This group of people, in this instance, is none other than America’s homeless. To more clearly paint this picture for the reader, I am going to discuss two different clients from two different cities in America: Austin and Boston.

By:  Michael Bunch

This article first appeared at Liberty.Me

Around September of 2014, it was decided that the city of Austin would be taking a coordinated effort to eliminate homelessness. The reason was not altruism, though it would be dressed up that way later; it was to meet new HUD mandates passed down to us by our wise and beneficent overlords. Interested readers may Google the details for themselves, but I will give the jist of it here for general understanding. HUD, or the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a department of the executive branch of the state. Supposedly dispassionate and apolitical academicians come up with new “best practices” that HUD later accepts and forces all HUD funded organizations to follow if they want to keep their funding intact. In general, these practices include such things as “Housing First” (throwing the homeless into permanent subsidized housing with no strings attached) and “Coordinated Access” (centralized services with arbitrary triage standards). These standards are then thrown haphazardly into place by frightened social service organizations who largely make it up as they go along.

How does this look, plainly and clearly described, in the every day life of a Homeless Austinite? You walk into a building that resembles a large grey cube; a masterpiece of modern architecture. There are few staff people and you need an intake before you can get services. After waiting anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, you do a small mountain of paperwork (all HUD mandated) and a stranger asks you a barrage of personal questions involving your drug use, sexual history, and domestic violence. Based on your answers, you are given a number. Your number decides what kind of help you get and when. To better understand the numbering system, or the VI-SPDAT, I gave clients and trainees an hour long class on it. Imagine a white board with the numbers 1-20 listed upon it. If you fall between 1-4, you will receive essentially no help aside from shelter. Since you are too well-functioning and law-abiding, and would probably work out your homelessness on your own, you surely deserve no support in your plight. If you fall between 5-9, your name will be put on an Excel spreadsheet and sooner or later you will get some help finding housing listings on Craigslist and some money for rent. If you are a 7 or below, you will have to wait months for that meager assistance. If you fall between 10-20, you get the win! You are eligible for permanent, subsidized housing. If you get below a 14, you will have to wait months for that housing. Most clients and trainees I have described this to are shocked to learn of this triage tool, which in fact is nothing more than a morbidity assessment dreamt up by academics using statistical data on homelessness. You’re clearly not educated enough to understand, especially if you suggest that statistics are neither objective nor fully accurate for predicting future events. The only people not shocked are licensed social workers, who view it as a great success and a movement towards social justice. But I digress. Once you are called up for that housing, you will need documentation of chronic homelessness. What does that mean, you ask? Well you see, it’s not enough to be homeless…you have to be double-homeless, as I call it, or as it is officially: homeless for either a year straight or homeless for a total of a year over 4 periods of homeless within 3 years plus you need a documented disability. Trust me, citizen, these designations are for the greater good. After all, it is only for the state to decide who deserves housing paid for with money no one gave them by choice.

To paint an even clearer picture, allow me to introduce CL1. CL1 is an older white male who has been sleeping in a U Haul unit for a number of years. He has untreated chronic health conditions, thereby granting him the privilege of being double-homeless or chronically homeless. CL1 was chosen from an Excel spreadsheet based on his number being over 10. CL1 was eventually housed, though it took him over two months to get into his subsidized apartment. Since CL1 was not a utilizer of shelters, his case manager could not prove that he was chronically homeless because there was an absence of documentation on him. CL1 had to spend weeks getting medical documentation for his health conditions, and letters from his case manager and a U Haul manager to prove that he was eligible. Once in his subsidized unit, he’d occasionally come back to complain to his case manager about the “fucking niggers” who don’t deserve to be housed alongside him and that he is unhappy with his unit. This man will be eligible to retain his subsidized unit until the day he dies, all at the taxpayer’s expense because “housing is a right”.

Let’s look at another city now. Boston is an entirely different beast than Austin, but the same standards apply. Remember citizen, the standards of the state apply everywhere equally regardless of things like housing markets or basic, common sense. Boston will most likely be turning to Coordinated Access by mid-April 2016, though it was initially projected for early March 2016. To get subsidized housing in Boston, you have many routes thanks to the welfare state. You can sign up with Boston Housing Authority and then proceed to wait something on the order of half a decade. You could sign up with Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership and then proceed to wait for maybe a year or two if you’re lucky. You could sign up with Pine Street Inn, a non-profit heavily dependent on government grants, and get into housing within a few months. But since Pine Street Inn must follow HUD’s mandates, you must be chronically homeless to be eligible. And thanks to the new Coordinated Access, you’ll have to be put on a Google Doc sheet populated by data based on contact with shelters and outreach workers in order to prove eligibility. We’ve already seen CL1, a chronically homeless individual, so what about a non-chronically homeless person?

Enter CL2. CL2 is a young black woman with lupus who left her family’s house due to familial strife. She is not chronically homeless, since she is not homeless enough to be deemed worthy of that status. After two appeals, CL2 was approved for SSI. Since SSI is enough to eat up our taxes but not enough to cover the cost of rent in Boston, she goes through housing searches for months at a time to find something in Rhode Island. She decides to look for a job to supplement her income in order to make this happen, since she doesn’t like being dependent on the state for her money. She died on March 16th 2016 due to a meningitis outbreak in Boston’s shelter population. Since she was not homeless enough to meet HUD standards, she languished in a shelter for at least 5 months before dying as a result of her lupus-induced lowered immune system. Evidently even though “housing is a right”, it is not a right worth recognition if you aren’t needy enough. Or put in politically correct terms, if you aren’t apart of the correct at-risk population as determined by researchers who depend on government money to fund their own projects, jobs, and organizations.

Why do I tell this to the reader? Not to appeal to your pathos but to appeal to your reasoning. We are told that the government is the new philosopher’s stone; it cures all ills and is required for all justice. Far from being a cure-all, it is indeed a scourge upon humanity itself. Its compassion is bureaucracy, its budget is stolen from people who produce things of value, and its eyes and ears are statistics compiled and interpreted by people who hide behind the idea of altruism for the sake of their careers. But if you question this scourge, you’ll be branded as a selfish capitalist who eats Mexican babies and hates the poor. Even though the market provides us with cell phones, cars, housing, computers, and nearly every other useful good and service we depend on, we are called fools for thinking that it can help the poor better than the state. If this bureaucratic nightmare is what the state has to offer, then I purpose that we need privatization now more than ever. And if a man on the street asks you for change (even though he is, in fact, likely housed and panhandles as his side gig), I recommend that you take a page out of Albert Nock’s work Our Enemy, The State and explain to him the following:

If the State has made such matters its business, and has confiscated the social power necessary to deal with them, why, let it deal with them. We can get some kind of rough measure of this general atrophy by our own disposition when approached by a beggar. Two years ago we might have been moved to give him something; today we are moved to refer him to the State’s relief-agency. The State has said to society, You are either not exercising enough power to meet the emergency, or are exercising it in what I think is an incompetent way, so I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself. Hence when a beggar asks us for a quarter, our instinct is to say that the State has already confiscated our quarter for his benefit, and he should go to the State about it.

This article first appeared at Liberty.Me