How could any sane observer above the age of 14 honestly believe that a new federal program would succeed in “wiping out” all “chronic homelessness” by 2015? Or, even more outlandishly, how are realistic grownups supposed to credit the notion that the same bureaucratic initiative will somehow manage to “end” homelessness of every sort within ten years?
The only factor that prevented a deafening national chorus of hoots and guffaws from greeting the announcement of President Obama’s ambitious new “Opening Doors” program (officially described as a “Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness”) was the lack of publicity accorded to the administration’s latest utopian scheme. Major media understandably paid little attention to a big new federal thrust unveiled with considerable fanfare on June 22, in the midst of soaring deficits, a teetering world economy, a failing war in Afghanistan, a catastrophic oil spill, a stymied “jobs bill”, a surging Republican opposition and a chief executive with precipitously plummeting approval ratings.
In fact, the odd timing of Obama’s “end homelessness” initiative raises an uncomfortable question: how is a federal government that has been utterly unable to seal off a single oil well in the Gulf of Mexico supposed to solve (within ten years, no less!) an intractable, nationwide, social and psychiatric problem that has foiled governmental authorities at the federal, state and local level for a half century?
Defenders of the administration’s arrogant approach would insist that there’s no meaningful comparison between federal impotence in the face of the Gulf oil slick and the painful predicament of the homeless hordes, since the undersea gusher was properly the responsibility of BP and its associates, not the feds. But this logic leads to another unanswerable challenge: since when did the dilemma of homeless citizens in Hoboken and Honolulu become the responsibility of preening panjandrums in Washington, D.C., rather than the local leadership in Hoboken and Honolulu?
In fact, the new federal effort mostly duplicates costly efforts already underway in every corner of the country. According to the advocacy group The National Alliance to End Homelessness, cities and towns are currently conducting 234 local plans to “end homelessness,” and 84% of them include ten year deadlines—just like the Obama undertaking.