It’s scary to be first to try something new. I wonder how many other liquids the first person who discovered cow’s milk was yummy went through before they got to milk. Eventually, someone will try something new and the rest of us can evaluate it. If it’s good, we can adopt it. If it’s bad, we should do everything in our collective power to avoid it. So why aren’t we doing that?
Why are we repeating horrible mistakes when others have already tried, failed, and moved on? Why did eleven states pass “drug test for welfare” laws when Florida, the guinea pig for that law, already proved the testing costs more than the savings recouped? I’m going to make a wild guess and say that in at least six of those eleven states, someone who owns a medical testing lab is very closely connected to the state government, if not in it. So that’s a big, “No!” What is working?
Austin, Texas and Madison, Wisconsin are both building tiny houses for the homeless. A tiny house is about 100 ft2 of just sleeping space. If you’re lucky, it has a toilet, sink, and maybe a small cooker. But these tiny living spaces are making a huge difference. Obviously, they’re saving lives from exposure to the elements, but they’re also giving a small piece of dignity to the lives of the disenfranchised. Many of these homeless are military veterans. If it helps, think of these shelters as pay-back for their service. The dignity these dwellings instill is translating to jobs and permanent housing for many who take advantage of the program. It also benefits the city because the construction is planned. “Hobo camps” and shanties are disappearing.
In a proactive piece of government, Salt Lake City, Utah ran the numbers for what the homeless were costing the city. Between emergency room visits and other tax-paid services, it was estimate each homeless person cost over $16,000/year. After crunching a few more numbers, Salt Lake City calculated they could give each homeless person an apartment and a social worker for a little over $11,000/year. Homelessness in SLC has dropped 74% and will be eliminated in 2015 if the trend continues.
Specifically, body cameras for the police. After the police in Rialto, California started wearing cameras on their uniforms, complaints fell by 88%. Excessive force reports dropped 60%. After any encounter, the video is upload for evidence or analysis. This is an amazingly successful experiment. It helps police gather evidence and protects citizens’ rights.
Protecting the 4th Amendment
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled as of August 5, 2014, police in Massachusetts can no longer use the old “I smell marijuana” chestnut as probable cause to search a vehicle. It’s been common knowledge that police often used that excuse to search a car when the owner wouldn’t consent to their search requests. It’s common knowledge that it was an often abused excuse. Yes, cops were lying! I know! Shocking, isn’t it? In these times where we are surrendering more of our liberties for a security circus of empty tents, this ruling gives us hope that the pendulum may have reached its maximum height and is swinging back toward liberty.
Pick and Choose
Now that someone has taken the plunge, it’s time other cities and states start picking the best ideas and implementing them, too. We could wipe-out homelessness nation-wide by 2025. We could reduce police abuses and return policing to the honorable profession it used to be. We can’t think of these ideas as giving people something for nothing. We can’t think of them as taking advantage of the public coffers. We need to see that these are investments in people and communities. They give the homeless dignity which leads to pride which leads to employment which leads to permanent not-homelessness. They give police a pause to think about cracking a head and costing the city thousands of dollars in law suits. The community gets something for these investments. We need to spread these good ideas. Go to your next city council meeting and ask them why your city isn’t building tiny houses or procuring body cameras for the police. Go on! Get going!