Written By: Anton Sawyer
This article is part of an ongoing series. In an attempt to be thorough, each video and/or course I research will be readily available to all (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee”. I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager.
Debunking Courses Offered By PragerU—Lesson 8: “What Do We Do About The Homeless?”
I’m just going to put this out there as a warning. If you have ever suffered through any kind of substance abuse issue, or have been homeless yourself, this entire article is likely to offend you. Not to throw the entire summation out there in the first paragraph, but this PragerU course is presented in a way that if you are homeless, it is because you are most likely a drug addict who refuses help, or you have a mental health issue that you refuse to get treated.
There is more to it than that, but you are about to see a litany of half-truths and shaded information that is utterly mindboggling. As someone who has been homeless twice in my adult life—once living in my car for a bleak period and once couch-surfing at the homes of friends—along with suffering through the opioid epidemic currently in full swing, there are going to be some anecdotes tossed in here and there. But make no mistake, the actual numbers and data are going to show just how inaccurate these prejudices are at PragerU.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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To keep things clear, all statements made in the video will be in bold, while my responses will be in italics.
Today’s presenter is Christopher Rufo, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
What do we do about the homeless? This is one of the most vexing public policy problems we face. If you live in a big city, especially on the west coast, you literally face it every day. And every day it seems to get worse. Why? Let’s start with a couple facts.
First, the word itself is misleading. Homelessness is not primarily a housing problem, it’s a human problem. The primary drivers of homelessness are drug addiction and mental illness. According to data from UCLA’s California Policy Lab, approximately three-quarters of people living in cars, tents, and on the streets suffer from serious mental illness, drug addiction, or both. Second, despite these conditions, the homeless actually make rational decisions about where they want to live. Not surprisingly, they move to the most permissive environment they can find. Make your city attractive for the homeless and they will beat a path to your doorway.
This is kind of a “no-brainer.” If you make your city attractive to a certain demographic, they’re going to move there. Whether the person is homeless or not, if you find a city that meets your needs, you’re going to go there. One story about this exact situation happened to me in 2016. At the time I was taking a train from Salt Lake City to Seattle. While I was on the trip, I met a man named “Pop.” Though he was kind of grungy in his appearance, and decades older than myself, I didn’t assume that he was homeless until we started talking. I found that his trip to Seattle was predicated on the reading of a WILL; it was his last lifeline. He had no idea what awaited him, but two divorces and an on-the-job injury had taken everything away. By the end of the train ride, I really felt for him and I gave him a two-pound bag of trail mix I had just in case things went South. No matter how grim it looked, his hope is something I’ll never forget. During our conversation though, he did admit that if he ended up with nothing, Seattle was the best place to do it. I was in Seattle for a week of pre-tour productions, and when I wasn’t with the band, I’d walk the city and make it a point to talk to the homeless. Coming from Utah at the time, and seeing how a red state treated their homeless, it was eye-opening to see what it was like when humans were treated as such. The worst part about it was due to the recurring theme that appeared from everyone I spoke with, and how similar they were to what Pop experienced; a quick twist of fate and you could lose it all.
In all fairness though, this permissiveness from these various locations has consequences. For example, while in Seattle, there were no public restrooms anywhere, unless you were a paying customer. Because I brought mostly food-related gift cards for sustenance while on the tour, the amount of actual cash I had wasn’t a lot. Because of me having Crohn’s disease, this problem with Seattle restrooms was, unfortunately, something I became keenly aware of fairly quickly. So, I don’t want to say that there aren’t drawbacks to these places which choose the path of humanitarianism.
The Venice Boulevard underpass on the border of Los Angeles and Culver City brings home this point. It’s one of thousands of concrete structures in Los Angeles County, but there’s a curious detail: the Los Angeles side is full of tents and the Culver City side is empty. Why? Because the two cities have different public policies. Los Angeles has effectively decriminalized public camping and drug consumption while Culver City enforces the law.
