Numbers one through five might contribute to the housing problem in America overall. But it is a lack of affordable housing that is the chief reason for the growing homeless epidemic.
And, at long last, we have arrived at the actual root cause of homelessness: housing costs.
Because unlike poverty and mental illness and drug abuse and weather and welfare benefits and other factors, the places that have the highest housing costs, and the least housing supply, have the largest homeless populations:
In literally any other realm, this would come as no surprise. You can’t have what you can’t afford. If someone says, “I want a $2000 laptop, but can’t afford it,” nobody would find that hard to believe. But if someone says, “I really want the single largest and most crippling expense known to man, housing, but can’t afford it,” for some bizarre reason people would say, “that’s not true!,” or “correlation isn’t causation,” or “homelessness isn’t a housing problem,” or something patently insane. As I said before, the topic of homelessness breaks people’s brains.
The story of homelessness in America is perfectly captured by the following quote in the Economist:
Few Americans lived on the streets in the early post-war period because housing was cheaper. Back then only one in four tenants spent more than 30% of their income on rent, compared with one in two today. The best evidence suggests that a 10% rise in housing costs in a pricey city prompts an 8% jump in homelessness.
And that’s just it: before modern-day homelessness, there was poverty, there was mental illness, there was nice weather, there was welfare, there were liberal places, and there were drugs. So, something must have changed. And what changed were the rents:
If the primary problem of homelessness is housing, then the primary solution to homelessness is housing. And housing is indeed the solution:
Atlanta reduced homelessness by 40% through housing
Houston reduced homelessness by 63% through housing
Finland reduced homelessness by 75% through housing
Tokyo reduced homelessness by 80% through housing
But as important as housing supply is to reducing homelessness, places like Houston also demonstrate the importance of going beyond it.
Houston has always had a significantly lower rate of homelessness than other large cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, because unlike those cities, Houston builds a lot of housing:
But despite its ample housing supply, which, as mentioned, resulted in a lower baseline level of homelessness, Houston has still struggled with this problem. And that is because, while housing supply is vital, it will never ever, ever, ever be enough on its own for families who lack income, the disabled, the elderly, and other highly vulnerable populations.
This is why in 2011 Houston started going beyond supply by implementing the Housing First model, which pairs affordable housing with supportive services for people who are experiencing severe mental illness, drug addiction, and other debilitating issues. And, as a result, something incredible happened – homelessness plummeted.
I recently listened to You’re Wrong About, one of my favorite podcasts, as host Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall tackled the issue of homelessness. It’s an hour and 9 minutes long, so it’s a deep dive. But it will add substantially to your knowledge about the history of homelessness and the ways America has tried to deal with it at different times.
The biggest takeaways for me after all this:
Dealing with most of the homelessness in America — and all the problems that come with it — is fairly simple. Build more affordable housing, including in places where the locals don’t want it.
Give someone a safe, permanent place to live, and they will be more likely to be able to deal with all the problems they can’t currently deal with because they are homeless, including keeping a job and raising their kids in a responsible manner.
Mental health issues and the homeless have bidirectionality; that is, some people are chronically homeless because they have mental health issues, but many homeless persons develop mental health issues because they are homeless, and cold, and face daily rejection, and are constantly dealing with dangers large and small.
We need to think of homelessness not as a battle that will be won (“We tackled homelessness, finally!) but rather as an ongoing effort, like delivering mail. Nobody ever walks away from a post office saying, “Well, we delivered all the mail! Our job is done.” They know they have to come back and tackle it every day, in the large and small ways they do, otherwise the mail will pile up. The same goes for homelessness.
Many homeless people do have serious issues with mental health and drug addiction. Some of them are chronically homeless. They will drift and out of housing depending on where they are with their mental illnesses and drugs. But even they are worth trying to deal with on an ongoing basis because doing so has been shown to save money in the long run.
Britain’s Sky News TV network may no longer be owned by Fox’s Rupert Murdoch, but critics and researchers who study the media maintain that it has always kept that Fox News-ish ultra conservative tilt to the news.
The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), which is responsible for keeping the lights on, has forecast that these “constraint costs”, as they are known, may rise to as much as £2.5bn per year by the middle of this decade before the necessary upgrades are made.
The problem has arisen as more and more wind capacity is built in Scotland and in the North Sea but much of the demand for electricity continues to come from more densely populated areas in the south of the country.
