I generally avoid partisan issues where the Church has definitively spoken. But as the pastor of a church on the Isthmus in Madison an area with a significant homeless population, I thought this editoral was a good warning for Mad City. San Francisco,
…has been conducting a three-decade experiment in what happens when society stops enforcing bourgeois norms of behavior. It has done so in the name of compassion for the homeless. The result: Street squalor and misery have increased, while government expenditures have ballooned. Yet the principles guiding city policy remain inviolate: Homelessness is a housing problem, it is involuntary, and it persists because of inadequate public spending. These propositions are readily disproved by talking to people living on the streets.
Both in American political philosophy and Orthodox moral theology, liberty isn’t moral license and the civil authority has a positive obligation to protect the public order.
Here in Madison, the city government has largely failed in its obligations. Like San Franciso, the mayor sees homelessness as a housing problem. While this is partly true, there are also often underlying mental health issues that lead to homelessness.
While the cause or causes of homelessness matter, so to do its consequences for public safety. As crime increases on the Isthmus (basically, downtown) becomes a more dangerous place to live and work. Failure to address the resulting increase in crime is a moral failure on the part of the city government.
In both San Francisco, one underlying cause of government inaction is the widespread embrace of liberty as moral license rather than as the freedom to do as we ought to do. As we see in other areas, often members of the middle and upper-middle classes, preach values they don’t actually embrace in their own lives.
Ironically, and tragically, “helping” the homeless is, again as we see in other areas, is doing more harm than good. Worse, it is actively harming the very people government officials are seeking to help.