Reagan's legacy: Homeless death

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The headline on sfgate is about as brutal as you can get: "The coming homeless die-off." But the brief story points to an alarming set of statistics: The median age of homeless people on the streets of US cities is now 53. The life expectancy for homeless people is 64. You get the point.

But here's the key political element:

Social scientists say the median age has been steadily increasing for many years, supporting the “big bang” theory that many of today’s street people hit the gutter back in the 1980s era of recession and slashings of social programs.

Having lived through the Reagan Era, and worked with homeless people in the early 1980s at the Haight Ashbury Switchboard, I can tell you that makes perfect sense. Vast libraries of books have been written about the Reagan Era, but one of the things it represented was the end of major federal support for low-cost housing in cities -- and the end of any concept of linking welfare payments to the cost of housing.

There were a lot of people living on General Assistance and SSI in San Francisco in the late 1970s, and most of them had homes. That's because public assistance programs provided enough income to cover the rent on a cheap place. Between GA and food stamps, people who were, for whatever reason, unable to work wound up in crappy apartments and sometimes crappier SROs, but they weren't on the streets.

Yes: Some of those people had serious substance-abuse issues. Yes: SSI and GA checks were going, in part, for drugs and booze. But even ignroing the notion that it's much better for a drunk to have an SRO room than to be homeless, it's also cheaper. San Francisco spends a fortune on homeless services, and if the feds (and the City and County) had indexed public assistance to the cost of housing (which happened pre-Reagan) the toll on the local taxpayers would almost certainly be lower.

So Reagan's policies are now killing people on the streets of San Francisco. All these years later.