In order to match supply and demand, the National Grid has to move electricity from where it is being made to where it is needed.
But at the moment there aren’t enough cables between Scotland and England to do that.
There is one major undersea cable off the west coast of the UK, and two main junctions between the Scottish and English transmission networks on land.
This bottleneck means that when it is very windy there is actually too much electricity for these cables to handle without risking damage.
And because we can’t store excess renewable energy at the necessary scale yet, the National Grid Electricity System Operator has no option but to ask wind generators to turn off their turbines.
According to analysis by energy technology company Axle Energy, using publicly available data from the electricity system’s balancing market platform Elexon, in 2022 the National Grid spent £215m paying wind generators to turn off, reducing the total amount generated by 6%, and a further £717m turning on gas turbines located closer to the source of demand, in order to fill the gap.
These costs are eventually passed to UK consumers as part of the network costs section on energy bills.
It’s not until further down the article that you learn that constraint charges have also been an issue for excess fossil fuel energy generation from coal, oil and gas.
But OK, that fact might be seen as downplaying that there are real storage and transmission issues currently in some locales with wind power.
Governments and power companies have had decades to plan for these transmission issues. But oil, gas and goal interests have successfully lobbied during those decades to stymie the progress of wind, solar and other renewables. So let’s set aside the fact that we are where we are because the same conservative business interests who are now crying that renewables involve too much expense for the conversion from fossil fuels, are the same people who fought for so many years to prevent all of us from adequately preparing for the inevitable eventuality of renewables.
Britain and other places are dealing with the problems associated with wind power storage and transmission in ways both old and innovative:
There are plans in the U.S. and elsewhere to use educational subsidies to encourage young people to become electricians and electrical engineers, both of which will be in short supply as the world turns more to green energy.
Fossil fuel interests are not giving up. They are paying shadowy front groups with deceptive names to plant anti-renewable stories in the media. Conservatives are paying Russian troll farms to spread misinformation and divisiveness about renewables on social media.
These stories appearing all over recently – but especially in right-wing media — about the cost of wind power constraint payments in the face of excess supply are but one example of the ways that conservative forces are still trying to beat back the world’s progress on renewables.
I’ve never known my father. Never met him. Didn’t even know his name for most of my early life because my mother wouldn’t tell me anything about him — and wouldn’t elaborate as to why she wouldn’t tell me.
Finally, I got a first and last name when I was 13 years old, from a maternal aunt. She said he was in the Air Force, had a family and lived in my hometown. But that’s all I ever had to go on. I kept from my mother that her sister had spilled the beans because my mother already hated this aunt.
I’ve never really had a huge need to know who he is. Is that weird? Not sure why that was true. I think it’s partially because my mother, my birth mother, had such terrible taste in men, that I’ve always been convinced in my mind that he was likely not the kind of person who’d be a positive force in my life.
Anyway, now I signed up for a DNA testing service specifically to try to find him and some possible relatives. Not sure why, this late in life, I decided to try and track him down.
I think it’s partially because the thing I’ve thought all my life had no effect whatsoever on me — not having a father figure in my life — has definitely affected me in very negative ways that I still don’t completely understand.
Perhaps I’ll find an elderly guy who is well-adjusted and open to having another son in the twilight of his existence.
I’ll be writing here about how it goes with the DNA test and search. Assuming something comes of the test.
The ways you think these things might work out, during times when you fantasize about the worst and best ways it can play out, are often so far from reality for people whose experiences I’ve read about.
For a historical podcast, Rachel Maddow’s new project could hardly be more timely. As the seditious conspiracy trial seeking to hold the Oath Keepers accountable for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection ramps up in Washington, D.C., Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra explores a World War II-era prosecution known as the Great Sedition Trial of 1944.
The prosecution – and determined amateur sleuths in the general public — exposed a Nazi-backed plot that connected sitting members of Congress — many of them tied to the original, nativist America First movement — and militias and street thugs who wanted to overthrow the republic and install a fascist, authoritarian regime.
It’s quite riveting. But as I have made my way through episode 5 (“Shut it down”) I’ve had to stop listening because I can tell it’s going to be too depressing in the end because all the clues are there that not a single elected right-wing Republican member of Congress is going to be held accountable for colluding with German spies.
