SIMMONS: Quest to end homelessness is unrealistic

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Bless President Obama’s bleeding heart. He wants to end homelessness. His is a noble goal, to want to meet the needs of America’s downtrodden. But let’s be real.

The war on homelessness, like the war on poverty, will likely lead to a never-ending cycle of feel-good policies that appease advocates and put temporary roofs over the heads of tens of thousands.

Mr. Obama’s Opening Doors initiative will likely create a series of illusions.

Made public last month, the program engages several major federal agencies toward four goals: end chronic homelessness in five years; prevent and end homelessness among veterans in five years; prevent and end homelessness for families and youths in 10 years; and create a path that ends all types of homelessness.

Shepherded by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the plan even involves the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as they combat terrorism. The proposal also calls on private industry and the religious community to step up to the plate.

America has never had a national strategy to combat homeless. So, in that sense, Mr. Obama is setting precedent. But he won’t be the first wartime Democratic president to set a housing-related precedent.

Housing poor and working-class families was a vital part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, whose goal was to stimulate the economy. Lyndon B. Johnson added his liberal strategy in the early 1960s via his Great Society agenda, which advocated a war against poverty via urban renewal.

Back then, as now, poor folks were hooked on free and subsidized housing, free and subsidized feeding programs, and free and subsidized health and jobs programs.

Mr. Obama, of all people, knows that people who live in public housing feel the brunt of progressive policies that actually grow and sustain the underclass instead of eliminating it. Indeed, a housing project in the president’s own hometown, Chicago, mirrors what can and does go wrong when government establishes new housing giveaways.

Cabrini-Green, situated on Chicago’s North Side, began with good intentions. But by the time Mr. Obama had become a state lawmaker, Cabrini-Green, which at one point housed 15,000 residents, had become a failed housing project overrun with gangs and assorted criminals who raped, robbed and murdered their own neighbors.

A decade ago, federal, state and local housing officials decided Cabrini-Green needed a do-over, so planners deployed bulldozers and executed a latter-day version of urban renewal.

But guess what? Many low- and no-income residents wanted to know what the government had in store for them next. Tsk, tsk.

The answer, of course, was more subsidies. Tsk again.

Tackling homelessness is a moral imperative. After all, when Americans turned their backs on the Vietnam War, they also turned their back on the veterans who fought that war. And when the economic crisis struck home during the Bush administration, families began losing their homes or simply walking away, certain that the uncertain times mean that, eventually, they will be unable to pay rent or mortgage.

More importantly, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. But the notorious Cabrini-Green proves - albeit in the extreme - that public policies can do more harm than good.

With an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, on the one hand, it’s understandable why the president wants to reach out and touch. But, on the other, Uncle Sam should pull back.

Sometimes, I wonder whether Mr. Obama is channeling Mitch Snyder, the irascible activist who was the media face of America’s homeless in the 1980s.

Snyder had crusaded against the war in Vietnam and against what he considered a disengaged federal government. He gave President Reagan the blues and the upshot was a government giveaway in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. For $1, a former college building was turned over to the Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter, and Snyder and hundreds of homeless called it home.

Unfortunately, 20 years ago on July 6, Snyder hanged himself there in the shelter, where people still come from all over the nation waiting for a government giveaway.

The Bible tells us all hearts should bleed for the less fortunate. But nowhere in the Good Book does it say that hand should be Uncle Sam’s.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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