On Local Government – Housing a right, or responsibility

by Bob Pinzler

Last week, I played golf in Palm Springs on the city’s municipal court.  One fairway is bounded by a flood control wash, which had just a trickle of snow melt running through it. 

My first indication that the wash is populated by homeless was a foul smell. Then I saw tents. From afar,  a policeman watched from a patrol SUV. 

It was a tableau we have seen often in Southern California. A reality that has defied all the good intentions and substantial amounts of money invested in its resolution. The Palm Springs situation raises a basic question: Is housing something that is a personal right, or is it a responsibility of local governments? 

Some say, the solution is to increase density. But by itself, density does not bring affordability. If it did, New York and San Francisco would be cheap to live in.

Cities are restricted by law from moving people off the streets unless they have demonstrated that alternative housing is available. This has helped create the situation, such as the one in Palm Springs, where the best a police officer can do is keep an eye out for situations when the intervention of law enforcement is called for.

Advocates for the homeless say the homeless have a right to housing provided for them by the government. Setting aside the difficult logistical and financial aspects of that proposal, there are many within the homeless community who are not comfortable with being housed. Thus, even this solution will not end the problem, especially. 

Thus, we return to the original question. 

I do not believe there is a right for someone to be housed by a local government. Yet, local governments have a responsibility to provide shelter for those without homes, not just because it is humane, but because it is in everyone’s best interest. The inevitability of homelessness is an issue to be met by practicality. Having people housed makes life better for everyone.

Then, perhaps, the issues that have caused them to be homeless can be dealt with more effectively. ER


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