Why Charging the Homeless for Shelter Is a Good Idea

Los Angeles starts charging for homeless shelterThe operator of a homeless shelter in Los Angeles' Skid Row has hit upon an idea that's both economical and therapeutic: charging residents.

Sure, it's $7 a night ($2 of which is saved for the resident), but in these tough economic times every bit helps. As Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, Union Rescue Mission director Andy Bales wants to change the "three hots and a cot" culture of homeless shelters so that residents don't get too comfortable. Moreover, he had little choice."The income will be just a drop in the bucket for the mission financially," Banks writes. "It costs about $25 per bunk to run the program, which has been hit during the recession by multiple demons: a drop in contributions, forced pay cuts and furloughs for mission staff. An increase in clients needing help means the chapel and hallways are crowded with cots."

Bales' approach to the homeless is not unique.

New York City began charging rent to residents of shelters with jobs. It was an idea that was long overdue, because, as the New York Daily News noted, the city never charged homeless people even though it was required to under state law. The idea was blasted by the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, which argued that it was punitive, would do little to teach budgeting skills to the poor, and kept people in shelters longer because they couldn't afford to leave. Those arguments, however, are falling on deaf ears.

Officials in Hawaii are giving the huge number of homeless residents who came to the Aloha State a one-way ticket back home to the Mainland. Scores of homeless were evicted Tuesday from the Kakaako area in Honolulu, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. State officials had little choice, considering that the encampments were visible along the road to Waikiki Beach. People were given plenty of notice to leave. Hawaii Homeless Coordinator Marc Alexander is quoted by the website as saying, "I think people do have to be encouraged and pushed to take responsibility."

That's a good point.

People become homeless for a variety of reasons -- drugs, bad relationships and bad luck, to name a few -- and they deserve help to get back on their feet financially. Most are not destitute and have possessions such as cars. Those people should have to pay something toward their housing, even if it's a nominal amount. It teaches them self respect and that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

There has to be a limit to taxpayer generosity. Believe it or not, most homeless people would be glad to pay something toward their living costs. Most hate taking welfare and want to be productive members of society.

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