The Chronicle is running a series Beyond Homelessness. They call the problem a civic disgrace. They have an editorial proclaim the reduction of homelessness to the extent humanly possible must be San Francisco’s No. 1 priority.
I applaud their call of civic duty. I am frustrated by the problem as anyone do. But grandstanding aside, I am not optimistic that the city will make much progress. 10 or 20 years we will revisit the issue. I am afraid what the future may not be much of an improvement of compares to today.
Their language concerns me. We talk about political will, about holding public official responsible. But what if this is a problem so difficult that nobody really know how to solve them? I compare this to some recurrent campaign to "cure cancer". It makes a good slogan for a rally. The problem is, to the best knowledge current science, we do not really know how to cure cancer. Some ambitious politician might "declare war on cancer", or set an arbitrary time line like solving the problem in 10 years. But I can see little scientific basis that would lead to such solution. As much as we wish, these political campaigns, without scientific basis to backup, will just fizzle out sooner or later.
Unfortunately I think this is likely what our current campaign on homelessness heading. If it is about provide enough funding and services, these will be easy problem well within the capability of the politician. After all, we are already pouring sizable resource in the tune of 240 millions dollars a year into this. But I am afraid these resources only scratch the surface. The deeper problem is that some people who has lost their capability to take care of themselves and function in the society. Fixing people is much harder problme than fix things, which mostly call for more funding. I don't even know if the bureaucracy has any place in fixing a person. Much more helpful than the bureaucracy is perhaps the support from a social network.
To further the cure cancer analogy, it is commonly accepted that the best way to fight cancer is to prevent it from developing in the first place. Living a healthy life style, proper nutrition, early screening are way more effective than to treat cancer after it happens. So our attention should go beyond fixing the problem after it happens to minimize someone ending up in the street in the first place. In the long run, if we can reduce new homeless by prevention, it maybe the most effective way to keep the problem under control.