According to the charity Coalition for the Homeless, there are now over forty-five thousand people living in homeless shelters in New York City including nineteen thousand children. Furthermore, the New York Daily News estimates that just under five hundred of them are over the age of sixty-five and that there has been a twenty-eight percent jump in the amount of older people on the streets within the last two years. This means that the number of vulnerable, elderly men and women forced to survive without their own accommodation is rapidly increasing. What can be done to alleviate the problem of homelessness and prevent as many people from having to live on the streets or in shelters? According to social commentator and award-winning libertarian author Dr Mary Ruwart, the situation would not be half as bad as it is today if a libertarian government was in charge of the country.
Excessive Government Meddling
Ruwart points out that in 1988, Mother Theresa’s church order the Missionaries of Charity bought two derelict buildings in New York at a dollar apiece and managed to raise five hundred thousand dollars to have the necessary repair work carried out on them for them to be fit for use as homeless shelters. The city approved of their plans but after work had begun, inspectors demanded that they installed a hundred-thousand-dollar elevator so that the housing would be accessible to handicapped people. The nuns replied that their religious vows forbid them from routinely making use of modern conveniences and stated that they would be willing to carry any handicapped residents manually. They applied for a waiver from the laws governing handicapped access, stipulating religious reasons, but were denied it. The project did not go ahead as a result of this and the people who would have occupied the housing remained on the streets. In a libertarian society, the restrictions and regulations that deprived these homeless people of a place to live would not exist.
License to be Homeless
America is becoming a country where the public are left to drown in a sea of rules that govern every aspect of their lives. If the situation progresses any further then the lives of homeless men and women are likely to be made even worse, as there is even talk in other states of those without a place to live requiring licenses to sleep on the streets. Earlier this month, pro-libertarian magazine Reason drew attention to the fact that the chief of police in Nevada City, California, was pushing for a law to prohibit people from being homeless until they were given a license. The law would only hand out a small number of these licenses, effectively criminalizing homelessness. Wickham stated that he had identified a minimum of sixty homeless men and women in the immediate community and as many as five hundred countywide. What will become of these people if such a law is passed? They will be constantly looking over their shoulders for police officers, who will be permitted to arrest them simply for having no place to go.
If the country was ran by libertarians, homelessness would be less of a problem, as rent for properties housing low-income tenants would be lower because the need to abide by overly prescriptive building codes would not raise housing prices above what poor people could afford to pay. There would also be no rules persecuting the homeless or those struggling on low incomes. Homelessness may still exist for those who weren’t able to support themselves but the help available to them would be much greater. As it stands, welfare bureaucracy wastes tax dollars that are intended for the poor and needy because according to Dr Ruwart, two thirds of every dollar goes towards administration as opposed to being given to those who need it. In addition, if you aren’t able to walk into a welfare office and provide them with an address, it can be difficult to get a cheque.
Ruwart states that the majority of the most destitute and helpless people in society rely upon church-ran soup kitchens, compassionate health workers who provide free medical care and passers by donating spare change to them. This is supported by the fact that, according to the New York government website, New York City alone has over one thousand soup kitchens. In a libertarian society, more people would be wealthy, which would result in more help and cash being given to the homeless. Okay so citizens who currently have no fixed abode might not all suddenly start working on the stock market or get jobs as investment bankers but they would be a lot better off than they are at the moment and would be in a stronger position to sort out the issues that led them to become homeless in the first place.