Den­ver’s Road Home hits a dead end

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Jon Cal­dara

Poop. There’s a ba­sic tenet in pub­lic pol­icy. What you tax, you get less of. What you sub­si­dize, you get more of.

So, it’s no won­der we’re get­ting more crap. John Hick­en­looper in­cen­tivized it. Oh, I’m not speak­ing fig­u­ra­tively here. I’m talk­ing about the real stuff. I’ve helped clean it up.

The In­de­pen­dence In­sti­tute, that free­dom-lov­ing bas­tion which I run, owns a beau­ti­ful build­ing just blocks from the state Capi­tol. We are very proud of this special place and even do our part con­tribut­ing to pub­lic art with a life-sized, bronze statue of Thomas Jef­fer­son by famed Colorado sculp­tor Ge­orge Lun­deen.

But like many of our neigh­bors deal­ing with the in­creas­ing on­slaught of homeless camp­ing out on our prop­erty, we’ve had enough of clean­ing up their trash, liquor bot­tles, sy­ringes, vomit and, yes, their fe­cal mat­ter.

I know what you’re think­ing: The poop is likely just some ed­i­to­rial com­ments about our work left by mem­bers of the teach­ers union. But our se­cu­rity cam­eras cap­ture the acts, and, ap­par­ently, there are some things even union thugs won’t do.

Yes, to bat­tle the un­in­vited squat­ters we’ve had to pay for se­cu­rity cam­eras. We’ve also paid to beef-up out­door light­ing, re­ar­ranged land­scape to make the place less sleep-friendly, and hired se­cu­rity peo­ple to come around at night. It’s another ex­am­ple of how we have to pay, even be­yond what we pay in taxes, to deal with the prob­lems that govern­ment won’t fix and even makes worse.

Just like there’s no one in Amer­i­can who doesn’t have health in­sur­ance since Oba­macare man­dated it, let’s re­mem­ber home­less­ness in Den­ver ended over a year ago!

In 2005, Mayor Hick­len­looper launched Den­ver’s Road Home, a well-in­ten­tioned ini­tia­tive to end home­less­ness in 10 years. And like Pres­i­dent John­son’s Great So­ci­ety or Stalin’s famed 10-year plans, it has only made prob­lems worse.

Ac­cord­ing to the city au­di­tor’s re­view of Den­ver’s Road Home, we have in­creased spend­ing on the pro­gram from $568,000 in 2004 to $6.6 mil­lion in 2014. That’s near a 12-fold in­crease.

And those num­bers don’t in­clude ser­vices from scores of pri­vate char­i­ties and other gov­ern­men­tal ser­vices like the city’s new poop-truck. Poop-truck, you ask? Less than a hun­dred feet from our of­fice ev­ery day the city drives up and parks a spe­cially made trailer with three very comfy bath­rooms. We’re not talk­ing port-a-pot­ties here. Th­ese are well-lit, air-con­di­tioned rooms with run­ning water and a small of­fice in be­tween the stalls where one lucky em­ployee sits all day to record how many peo­ple come in to re­lieve them­selves. Please think of this good soul next time you’re com­plain­ing about your job.

The poop truck is pow­ered by a por­ta­ble gaso­line gen­er­a­tor, which is odd given that the city could just run a power ca­ble a few feet to a light post, but I’ll leave that gripe to the en­vi­ros.

I un­der­stand that home­less­ness is a very com­plex, multi-faceted and dif­fi­cult is­sue. I’m just of­fer­ing up the sim­ple re­al­ity-based ob­ser­va­tion that the more we have to deal with the mess, the cost, the crime and the down­right plain ug­li­ness, the more we lose any sym­pa­thy we had for the homeless, who truly de­serve our sym­pa­thy and help.

You can see this ef­fect in the drop in pri­vate do­na­tions to Den­ver’s Road Home, which were $4.6 mil­lion in 2008, down to only $535,000 in 2014.

Now, as gover­nor, Hick is propos­ing we spend over another $12 mil­lion a year to do more of the same, this time com­ing from the state via mar­i­juana taxes. That will al­most triple what we’re spend­ing now, but this time with­out that em­bar­rass­ing Mis­sion Ac­com­plished dead­line.

We can ar­gue whether or not po­lice sweeps, camp­ing bans, and le­gal­ized pot help or hurt the prob­lem. But one thing is for sure — the more money we’re spend­ing, the worse the sit­u­a­tion has be­come.

It’s time to use that money to clean up our once beau­ti­ful, and poop-free, city.

Let’s ad­mit Den­ver’s Road Home has hit the end of the road. Jon Cal­dara is pres­i­dent of the In­de­pen­dence In­sti­tute, a free-mar­ket think tank in Den­ver, and host of “Devil’s Ad­vo­cate” on Colorado Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion.

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