If you’ve been keeping up with the national news lately, you might have heard that the Seattle city council unanimously passed an employee head tax for businesses that gross at least $20 million per year. The first proposal was annual head tax of $500 per employee, but outrage from the Seattle business community caused them to nearly halve it and settle for $275 per employee. Of course, $275 is a low-ball figure that doesn’t account for the cost of complying with the new head tax. Although the magnitude of the effect was minimized the incentive remains the same: hire less people. Low skilled, temporary, and part time workers will especially be vulnerable to the disincentive to hire because the tax doesn’t account for differences in contribution and wages. The homeless, the people who stand in most need of gainful employment aren’t helped in the least bit by this new disincentive to hire. Sure they’ll get better funded government services, but what good are these services if you can’t get back up on your own feet? A more intelligent city council would have considered the true cause of rising homelessness instead of arbitrarily deciding to punish employers for employing people, something which actually contributes to the decline of homelessness and extreme poverty.
Alternative Solutions to Homelessness
Given the precarious position homeless people hold in society, I don’t think much can be done to elevate their status through government services. The stigma attached to this “lifestyle” is perhaps the greatest obstacle to digging themselves out and receiving free services only tends to raise people's’ ire against them. Add to this the fact that their dependence on government services can only ever be tenuous because it’s always susceptible to budget shortfalls and you have a recipe for social immobility. However, there is one government service that I’m in favor of, but one which remains unexamined due to current statutes against vagrancy and loitering. Repeal laws against vagrancy and loitering and allow the homeless to homestead on public land. There are numerous recent examples of the homeless, with the aid of private charity, coming together to build communities of small houses, but because of state laws that criminalize homelessness and force them into government dependence they were destroyed.
However, despite government imposed setbacks there have been some success stories in this regard.
The lack of affordable housing in big cities like Seattle is a major contributing factor to homelessness. Developing communities of tiny homes provides the homeless with, independence, a sense of dignity and personal space, things they can’t obtain by being herded into publicly funded shelters and treated like children. In addition to allowing them to live on public land, perhaps cities could also provide them with water and garbage collection. This would in effect make them like any other community, and go a long way in eliminating the stigma associated with their circumstances.