Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, and his wife, MacKenzie, have decided to give $2 billion to charities that help the homeless. That seems like a wonderful gesture, and one that should earn the couple high marks in giving circles.
But I wonder whether it will help solve the problem.
The problem, of course, is not that there are no resources for helping the homeless now. The problem is the homeless themselves. Some of them do rise to the occasion and help themselves. With a little assistance from others they manage to find jobs, get off drugs, stop drinking.
But most of them live lives of continuation. They continue to beg on street corners and at stop signs. They continue to use drugs whenever they can get hold of them. They continue to drink. They continue to live outside and in squalor.
And that is even though, quite a bit of help for the homeless already exists.
The homeless choose to ignore offers of help.
What makes the Bezoses think anything will change?
Do they think that somehow having $2 billion at their disposal will give those who help the homeless a pathway to creating a magic wand to get the homeless off the streets?
A friend of mine who is not without wit and wisdom once told me that if you don’t want stray cats to come around, stop feeding them. In other words, don’t reward them for behavior you don’t want to see.
Bezos is a terrific businessman, but being a Seattleite, he also is an unrepentant liberal. With other liberals, he believes that if one only puts enough money on a problem it eventually will be changed into a non-problem or hidden from view.
If you don’t have enough money, get it by taxing the skin off the citizenry.
To his great credit, Bezos does not expect the rest of us to contribute to his $2 billion, or match it. He will use his considerable intelligence and energy, along with his $2 billion, to try to solve the problem.
But it seems to me he should watch out for the law of unintended consequences. It seems to me that charities and government agencies have been pouring more money over the past decade into trying to help the homeless — but something unintended has happened: There is more homelessness than ever before.
That is the case in Madera and Madera County, where extremely sympathetic and intelligent people have been trying to help feed and clothe the homeless. Yet, there are relatively few success stories. The jails are handling most of the homeless business. In Fresno, the homeless are being thrown out of their humble squats, and a lot of them are moving north as a consequence. Welcome to Madera.
San Francisco is practically wall to wall with the homeless, as is Los Angeles. In Fresno, the homeless are responsible for 75 percent of the arson fires. Here, the hospital emergency center is overwhelmed with homeless people, fast asleep until they sober up enough to get back out on the streets where they will find more drugs or alcohol.
The California Legislature, which is in charge of a lot more money than Jeff Bezos, spends like crazy on homelessness, but can’t solve the problem.
Jeff’s heart is in the right place, though, and so is his wallet. Maybe he will show us how a private individual armed with sufficient personal cash can solve previously insoluble problems. I certainly wish him well on this quest.