Braking Bad

Tent Encampment Skid Row LA

I’ve had a good week so far, even the post COVID booster jab couldn’t bring me down.

So I’ve decided it’s time to play with the third rail of American liberal politics — homelessness.

There is no issue in America today that blurs the liberal-conservative divide more than homelessness. I know liberals who sound like die hard Republicans when it comes to the homeless (“Whatever needs to be done to get them off the street”) and conservatives sounding like bleeding hearts (“They need to be cared for”). But it’s within the liberal community where I see the most heated arguments over the situation. Even here in deep blue liberal Sonoma there are heated arguments over solutions.

It’s hard to have a solution when you don’t understand the problem.

Of course here in Sonoma our homeless population is eight guys who hang around the plaza during the day and to be honest are as well behaved and clean as can be expected. Mostly they pull together enough money to get a coffee and a roll from the Basque Bakery, cross the street to the plaza, and spend the day being your basic old man coffee klatch. One thing we have done is create a collaboration between the police and a local church to offer rides starting at 6PM for anyone without shelter to stay in the church overnight. Two rules. Once you’re in, you’re in till 7AM the next morning. The second rule is that means no sleeping on the streets at night.

Not a bad solution.

But we have many who decry that this is the government working with a religious organization and that is not to be tolerated. And we have those who cry that it’s not enough and we need to build shelters. And we have those who declaim that allowing them to congregate (congregate? eight guys?) in the plaza is a hazard for families and a bad image for the tourists. And we have those, again very liberal people on all other issues, who just want them run out of town as a warning to others of the homeless community that Sonoma is to be avoided. Not to mention the church’s neighbors who worry about homeless people in their neighborhood.

The point is we don’t really have it that bad. These guys, yeah they’re not all mentally there, none of them. They are the portion of the homeless population that, in a sane world, would be looked after by the state in fully equipped, hygienic facilities where they could get the therapy and/or drugs they need to get themselves together.

And that brings up the point I really want to get to.

The homeless are not all of the same ilk. Yes, some of them are the victims of a brutal economic environment where housing is expensive even on the cheaper ends, but that’s not all of them. Some of them, like the guys in the plaza have mental issues. Some of them are just people who think it’s their right to camp out wherever they want.

But the vast majority of the homeless have serious addiction problems that have lead them to the streets. We’re not talking about “oh Daddy has a few too many martinis when he comes home from work” addiction. We’re talking about “I’d rather pay for that next hit then pay the rent on even the most cut-rate rathole” addiction.

That is the where the real trouble lies.

Click the link to read all about P2P and the hell it has created

An article in The Atlantic recently told of the effects of a new form of methamphetamine that started showing up a few years ago. It’s introduction coincides with the explosion of homelessness in the US.

Meth previously had been made from ephedrine, an ingredient in many over the counter cold medications. When authorities began to realize that, restrictions were put on the sale of most cold medications which is why you have to go through a battery of “mother my I”‘s in order to purchase Sudafed at the local CVS. Those steps though made it very difficult to acquire enough ephedrine to produce a quantity of meth worth selling. And in a great example of Keynesian free market, the price of meth skyrocketed at both the wholesale and street level.

Into the marketplace stepped a replacement product. While still methamphetamine it was made with phenyl-2-propanone or P2P. P2P is made of chemicals basic to the production of just about every product in the modern world and making all of them more difficult to acquire would have brought the world economy to a screeching halt. It had always been known that you could make meth from P2P, but it just made your heart race without getting the user high. Some unknown chemist (no, not Walter White) had figured out how to use P2P to create a meth that did the opposite. More could be made in a quicker amount of time, far more cheaply, with ingredients that were unregulated.

The price of a pound of meth went from $14,000 to $1,000. That will put a crimp in your business plan. So how did the meth dealers stay in business? Volume. Hence the estimated 1.2 million meth addicts, most of whom are on the streets.

Of course there was this one little side effect. P2P meth makes you crazy. Not the “wow I was so high I got crazy” kind of crazy. From The Atlantic article linked above:

Susan Partovi has been a physician for homeless people in Los Angeles since 2003. She noticed increasing mental illness—schizophrenia, bipolar disorder—at her clinics around the city starting in about 2012. She was soon astonished by “how many severely mentally ill people were out there,” Partovi told me. “Now almost everyone we see when we do homeless outreach on the streets is on meth. Meth may now be causing long-term psychosis, similar to schizophrenia, that lasts even after they’re not using anymore.”

When you are addicted to a drug that makes you care more about it then even your own well being it’s tough to pay rent. Homelessness is a byproduct of this new drug. Worse is that those in the grips of it end up surrounded by a community who are in the same situation, like souls with no other option than to take to the streets. Tent encampments where the drug is the only reason to take another breath. Social networks where the drug is not just tolerated but exhorted.

All while your mind and your body deteriorate.

The homelessness problem is not a problem of economics for the vast majority of those living on the streets. No one is on the streets ONLY because they couldn’t afford their house or apartment. Those who are not mentally damaged either genetically or through drug use are there as the end result of a whole litany of bad decisions, not because one day their landlord raised the rent. For those we need public housing at reasonable rents, job skills programs, life skills programs, a path forward to get them into their own private living situations; in other words we need to give them the hand up a great society provides to it’s least fortunate.

We also need to acknowledge that a portion of the tents are occupied by the genuinely mentally ill and we need to get them into treatment facilities. These people have the mental capability of a six year old child. If a six year old child were allowed to wonder the streets without parental supervision the cops, the child welfare department, the PTA, the NSA, all the acronyms would be up in arms to get him or her off the street and into a safe environment. Why is someone with the mental capacity of a six year old any different? Again, a hand a great society extends to it’s least fortunate.

Lastly we are not going to solve the problem of homelessness until we acknowledge that a great swath of those tent encampments are populated by humans made inhuman by a drug and take the steps necessary to disrupt and destroy the pipeline that feeds their addictions. At the same time we need to get those people into rehab and keep them there till they are clean. Yes they have rights, but their rights, like mine to yell fire in a crowded theater, stop when they put not only their own health, but the health and safety of the general public at risk.  It’s the least we can do for fellow human beings and it’s what a great society does for it’s least fortunate.

If you thought I wouldn’t sneak in one last Breaking Bad reference, well you were wrong.

Shapiro Out