Public drug consumption is illegal in Los Angeles. But if you want to get to the systemic issue of his argument, you’d be better off looking at specific enforcement practices by each jurisdiction. If one city has a specific desire to stop certain activities, then more money and resources will be allocated to them. Plus, to get the full picture, you’d need to check those same allocations and see if they are being used to their full potential, or if there is some bureaucratic nightmare happening at the local level preventing things from running smoothly.
This pattern–that the homeless go where the policy environment is the most permissive–can be seen up and down the west coast. In San Francisco County, its’ estimated that 30% of the homeless migrated there after becoming homeless somewhere else. In the city of Seattle, that number is 50%. The San Francisco Chronicle estimates that hundreds of homeless individuals move to the Bay Area each year because of the “perception that it is a sanctuary for people who are unwilling to participate in programs designed to get them off, and keep them off, a life in the streets.”
What I find so interesting about this section specifically isn’t that it completely lacks any sources from where these numbers are coming from, but the surrounding events happening when the video was released: July 5th, 2021. This date is interesting because a couple of weeks later this same month, Governor Gavin Newsome signed a historic housing and homelessness fund package. Over the next two years, this would include a $12 billion investment over two years to tackle homelessness, the largest in state history, which focuses on behavioral health housing and solutions to tent encampments. The legislation, AB 140, also includes $2 billion in aid to counties, large cities, and Continuums of Care through the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention grant program (HHAP). To qualify, recipients must follow strict accountability measures and submit a local homelessness action plan that includes quantifiable, data-driven goals that jurisdictions must commit to a meeting. This was done because of how woefully inadequate the programs in the state had been prior. However, the last quote he made in this section of the video does play perfectly into the GOP mindset that anything in life can be accomplished if you just put your mind to it–no matter the crippling realities of income inequality we face in America. Plus, given that per World Population Review–a site which aggregates all statistical data from the US Census Bureau and the United Nation reviews–found that the US ranks 27th in the world when it comes to upward mobility (the literal American dream). The reality is that those who are struggling aren’t entirely to blame.
At first glance, this would seem to make no sense. Why would an individual with no shelter or stable source of income move to one of the most expensive cities in the country? But in the world of the homeless, it makes perfect sense. That’s because they operate under a different set of incentives than the average citizen. In a research survey of homeless migrants in Seattle, 15% said they came to access homeless services, 10% came for legal marijuana, and 16% were transients who were “traveling or visiting” when they decided to set up camp. But this dramatically understates the biggest draw of all: the de facto legalization of street camping, drug consumption, and property crime.
Again, no sources at all, so I’m not sure how much stock to take off this section. But let’s assume these numbers are correct. OK, we have already established (to the point of absurdity) that homeless people are more likely to go to where it’s more hospitable. I don’t see it being uncommon that if you are moving from area to area, once you find a place you like, you move in. So, 16% seems reasonable to anyone moving from one area to the next. Same with legal marijuana. It’s possible 10% of ANYONE who moved to that state looked at the legality as either a plus or a motivating factor. All of these numbers are designed to de-humanize the homeless and make them appear as all drug-addled parasites of some kind.
Remember, de facto does not mean legislated. If you’re going to look at these cities and merely dismiss the entire operation without attempting to find where the rotten apple is coming from, that’s an issue. And to simply treat the complete program as nothing more than the political leaders encouraging the police to ignore certain laws for “reasons,” it’s not attempting to find the systemic root. Not to mention, it’s just so simplistic when the issue is so complex, it can’t work.
As former Seattle public safety advisor, Scott Lindsay has shown, the city is now home to a large population of homeless “prolific offenders”--people who commit property crimes to feed their addictions—but are rarely held accountable for those crimes by the criminal justice system.
What does Scott Lindsay say exactly? No quote? Nothing? Can you give any examples or names of those prolific offenders? There has to be at least one homeless person that you can find who has been through this assertion that you’re presenting, right?
So is ever-increasing homelessness our inevitable future? If our goal is to make life as attractive as possible for the homeless, the answer is yes. If our goal is to actually help the homeless, the answer is no.
OK, earlier he said “a sanctuary for people who are unwilling to participate in programs designed to get them off, and keep them off, a life in the streets.” This statement would indicate that there are programs in these cities, but the homeless themselves are refusing to get the help they need. Which is it?
