I suppose that in an ideal world we wouldn’t care about the financial implications of injustice; doing the right thing ought to be sufficient motivation. Of course, that’s not always the case, and rather than restricting ourselves to the high road, I think it’s preferable to adopt an approach I like to call Pragmatic Idealism (PI). The PI mentality says that, on the whole, people want to do good, but in reality a lot of factors can get in the way: inertia, politics, financial concerns, entrenched interests, and the like. The best way forward, therefore, is to chip away at those barriers while continuing to appeal to the public’s sense of right and wrong.
Take homelessness, for example. One would be hard-pressed to find people in support of the disadvantaged living on the street, but at the same time it can be equally hard to garner support for programs that have a cost. Put another way, how many of us would vote for tax increases so as to fund proven, effective models for putting the homeless into permanent, safe, and affordable housing?
A Beautiful Alignment
Reality can often fly in the face of our ideals, but sometimes there is a beautiful alignment between our desire for justice and our reluctance to spend more on things that do not directly benefit us. In the case of homelessness, a study run by Creative Housing Solutions of Tulsa, OK, found that “Each chronically homeless person in Central Florida costs the community roughly $31,000 a year,” compared to “about $10,000 per person per year” to house them and provide robust case management services.
Given the number of homeless people in Central Florida, the potential cost savings are enormous: “Housing even half of the region’s chronically homeless population would save taxpayers $149 million during the next decade—even allowing for 10 percent to end up back on the streets again.”
The Moral and the Financial
In short, not only is there a moral reason to ensure that no one in this nation lives on the streets, there is also an equally compelling financial case to be made. So what are we waiting for? A lot of cities are taking up the challenge. In 2006, the National Alliance to End Homelessness published a report titled “A Plan, Not A Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years.” And though the goal will not be met, dozens of cities have signed up to follow the proposed plan. And it’s important to keep in mind that the report makes clear that we can end homelessness, so long as we have the political will to do it.
As of December 2012, there were over 630,000 homeless in America. We have run out of excuses. The fierce urgency of now demands that we take action; the good news is that we can do it, we know how, and it’ll save money—money we can use to invest in education, social services, infrastructure improvement, and job creation.