Michelle Goldberg, Andrew Yang and the mentally ill homeless

Yesterday, Ed wrote a post about Andrew Yang’s comments on homelessness during the final mayoral debate. The gist is that Yang was the only candidate in the debate who pointed out that the mentally ill homeless make the streets more dangerous and create a major quality of life issue for people trying to live there. He said mental health treatment needed to be increased to get these people off the streets. And of course this was considered heartless and wrong by left-wing critics on social media.

One of the people who thought Yang had gone too far was NY Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. She published an opinion piece yesterday saying she’d felt forced to choose between putting Eric Adams or Andrew Yang on her ballot and ultimate chose Adams because of Yang’s comments about the homeless:

I can hardly believe I’m going to put Adams on my ballot. But as Andrew Yang has grown increasingly strident about public order, I’ve started to think that Adams might be only the second-worst of the viable candidates…

It was Yang’s answers on homelessness and mental health at the final debate that finally settled it for me. Every other candidate spoke of homelessness as a disaster for the homeless. Yang discussed it as a quality of life problem for everyone else. “Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else have rights?” he asked. “We do: the people and families of the city.”

And that’s it. Yang stating the obvious, i.e. people don’t feel safe in the subways or on the streets, was too much reality for Goldberg who, I’m guessing, lives in a very nice building where people are paid to keep aggressive panhandlers away. But as I often do these days I dove into the comments section and found Goldberg’s off-hand dismissal of Yang and his comments was what a lot of people wanted to disagree with. This is the 2nd most upvoted comment:

I understand, and agree, of course, that homelessness is a disaster for the homeless. Yet, it is also, while not a disaster, quite problematic for everyone else as well.

Homelessness decreases quality of life for everyone. Most of us are upset when we witness people living on the street, as well as by the consequences of this: subway stations being used as toilets, aggressive panhandling, people sleeping on trains, unpredictable behavior, etc. In my 30 years in the city, I have yet to see people sitting near a malodorous homeless person sleeping or even sitting on the train. More often, the car is almost empty, riders’ disgust apparent, while others subway cars are overcrowded.

While I am not a Yang fan, I’m grateful that he has has verbalized what most of us act out when we encounter the homeless. We are only human, not super-human creatures of empathy. I would prefer a mayor that tackles this issue from all angles: acknowledging and addressing the root causes of homelessness, while also acknowledging its impact on quality of life for the non-homeless. This approach will, at the very least, bring folks on board that may be uninterested in helping from an empathic view alone.

In short, it shouldn’t be disqualifying to notice how things really are as opposed to what far-left ideology says they should be. Someone from Oakland wrote in to say New York should be aware this problem can get much worse than it already is in New York:

Yang is right, ordinary working people have the right to step out of their houses and not have to trip over mentally ill drug users or get their amazon stolen off their porches. Just visit Berkeley or Oakland or downtown SF for a taste of how bad it can get. Pro tip: “services” don’t help, they just attract more homeless people. Call me heartless, but I’d vote for anyone who has a comprehensive policy to institutionalize the mentally ill.

There were also Yang defenders from New York who found his comments pretty reasonable:

The big piece of evidence Michelle Goldberg uses against Yang is an answer to the homeless crisis that I happen to agree with, and I’m a liberal Democrat. Of course, the homeless need to have workable options of where to go. But progressives are just wrong to defend the rights of the “unhoused” against anybody who would dare challenge their apparent belief that they can set up camp on any square of sidewalk that they declare to be their own. I can’t be the only non-conservative person in America who would like to stop the trashing of our public spaces. I mean, is that really the worst you can say about Andrew Yang? Seriously?

One more from California:

I think you might find Yang’s debate “gaffe” is more resonant and less of a gaffe than you think.

I’m liberal in a lot of ways, but here in California the progressive approach to homelessness has done nothing to improve the situation. It only gets worse every year. I worry about what I’ll step on every time I go into the office in San Francisco. I’d love to see clean streets there.

I believe the treatment of homeless needs to correspond to their willingness to actually get off the street. Progressive benefits for those who are receptive to improving their condition, and penalties and disincentives for disruptive activities like street camping and panhandling. So-called “hostile” architecture is a good thing. People who can’t even try to be functional human beings shouldn’t be allowed to ruin our city streets to support their self-destructive lifestyle.

All of these comments were upvoted hundreds of times so they represent the general feelings of more than just one person. Hopefully, Goldberg will see all of these and reconsider the idea that noting homelessness isn’t just an issue of compassion but also of quality of life for a lot of people.

Finally, I have to mention the top upvoted comment. It’s not specifically about the homeless but it is about crime and quality of life. It was written by someone in Portland, a city that knows a thing or two about urban chaos and rising crime.

I hope New York progressives realize that there is nothing more corrosive to progressive policy goals than rising crime and a sense that large areas of the city are unsafe. That’s because the level of crime in any city is the clearest measure of whether government works or not, right next to trash collection and filling potholes.

We’re seeing jumps in crime across the country that turn the clock back 20 years. If Democrats think they can win elections running on BLM talking points about defunding the police in this environment they are going to be sorely disappointed.

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