- Monday, January 31, 2022

If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expect different results, our homeless policy belongs in a padded cell.

Two murders on opposite ends of the country, days apart, brought the peril of crazies living on the streets into tragically sharp focus.

In New York City, on Jan. 15, Michelle Alyssa Go (a senior manager at a top consulting firm) was pushed in front of a subway train in the Times Square station. In Los Angeles, a few days earlier, Brianna Kupfer (a 24-year-old, girl-next-door college student) was stabbed to death at the furniture store where she worked.

In each case, the man arrested and charged with the crime had an extensive criminal record, was considered mentally ill and lived on the street.

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Homelessness 2022 — where people living on the streets make them a nightmare for the rest of us.

It started with the release of hundreds of thousands of mental patients in the 1960s and ’70s. They called it “deinstitutionalization,” and told us it was humane.

Expressing the feel-good naivete of New Frontier liberalism, President John F. Kennedy promised that new treatments would allow “most of the mentally ill to be successfully and quickly treated in their own communities and returned to a useful place.” By comparison, his perspective on Vietnam was downright realistic.

Writing in The Week news magazine on Jan. 19, Samuel Goldman said deinstitutionalization was, quite possibly, “the worst policy failure” of the 20th century. Mr. Goldman explained that the forced exodus from mental hospitals “created a different kind of homelessness, a growing population in jails and prisons, and a recurring threat to public safety.”

During the Reagan era, as an indictment of heartless capitalism and a tattered safety net, Hollywood treated us to an idealized version of the homeless: Father loses his job, and family loses their home and are forced to live in their car as they roam the city searching for honest work.

In reality, the preponderance of the homeless fit a far different picture. According to a 2019 University of California Los Angeles report, 75% of what are termed “the unsheltered homeless” have substance-abuse problems and 78% have mental disorders.

The good intensions of the ’60s and ’70s gave way to the urban horrors of the 21st century — squalid encampments teeming with disease and violence, rife with narcotics and where hypodermic needles litter the pavement.

In Los Angeles, cases of typhoid fever, hepatitis, tuberculosis and staph have soared in the past decade, due to unsanitary conditions in tent cities. A police officer in an L.A. suburb reports: “About 60% of our calls every day are about transients (the homeless) and the problems that they cause” — including theft, assault, addiction and using city streets as toilets. A few years ago, San Francisco created a “SnapCrap” app for residents to report human feces on sidewalks.

The more liberal municipalities spent on the homeless, the worse it got. It’s estimated that San Francisco now spends $1 billion annually on those living on the streets, while the homeless population has grown by an estimated 32% since 2010.

Permissiveness plays a part here. Little wonder that in 2020, the blue meccas of California, Oregon and Washington state had a combined homeless population of more than 166,000.

Christopher Rufo — a Visiting Fellow for Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation — explains: “The San Francisco Board of Supervisors insists on a policy of free housing for the homeless and, at the same time, the city’s district attorney, Chesa Boudin, has decriminalized public camping, drug consumption, prostitution and other ‘quality of-life crimes’” — which are destroying the quality of life of the city’s hard-working, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

Manhattan’s newly installed district attorney, Alvin (let-em-go) Bragg, like Ms. Boudin, elected with Soros money, won’t interfere “with the squalor and danger encroaching on subways, streets and public parks until it’s too late” in Mr. Goldman’s words.

Housing first and harm reduction have only exacerbated the problem. The key to solving the mess is getting the homeless off the streets. We need to force them into shelters, treatment centers for drug abuse, mental hospitals or jails.

Cruel? Is it kind to leave the homeless to their own devices? Is it fair to sacrifice victims like Ms. Go and Ms. Kupfer on the altar of misplaced compassion? When will liberals understand that the government’s primary purpose is protecting the innocent?

• Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer and syndicated columnist.

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