Why does DC have so many homeless people?

Colbert King

Is it a question of funding or underfunding, management or mismanagement, commitment or lack of concern? Does part of the problem also rest with those without roofs over their heads? Is the answer some or all of the above?

The homeless, the most powerless part of our population, bear zero responsibility for their situation. No, I am not being a bleeding heart. I am just being realistic.

Like Colbert King, I am old enough to remember when there were so few homeless people in American, not just DC, but anywhere in America, that you never saw them. What changed? Did people suddenly become more foolish? Hardly. We had plenty of foolishness in the 1960’s and 70’s. We had drugs, we had domestic violence, we had mental illness, we had unemployment. But we had very few homeless. So what changed?

Ronald Reagan. The current wave of homelessness dates precisely to the Reagan administration. Cuts to mental health services (not just deinstiturtionalization, but also cuts to federal mental health programs) had the effect of dumping millions of mental patients on the streets with perfectly predictable results. In addition to that Reagan cut funds for public housing and closed many projects, that resulted in a dramatic loss of low cost housing, with perfectly predictable results.

Washington used to have places like Hartnett Hall, where you could get rent a room for $4 a night, and for $5.50, breakfast was included. An alcholoic could do the occassional odd job and have enough money to live indoors. It was a grim life, but at least it was indoors.

Back in Reagan’s time we began a series of policies that transferred wealth from ordinary people to wealthy, with perfectly predictable results.

And it is about to get far worse. Under Obamacare, all full time employees must be covered by health insurance, or the employer will pay a fine. A few employers will get health insurance, many will simply pay the fine as a cost of doing business, but the fast food and retail sector is most likely to respond by cutting every employee’s hours so that they are part time employees. Therefore, retail workers who currently lack health insurance, but at least have enough money for housing, will become homeless. We will see massive overcrowdiding as some employees sleep on the couches of family members, but many will wind up in homeless shelters.

So that is why people like Muriel Bowswer and Yvette Alexander are so misguided in their enthusiasm for Walmart. Walmart jobs are not sustaining. They don’t even pay poverty wages. Their workers will swamp our social service system. Meanwhile they threaten good paying jobs at union shops like Safeway and Giant, jobs that pay their way and make our social service system possible.

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2 Responses to “Why does DC have so many homeless people?”


  1. 1 Ken Reynolds February 20, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Interesting analysis………….also, back in the 70s and before, St. E’s was full – since then many have been released. And to make matters worse in Virginia, I understand the State will be shutting down 4 of the 5 homes for the disabled and putting them in: “community-based treatment centers”…will that be more homeless shelters like we have near the PRTC station? Will our BOCS members who live in affluent districts refuse to pay ofr treatment of the homeless? We sure have a number of “‘look down your noses at the poor” supervisors……

  2. 2 dcblogger February 20, 2013 at 12:27 am

    How true, delighted to see that you are still reading d2route. I always enjoy your comments.


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