Incentives Are A Sometime Thing

How to solve San Francisco’s homeless pooping problem

While Mayor Ed Lee announced this week that “the homeless must leave the street” for Super Bowl 50, it’s more what they leave behind on the street that is a concern for the million or so people who have to walk a few blocks or a few miles in the city every day.

What hath liberalism wrought? Now that the Super Bowl is coming to SF, the major is channeling the Chinese Communists in their handling of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and cleaning house. Let residents deal with the … uh … signs of human activity for years on end, but with the spotlight on the city, something must be done! Temporarily, of course. Afterwards, it’s back to “watch your step.”

The idea is to house street campers either in the city’s new Navigation Center in the Mission District — where people can live while they are routed into housing, rehabilitation, employment and other services — or in an estimated 500 units of supportive housing the mayor hopes to have rehabbed and open by the end of the year.

Housing? Rehabilitation? Employment?? Is Lee crazy? Many of the homeless are. Even Lee recognizes this:

“Some of them are mentally ill. Some of them have severe drug addiction,” Lee said of those sleeping on the street. “They get cleaned up for 24 hours, and then they are back on the environment that caused this in the first place.”

Newsflash for Ed Lee: the environment didn’t cause “this.” “This” caused the environment.

So … what is “this?”

It’s difficult not to conclude that “this” is leftist policies, and their failure to recognize the perverse incentives. SF residents complain about the homelessness problem, and usually conclude their bleat by saying that they have it even though they have lots of programs and giveaways for the homeless.

Even though? Really? Now a newsflash for SF residents: you have the homeless problem because you have lots of programs and giveaways. That, and mild weather, issues a clarion call to down-and-outers everywhere. Put it another way: if SF were trying to attract the homeless, what would it do differently? Only leftists provide huge incentives to do something, and then be surprised when people respond to those incentives.

Leftist approaches to incentives is famously schizophrenic. In some contexts, leftists get it. They propose to tax (i.e., penalize; what’s the difference between a tax and a fine?) things as a way of discouraging them (cigarettes, gasoline consumption, etc.), but in other contexts, they don’t (taxing businesses to spur employment and economic growth). What’s the difference between providing subsidies for solar panels and providing programs and giveaways for the homeless?


And while we’re at it, why are so many homeless people out there? Answer: a 1975 Supreme Court decision (O’Connor v. Donaldson) made involuntary institutionalization difficult, holding

A State cannot constitutionally confine a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends.

States were required to release most mental patients who did want to be institutionalized, and could not be proven to be a threat to themselves or others. (Nothing to do with conservatives closing mental hospitals to save money, as leftists often contend.)

I have no idea what to do about this grievously mistaken ruling, since presumably any legislative solution would be held unconstitutional. The only apparent solution is a reversal by the Supreme Court, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

3 comments to “Incentives Are A Sometime Thing”
  1. San Francisco has been a rather foul city for as long as I remember. I recall a small pushback in the 1990s when Frank Jordan was mayor, and Union Square was actually free of defecating bums and panhandlers. But that soon went the way of all things good in the Bay Area…..

  2. Because SF is a lefty paradise, it’s a virtual guarantee that the MFM won’t cover a single ounce of this malodorous topic. The game will be played, SF and the NFL will declare victory, and nothing will have changed for the homeless. C’est la vie, eh?

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