by Leslie Fish
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Some of this I’ve said before, but there’s new information about it. Today Phoenix, of all places, has a “homeless community” — what used to be called a hobo jungle — not on its outskirts but in the middle of downtown. Now the sixth-largest city in the US can join the previous five, and easily ten more, in having streets full of bums. Congratulations. Our cities weren’t this bad off during the Great Depression.
It’s useless to point out that a lot of these are illegal immigrants, allowed in by the millions thanks to certain politicians; that’s another whole story. Likewise there’s no use mentioning that these homeless aren’t bums because of a lack of jobs; the economy is recovering, and a lot of employers with entry-level jobs can’t get people to fill them. And there’s no point in pointing out how many of these homeless beggars are homeless because they’re drunks, druggies, and really mentally ill. The point is, what do we do with the bums now that they’re here?
There are two solutions with long histories, and we can revive both of them: the county mad-house and the county poor-farm. Seriously.
Sometime during the Reagan administration, the ACLU argued successfully to the Supreme Court that people who had committed no crime didn’t deserve to be “involuntarily incarcerated” in lunatic asylums, no matter how crazy they were. A lot of politicians took this as an opportunity to save public money — for themselves. They turned all the nonviolent lunatics out of the county hospitals, gave them prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs and addresses of local clinics where they could get more, turned them loose on the streets and let the old hospitals go to ruin. The lunatics have been wandering loose ever since, and a lot of them are incapable of getting jobs — or even Welfare — finding housing and taking care of themselves. Thanks loads, oh humane ACLU.
So the first half of the solution is to create new county hospitals. Given our current public-health situations, each hospital should have two major wings — one a rehabilitation unit for alcoholics and other drug-addicts, and the other for people with genuine mental illnesses. Between the two wings it should have the triage unit: a full-service clinic where any bum brought in can be fed, washed, de-loused, examined and diagnosed. Once diagnosed they can be divided into the addicts, the lunatics, and the just plain down on their luck. Then send the addicts to the rehab wing, the lunatics to mental wing, and the just-plain-down-on-their-luck can go to the other institution — the county poor-farm. Once the hospital is up and running, send out the police to sweep up the bums off the street and bring them to the diagnostic center of the hospital.
(Side-note: a lot of these homeless beggars have property — pitiful tents, at least — and often pets, usually dogs — and won’t willingly be parted from them. The hospital must also have a fumigation area for disinfecting the property and the pets, a storage area where the patients’ property can be kept safely, and sturdy chain-link pet-runs along the back of the first floor where the pets can likewise be kept safely, and the patients can have access to them. Any patients who are discharged can then take their property and pets with them.)
As for the poor-farm: build it in the shape of an elongated city block, with small but sturdy basic houses — with car-ports and small back yards — all around its borders. The corner lots can be used for each farm’s office/police station, tool/repair shop, local clinic, and community dining-hall/meeting-hall. All the land in the center will be the actual farm. Anyone broke and homeless — and cleared by the hospital — can come to the farm, apply at the office, and get assigned one of the houses — in exchange for pledging to work a certain number of hours per week on the farm. The working hours should be short enough to allow time during the working-week for the tenants to go out and hunt for real jobs elsewhere.
The land for the farm itself should be cleared and prepared, then planted and worked, as a permaculture food-forest The food raised there can be used to feed the tenants — plus whatever they raise in their own yards — and the excess sold, with the money going to support the farm (including a fuel or transportation ration to the tenants so they can go hunt for work elsewhere). The unemployed homeless can be hired to build the houses and prepare the ground too. Tenants who succeed in getting outside jobs can stay at the farm and save their main-job money until they can afford bigger housing elsewhere.
Once the poor-farm fills up, build another poor-farm. Eventually we’ll have neighborhoods, if not townships, of sturdy low-cost housing surrounding self-sustaining food-forests: working parks instead of slums and hobo jungles.
To answer the eternal question, where will the money for all this come from: take it out of the budget the states are already spending on the homeless problem right now. These solutions will work, and the farms can even be profitable.
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