A friend of mine got back from visiting San Francisco, and said that the city is beautiful, the weather was much more pleasant than New York's, and so they'd looked at some houses.
"Dude," I said, breaking my longstanding "No-Dude" rule, "you can't even sell the house you have here. How are you going to afford San Francisco?"
And that's the truth. Our real estate market slid more slowly than other places, like Vegas, but we're still in the dumps, people unable to sell houses at what they paid for them. And San Francisco now hosts some of the most expensive real estate in the world--what Forbes called the "Insanity of the San Francisco Housing Market." The median home price, the article noted, is $1.1 million.
This is what is commonly blamed for San Francisco's massive homeless problem, a problem so out-of-control that my New York City-born friend even thought it was humongous.
There's a lot of question as to why it's worse there than in other cities. The city's services for the homeless sometimes are blamed (and that's sometimes refuted); the weather that varies from not too cold to not too hot is also cited (a bum in SF is much less likely to become a bumcicle than one in NY or Chicago).
In 2010 Heather Mac Donald of City Journal did what a lot of us wordy types won't---she got down onto the city's streets to see what was going on. And what was going on was: drugs, booze, violence, refusal of treatment for addiction or insanity, and so on. And don't chicken-and-egg me; people don't start drinking Wild Irish Rose because they're on the street. "Water may run in the gutter but 'twill never put you there," as some non-wild Irish have said.
Mac Donald is worth reading as an antidote to the sentimentalism that leads us to bad policy, and even prevents people from getting the help they need. But surely it doesn't mean they should get no help at all.
Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and there's only 34 shopping days until Christmas, so the season of charitable pressure has already begun. Americans are the most generous people in the world, unless you count Myanmar, which claim has to be gifted with a grain of salt. But we don't want our generosity to pay for gold chains for drug dealers, narco-corrido songwriters, bum wine, and miserable deaths.
My friend who went to San Francisco is a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor, as it happens. I asked him, what does he do when confronted by hordes of beggars as he was in Baghdad by the Bay. He said he generally does not give money, but if possible he will give food. He (and Heather Mac Donald) found that food was very much appreciated, and not very easily translated into drugs or booze. And we must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and all those things.
As a Christian, I know we are told to give without asking for return, give more than what is asked. But we are also told (in Matthew 10:16), "Remember, I am sending you out to be like sheep among wolves; you must be wary, then, as serpents, and yet innocent as doves." Very often we are the other way around.