Saturday, January 28, 2023
Jan. 28, 2023

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Local View: Donnelly: Recommended reading to help homeless


Helping the homeless indisputably tops our region’s to-do list for 2022. Millions of tax dollars are being readied for expenditure from federal and state sources in 2022, joining the millions already spent. Yet the impacts of homelessness confront us on our sidewalks, in parks and in jails.

What if we could improve the results for the homeless by reading just one book? There is such a book, says Michael Lynch, son of iconic Vancouver philanthropists the late Ed and Dollie Lynch. Lynch’s recommended reading is “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” by progressive journalist Michael Shellenberger.

So persuaded is Lynch of the value of Shellenberger’s book that he has delivered copies of “San Fransicko” to dozens of local citizens in positions to guide community efforts. Accompanying the book is a letter from Lynch asking the community to “join in a plan to eliminate unsheltered homelessness in Clark County.”

Lynch earned the right to such an ambitious goal through informed study of homelessness over many years. His approach balances the conceptual and the pragmatic, through “book learning” such as Shellenberger’s statistics-filled 2021 release, combined with on-site observations of living examples here and in other states. Lynch’s knowledge and passion on the subject pour forth when he speaks of it. Shellenberger’s book “echoes much of what I have learned” about homelessness.

Lynch contends that only a progressive voice such as Shellenberger’s can successfully critique failing policies for homelessness in the West Coast’s big cities. Founder of left-leaning Environmental Progress, Shellenberger has lived in San Francisco for 30 years.

A former advocate of affordable housing and decriminalizing drugs, Shellenberger watched as “homeless encampments spread and overdose deaths skyrocketed.” Digging into the data, he was shocked to conclude that the problems worsened not in spite of but because of progressive policies.

Central to the downward spiral, he concludes, is tolerance of destructive behaviors. For example, he now questions the “Housing First” approach as lacking accountability.

One homeless man addicted to fentanyl explains “on one side of the street are people giving you food and clean needles. On the other side of the street are all the drug dealers … It’s like getting all the candy and treats that you think you want. You think you’re having fun. But little by little it’s taking away your humanity and turning you into something you were never meant to be.”

Observing the explosion of drug crimes and overdoses, Shellenberger concludes that “people are not dying from drug overdose deaths in San Francisco because they’re being arrested. They’re dying because they aren’t being arrested.” A contentious statement but one Shellenberger backs up with statistics in a chapter entitled “The War on the War on Drugs.”

Shellenberger considers untreated mental illness and drastic insufficiency of mental health beds as a critical failing in cities’ approaches to homelessness. Again, no one is held accountable for the sad and dangerous results.

Shellenberger warns of the dangers of these failings. “Disorder and the loss of freedom go hand in hand. Political leaders who fail to maintain order are often replaced by leaders who sacrifice freedom.”

Michael Lynch’s statement recommending Shellenberger is itself worthy of study. For example, on the importance of faith in recovery from homelessness, he observes “for some organizations, faith can get in the way of their success. To others it can be a shining star. When it excels, it’s awe inspiring.”

Lynch’s message is that “privately plus publicly funded solutions working together can manage and improve the vexing issues we face today in homelessness.”

Ann Donnelly, a Vancouver businesswoman, is a former chair of the Clark County Republican Party.