“Let Them Stay at the W!” San Francisco’s Privileged Respond to the Coronavirus Threat

For forty years, San Francisco has chased homelessness with government spending: from then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s allocating 1,000 Single Room Occupancy units to what she thought a temporary problem, to the current “official” figure for Housing & Homeless Services Spending of $364,000,000 for 2019-20 (unofficial figures that count all government spending on homelessness are unimaginably higher), it has succeeded only in creating a spiraling homelessness crisis:

Now, facing the prospect of the novel coronavirus disproportionately hitting Bay Area homeless populations, officials are desperately posturing that they can somehow, suddenly now solve a problem they’ve thus far only exacerbated. Their proposals display only their hubris and ignorance.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney’s proposal to house the homeless in the luxury W Hotel echoes others, including Governor Gavin Newsom’s, and poses more questions than it answers:

  • Do they plan to lock them in separate rooms to enforce social distancing, delivering 3 meals a day to each?
  • Many are addicts and mentally ill: will they be delivering drugs and alcohol to each as well?
  • Those who operate well-functioning homeless programs and shelters know that safety is the number one concern–both for residents, as well as for the surrounding community–and the only way to provide that safety is with sufficient security personnel trained to maintain the peace and provide immediate response to problems. Will the hotels be staffed with this kind of security, and, if so, by whom?

Ultimately, such proposals simply pile on the 10-year failure known as “Housing First“: simply stated, the homeless are moved into housing, and voila, they’re no longer homeless! Yet with no requirements to address the underlying issues that led to homelessness in the first place—no requirement to access any offered services, achieve sobriety, or obtain employment—this approach, not surprisingly, has produced more homelessness.

Death by coronavirus is not the solution to the homeless crisis anyone wants. The best hope for the homeless is the same as for the general population: take “management” of the crisis away from the proven-failed model of central government, and loose competitive for- and non-profits to meet this, as every, human need.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute.
Posts by Mary L. G. Theroux | Full Biography and Publications
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