Housing the Homeless and Addicted

The New York Times reports on a Seattle initiative to provide homes for homeless alcoholics. They do not require sobriety to get a spot, a development that rankles moralistic conservatives. The reason is economics: it costs less to house them than what is currently spent on health care, detox and criminal justice.

New York and some other major US cities have already been doing this for the chronic homeless on the same rationale. It is an approach that could easily be translated to Canada. In fact, a study done for the BC government in 2001 found pretty much the same thing: it is cheaper to provide supportive housing for the homeless than we currently spend on criminal justice, health care and social welfare.

So doing the right thing should be in the interest of right-wingers, too. The one obstacle is our tendency to moralize about whether the homeless are deserving of homes. We just need to stop moralizing about this issue. It is easy to judge people who are damaged, but if any of us had taken the proverbial walk in their shoes, we too could be on the street. They should not be thought of as disposible.

A similar supportive housing approach should be taken with regard to drug addiction. At least this option provides some hope that addicts can straighten themselves out in a more stable situation that the street. Give them the drugs they need. Maybe, just maybe, with some help, they can take the next steps toward toward breaking their addictions and even getting employed. Maybe not, but even at its most callous, they will not be breaking into your car for the thirty-five cents you left inside.

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