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is a Democrat, but his approach to homelessness is a world apart from his counterparts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. “It is simply not acceptable for the people to live on the streets; it is not good for them, and it is not good for the city,” Turner has said. Houston’s policy is a perfect example of what Turner calls a “tough love” approach. The city has built housing for the chronically homeless, formed a coalition of nonprofit partners, and lobbied the state government for more mental health and addiction services. At the same time, Turner has enforced a strict ban on public camping and promoted a citywide campaign to discourage citizens from giving money to panhandlers. The results are as instructive as they are stunning. Over the past eight years, Houston has reduced its homeless population by 54% while it has skyrocketed in west coast cities.
It is true. Since 2011, Houston has seen their level of homelessness drop. Though there was a slight 15% rebound due to Covid, the city had seen its overall number decrease by 54% when this video was produced. But, when you look a little closer at the specifics, you’ll notice something. Not only did their entire system get an overhaul–which led to better communication, coordination, and a dedication by the entire administration to ending it–but in doing so it ended up receiving more government assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To assist in getting these shelters, HUD awards various cities monetary assistance to see them through based on several different criteria. Because of their revolutionary approach and commitment, in 2018, Houston received $38.2 million. When you look at another Texas city in Dallas, you find that their homeless problem is much worse, but they are also granted less. In 2018, Dallas only received $16.5 million in assistance. The GOP LOATHES government involvement, so, interestingly, PragerU has decided to champion the causes of a mayor who is utilizing a lot of it.
Different policies, different results. When a Seattle politician opposes hosing down feces-covered sidewalks because “hoses are racist,” Houston fights in the courts for the right to clean up encampments. Where California progressives push for more drug injections sites and have decriminalized thefts under $950, Houston imposes consequences not only for theft, but for aggressive panhandling, window washing, and other “street obstructions.” As this Texas city has demonstrated, local leaders in cities of any size can meaningfully homelessness through a strategy that mixes compassion with common-sense enforcement. If cities stop allowing public encampments and open drug consumption and start prosecuting property crimes, they will have much more success redirecting the homeless away from a life of self-destruction and toward a life of hope through mental health treatment, drug rehab and job training. That’s what we all want isn’t it? So why don’t we do it? I’m Christopher Rufo, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, for Prager University.—End Credits
Snopes debunked the feces-covered sidewalk and hoses bit he tried to play here, but re-hashing that which is scandalous (though an outright lie) isn’t anything new for PragerU.
The public injection in California he’s referring to is AB-186. It was a bill vetoed a few years ago by Governor Jerry Brown. Essentially, it would allow addicts a place to inject drugs where they would be supervised, thereby lowering the possibility of an overdose. Regardless, it was vetoed and never came to fruition.
Also, The California law about the $950 theft he’s referencing (Prop 47), is a half-truth at best. “What Prop 47 did was take very low-level crimes like petty theft, some petty drug offenses, petty larceny, and classify them as misdemeanors rather than felonies,” said Charis Kubrin, professor of criminology, law, and society at the University of California, Irvine, who wrote a study examining the impact of the proposition on crime rates. “It doesn’t mean, like that Facebook post is saying, that you’re not prosecuted or that you aren’t committing a crime.” Yes, PragerU sources Facebook.
When Rufo says, “they will have much more success redirecting the homeless away from a life of self-destruction and toward a life of hope through mental health treatment, drug rehab, and job training. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? So why don’t we do it?” Everything he said here is in the programs signed by Governor Newsome. The reason why the GOP won’t do it is that all those programs cost a lot of money and would necessitate government involvement; the hubris of the GOP itself is the reason you won’t do it.
Well, it seems PragerU has figured out how to fix the homeless problem in the US; put in a lot more effort towards rehabilitation and be sure to hit up the federal government for as much assistance as you can to fulfill those housing needs. The parody lies in the fact that this program the video is so dedicated to is not only from a Democrat mayor, but is also a key component to any Democratic program designed to help the average American in trouble. If it weren’t for their utter lack of self-awareness, I would swear this entire video is a troll.
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