Living in New Brunswick for the past three years, I have on numerous occasions encountered homeless people on the street. George Street in particular. It’s always a sad reminder of the limitations of our market based economy, and the need for people to do something about it, especially in the realm of social planning.
As of 2012, there were an estimated 600,000 plus homeless people in the United States. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau state that there were about 14.2 million vacant homes in 2013. So, if those numbers are anything like they were a year/two years ago, that would be about 23 vacant homes per homeless person in the United States. This should be expected when living under an economic system that places the pursuit of money over all else. As far as planning goes, not much can be done to reverse a trend such as this so long as housing is left up to the market, as opposed to being a guaranteed human right. The text cites multiple examples, such as increasing the availability of low cost housing, and programs that increase employment. Certainly worthwhile aims, but at the same time, not radical enough in it’s approach to effect large scale change.
One very effective use of planning which isn’t specific to homelessness, but certainly related, is state run treatment programs for drug abusers. Starting in the 90’s, Portugal had a very bad drug problem, in addition to an increasing amount of cases of HIV and hepatitis from the sharing of needles. So in 2001, the Portuguese government decided to decriminalize all drugs, and instead of imprisoning drug addicts, they decided to treat them as patients. Following are some numbers from a CATO Institute study from 2009.
“rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%”
“Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%”
“New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half”
Not only did drug usage decrease in a short amount of time, but the new measures actually saved the government money.If the U.S. government is serious about addressing addiction, Portugal is the model they should follow, especially now that Heroin usage is on the rise. In addition, this is an issue that social planners could rally behind and help to advance by pushing for zoning that would allow for treatment facilities and pressuring politicians to look at the data and treat people instead of imprisoning them. Addressing drug addiction also effectively addresses homelessness by taking it on at one of it’s main sources.