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The government’s “unconditional War on Poverty” is 51 years old and, by any measurement, it has been a costly, monumental failure. To date, Americans have spent more than 22 trillion taxpayer dollars on this “war” with hundreds of federal and state programs directed towards ending poverty.
In 1969 some felt the answer to hunger was the creation of the food stamp program. That program had a budget of $250 million and served 2.8 million people. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that over the past seven years the food stamp program has grown by 96 percent, and today the program spends $74 billion to feed 46.5 million people. Across the country, big-government leaders celebrate this dramatic growth in welfare, while the rest of us would rather see success measured by a decrease in welfare and an increase in employment and self-sufficiency.
Even with such an appalling return on investment, there are still people inside and outside government who believe that our social ills should be dropped at the doors of City Hall and left there for our elected leaders and representatives to solve. Clearly, big government should not be leading this fight.
As early as this week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will vote to define their role in helping the homeless in Orange County. Their options are three: 1) Vote for a government-initiated development option; 2) Vote for a public/private initiated development model; or 3) Vote for a privately initiated development option. The only option that would allow our county government to stay out of the lead role in this effort is to vote for a privately initiated development option. I believe this is the best option for all Orange County residents.
As president of the Orange County Rescue Mission for 22 years, I can attest to the fact that the problems and solutions to homelessness are significant and challenging. There is no magic cure and no silver bullet. As we have worked to reduce homelessness by restoring hearts and lives, we focus our efforts on assisting men, women and children in becoming self-sufficient – not reliant on government handouts and support. Our philosophy is to provide a hand up, not a hand out.
In comparison to the “war on poverty,” the Orange County Rescue Mission has been successful in our efforts while operating with 100 percent private donations. Yet, we continue to work with our elected leaders and representatives to serve out our mission and support the efforts to assist those in poverty. Over the last two decades, we have been extraordinarily blessed by partnerships with local and county governments that have allowed us to increase the number of people we serve while simultaneously taking the financial burden of such work off the backs of taxpayers and local government budgets.
Most recently, we acquired apartment units from the city of Tustin that we will be turning into a transitional program for homeless and transitioning veterans. While the city and the residents of Tustin have a heart for helping those living in poverty, they realized that there were better, less expensive ways to do this work: Privately Initiated Development. In less than a year, Tustin will be home to the most significant transitional shelter for veterans in the county; and its operation won’t cost taxpayers a single dime.
It is time for all of us as a community to realize that the real solutions to our social ills are to be found within the private sector at the local community level. In our efforts to fight poverty, as well as countless other social problems, our government leaders could demonstrate truly valuable leadership by removing barriers that interfere with the work of the private sector, continue to cut the red tape, and work in a supportive and non-intrusive role with private organizations who work on a daily basis to enrich and restore the lives of the poor.
I applaud the county Board of Supervisors for taking this step to define what the county’s role should be in our fight to reduce homelessness. Clearly, the board members are taking this vote based on lessons they and their previous counterparts have learned in their efforts to establish homeless shelters in the cities of Fullerton and Santa Ana. When government is forced to lead in response to social issues it is always messy, usually political and almost never successful.
I would encourage my friends on the Board of Supervisors to vote to define their role as one that is non-intrusive, yet supporting. The best option for all of us is to identify a Privately Initiated Development. Let the private sector take the lead to meet the needs of the least, the last and the lost of our community.