CREDIT WHERE IT'S...

CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE. As The Weekly Standard reports, homelessness really is plummeting across the country. Some of it is due to the inevitable effects of a sustained economic expansion and the restoration of balance (and cash) to previously-strapped state and local governments. But some is due to Bush administration policy.

Their "Housing First" program has sought to restore the low-cost residences that cities effectively zoned out of existence over the past few decades. To be sure, these aren't palatial accommodations, but some roof is better than none, and it offers a base upon which to begin treating other problems. This approach comes from a radical reevaluation of how to deal with social problems -- treating not the easy cases in the middle, but the hard cases on the fringe, and doing so without the array of preconditions and punishments that so often boot these subjects out of treatment. It's a remarkably nonjudgmental approach, and effective, too. Keep folks on the street and they end up in the hospital, costing literally hundreds of thousands a year. Housing, by contrast, may not solve everything, but it renders life less dangerous, and thus intervention less expensive. It's a legitimate policy achievement for the Bush administration and they deserve credit for it.

For more on the theory behind "Housing First," check out Malcolm Gladwell's article on the application of power laws to social problems. As he writes, these policies are a bit offensive to the American ideal. "From an economic perspective the approach makes perfect sense. But from a moral perspective it doesn�t seem fair. Thousands of people in the Denver area no doubt live day to day, work two or three jobs, and are eminently deserving of a helping hand�and no one offers them the key to a new apartment. Yet that�s just what the guy screaming obscenities and swigging Dr. Tich gets...Social benefits are supposed to have some kind of moral justification. We give them to widows and disabled veterans and poor mothers with small children. Giving the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk an apartment has a different rationale. It�s simply about efficiency." The Bush administration, happily, resolved the conflict on the side of pragmatism, and the approach is paying dividends. Would that they do the same more often...

--Ezra Klein

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