Which brings us to this NPR Fresh Aire interview with Maddow from December of 2022:
GROSS: So you describe the (eventual Ultra) sedition trial as turning into bedlam. There’s so many, like, outrageous things that happened. Like, during the period when potential jurors are questioned before they’re chosen to be jurors, the defense asks some incredible questions, including things like, are you Jewish or do you have a relative who is? Do you read Jewish publications? What does Jew mean? What does international bankers mean? What’s meant by Mongolian Jews? And do you think Jesus was a Jew? And there were no Jews, no African-Americans on the jury, but at least three German Americans. It’s amazing that the judge let this kind of questioning happen and that there were no Jews, but there were three German Americans.
MADDOW: Yeah. This is flummoxing in some ways. I mean, defense counsel can propose all sorts of crazy things to be asked to potential jurors, but it’s up to the judge to decide what actually gets asked. And for Judge Eicher to have allowed some of these questions specifically designed to keep Jews off the jury, and also to sort of push-pull the jury on being disinclined toward any Jewish perspective, is a remarkable thing. And indeed, there were no Jewish people on the jury.
I feel like one of the things that might explain why bedlam broke out and why the trial was so out of control and why things like that happened with selecting the jury pool, it may have had something to do with the fact that Judge Eicher was very inexperienced. He was in his mid-60s by the time the trial was happening, but he’d only been on the bench for two years. He had been a congressman from Iowa. He’d been on – I think – the SEC, had had some other government jobs. He’d had a sort of distinguished career and was well-regarded, but he was not experienced as a judge. When he was put in charge of this trial with, you know, 28 incredibly rowdy, incredibly disruptive and in many cases incredibly eccentric defendants, almost as many defense lawyers, the highest profile case in the country on incredibly inflammatory charges, it was going to be a challenge for any judge, but for somebody who didn’t really know what he was doing yet, he was very clearly overmatched from day one of that trial.
GROSS: And you say that the defense tried to prevent the trial, tried to postpone the trial, tried to have a mistrial declared, and they kept doing that, like, over and over. The trial came to a kind of a dramatic conclusion because the judge went home one night after the trial had been going on for months, had dinner, and then died in his sleep. So what happened after that?
MADDOW: It was a crazy moment. I mean, the trial never got less chaotic from the very beginning. And you can see it in the newspaper coverage at the time that there’s reporters who are planning on being in the courtroom every day, who are planning – you know, and they’re recording with great detail everything that happens. And then the news coverage sort of dwindles over time because nobody can follow what’s going on, and the case is so chaotic and the courtroom is so uncomfortable and it’s so out of control. Judge Eicher’s seven months into the trial when the prosecution, which goes first in a criminal trial, they weren’t even halfway through their presentation seven months into it already. He felt ill one day in the courtroom, went home and died in his sleep that night.
The defendants were given the option that they could allow another judge to come in and pick up where the trial left off, and the defendants did not want to do that. They wanted to start all over again from day one. And of course, they did, because I think the bedlam and chaos in the courtroom was to their benefit at this point. The Justice Department then had to decide whether they were going to do that, whether they were going to start over from day one or whether they were just going to dismiss the charges and let it go. And they let that decision linger for quite a long time, and one of the things that happened in the interim, while it was still possible they could restart the trial, is that the prosecutor asked leave from the court to go to Germany.
A U.S. Army captain who was part of the Nuremberg prosecutions contacted this prosecutor, John Rogge, at the Justice Department and said, hey, you know, we’re interrogating these Nazi leaders here, and all of your sedition defendants’ names keep coming up when we’re interrogating these Nazis about who they were working with in the United States and what they were trying to do. You ought to see this evidence. And Rogge went to Germany to collect that evidence and then brought it back to the Justice Department and – for them to inform their decision as to whether or not to proceed with the case.
GROSS: And they proceeded with the case.
MADDOW: They did not proceed with the case, which is a remarkable…
GROSS: They did not proceed.
MADDOW: No. They allowed the mistrial to be the end of the story. And Rogge’s report from Germany, with all the evidence that was collected from German officials confirming the central charges of the sedition case – that these Americans had been receiving support from Germany, that they were working in cahoots with the German government to try to overthrow the U.S. government and install fascism here – he brought all this evidence back including the names of 24 members of the House and Senate who had been involved in the propaganda part of this operation.
