Lessons in Helping the Homeless

In March 2018 I wrote an article in this newsletter outlining why I thought Sacramento County was in need of a work program for people who are homeless,” writes Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost in her April newsletter. Frost set out to identify 40 homeless people who were both willing to work and stay clear of drugs and alcohol. Shelter would be secured for them, and they would clean the American River Parkway for minimum wage in the morning, and go through a job training program in the construction industry in the afternoon. Thus trained, they would then move on to find employment and earn more than the minimum wage.

Sacramento County has some 5,500 homeless, but Frost was able to enroll only eight people willing to be drug-free. As it turned out, the eight “could not stay off drugs,” and “we couldn’t even find people who wanted to try getting clean.” Other problems included “showing up to work on time and a hesitance to work specifically in the construction industry.” So the program was a failure, but Frost says she learned some lessons. 

Data from the federally mandated point-in-time homeless survey claims only 9 percent of homeless people claim alcohol or drugs prevents them from keeping a job or maintaining stable housing. Frost now knows “for certain” that this data is faulty and not to be trusted. As the supervisor explains, “I also take great personal issue with new government programs that are started and turn out to be ineffective, yet get funded for eternity.”

Those are valuable lessons for local, state and federal politicians, and the people who vote for them. Thanks, Sue.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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