He brought it all back. He gave it to the attorney general. The attorney general brought it straight to the White House, by then occupied by Harry Truman. And Harry Truman said, this report will never see the light of day. This is not a report that will be made to the American people. This will not be given to the court. This will – this is over. This is done. This cannot come out.
After a commercial break, Terri Gross brings it back to the question of prosecutions – or lack, thereof:
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with Rachel Maddow. Her new podcast series, “Ultra,” is about plots from ultra-right groups to overthrow the U.S. government in the years leading up to World War II.
So none of the congressmen who were colluding with Hitler’s Germany ever got indicted. Is that right?
MADDOW: That’s right. And it’s a good question as to why not.
GROSS: Yeah, why not?
MADDOW: (Laughter) Well, I mean, Viereck himself, who was the German agent, was charged. And in his individual trial and, again, in the evidence that was brought forward against him in the sedition trial, the government laid out what he was doing with these members of Congress including paying them to do this work that had been assigned to him by the Hitler government. So they had the evidence of it. The Justice Department did bring in a couple of members of Congress to testify to the grand jury. They did indict one congressional staffer. They had a lot of evidence about members of Congress having been part of this plot, and they chose not to indict the members. And there isn’t an explanation from that that I think all parties would admit to.
But my view, having sort of marinated in this research for the past year or more, is that the Justice Department just did not want to incur more ire and more wrath from the members of Congress who were already giving them such a hard time for this case. Members of Congress knew they were implicated. They knew what they had done. And they did everything they could to try to get this prosecution blown up from getting, first, one and then the second prosecutor in the case fired by political pressure.
They – in one case, one of the members of Congress who was brought in to testify to the grand jury and who had his congressional staffer indicted, he tried to get the sedition law taken off the books. So it would result in the American justice system no longer having that available as a charge to bring against people who did these things. They really did everything they could to make life miserable for the Justice Department in pursuing this and in so doing, protected themselves, I believe, from being charged when the evidence existed that would have justified a charge.
GROSS: So the legal system never held anybody accountable for this sedition and for the violence that these ultra-right-wing groups were behind, and the congressmen weren’t held accountable. Did the people hold the colluders accountable?
MADDOW: Yes, in almost every instance. And this was a surprise to me and a really interesting part of the research. This, as a prosecution, didn’t work. But the Justice Department’s investigation was of interest to the public. It was done at the same time that there was a lot of journalistic and even activist investigation of these matters. There was really good investigative reporting both in book form and in magazine-and-newspaper journalism done about these scandals at the time. There were activist groups who infiltrated some of these violent ultra-right groups and then publicized their findings about what those groups were doing. They not only brought it to law enforcement; they brought it to the press and made sure that people knew what was happening.
And the result from the public was that almost all the members of Congress who were implicated in this, including some who were seen as presidential timber, some of whom were among the most popular and powerful members of Congress, of their – household names – almost to a one, they were voted out as soon as they came back up before the voters, either voted out in primaries or voted out in general elections including huge figures at the time like Gerald Nye from North Dakota and Burton Wheeler from Montana and Hamilton Fish from New York.
And all of these very powerful, very famous members were thrown out on their ear because constituents and, in some cases, their political parties recognized that – recognized what they’d been doing to help the Nazis. It was a form of political accountability that worked even when criminal accountability fell short.
I think Maddow gives way too much weight here to the idea of public shaming as some form of accountability.
The lessons learned then by the Nazi collaborators in Congress – much like what we see happening thus far with the members of Congress who helped the Jan. 6 rioters try to overthrow our government – were that, yes, you can commit treason or take part in a seditious conspiracy, and the government won’t prosecute you because doing to will be seen as harmful to the fabric of America cohesion.
I will likely finish listening to Maddow’s podcast at some point because she’s quite good and it’s very well done.
But for now I have to take a break to get used to the fact that it’s happened before and Republicans got away with it, just as it’s appearing that the members of Congress who aided and abetted the Jan. 6 rioters will likely get away with it.
It must be tough for people like Dilbert creator Scott Adams. You have all these hardcore racist, sexist followers who can say all the things you can only say in code behind the same squishy “libertarian” facade that all your fellow racist, sexist white men who have to, for reasons of marketability, maintain year after year after year.