Working in a homeless shelter is hard. You’re often confronted the best and worst about humanity, generally at the same time. You’re surrounded with the dredges of society and are exposed to the outcomes of their choices, which typically don’t end well for anyone in the area. But it becomes even harder as a libertarian. Your organization probably utilizes some form of tax payer money. You work with clients who likely utilize great deals of tax payer money.  You even end up developing a pseudo-truce with the police, whom you typically are against as rule of thumb. Perhaps worst of all, however, is being constantly surrounded by people who drink the social justice Kool-Aid. Currently trendy in the field of services for the homeless are the ideas that housing is a right, fair housing is a right, Housing First is the best practice for ending homelessness, and that we as citizens ought to support government statistics for the homeless. We will now briefly examine each piece of dogma from the perspective of natural rights and see if adherents of social justice are correct on these matters.

Is housing a human right?

Do people have a human right for housing? The proper way to answer this question is to ask the necessary follow up questions: “Where? Whose property are we discussing? Indeed, what is housing?” Asking these questions are vital, for rights and property of course go hand-in-hand. A man does have a right to his property and acquiring property in a just fashion. For example if a man owns a house and he is denied entry by a gang of thugs, then clearly this man’s rights are being violated. But this man does not then have the right to form his own gang and invade the home of another. There is a world of difference between the right to property and the “right” to the property of others. The difference is simple; it’s the difference between using your property and the theft of another’s property.

The so-called Crusoe example is a great tool for clearing up matters such as this one. If Crusoe is on his island and constructs a hut for himself, then this hut is his home and he is entitled to using it as he pleases. He does not have the right to swim to a nearby atoll and plunder the hut of a native. And yet this is precisely what social justice advocates desire to occur, through the muddled veil of fallacies like “public good” and “subsidized housing”. This is a simple thing, made obscured through sentimentalism and buzz-words.

Is fair housing a human right?

Perhaps even easier to torpedo is the claim that fair housing is a human right. Fair housing is generally understood to refer to the right of a certain entity (person\group) to obtain housing free of discrimination on the part of the landlord. Not only does this suffer the same fallacious reasoning of housing as right but it adds on further heapings of sentimentality. The claim that one has a right to be protected from discrimination has no logical underpinning and therefore needs no logical counter-argument. Instead, the claim is based on the idea that government has the ability to legislate morality and good behavior, even at the expense of free exchange. So it is this we must examine.

Is discrimination wrong? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Discrimination itself is the mere act of making fine distinctions between things. It is imprudent to say it is good or evil, for it is a simple act dependent on the context of human action. In this context: is it wrong for a landlord to discriminate against clientele? The landlord discriminates in his own interest, this much we know; he wants to lease his property to the client who will profit him most. He looks upon multiple applicants and chooses the one with the best credit and who he thinks will be the least trouble for him. And yet, this man may have just violated the “right” of applicants. Is it morally wrong for the landlord to do this? Maybe, depending on your creed and beliefs. But it would certainly be wrong for you to force him to do otherwise.

Does an entity (person\group\State) have the ability to force a property-owner into an exchange that is coerced? Let’s take it back to Crusoe. Whilst he is stuck on his island, a pirate appears and wants to trade with him. The pirate will give him carpentry tools in exchange for fruit. If it benefits both, then both will exchange. But let’s say that the pirate is a Moor, and we know how Crusoe feels about that. Crusoe backs out of the deal and does not want to exchange. The Moor’s fellow oarsman pulls out a pistol and forces Crusoe to exchange at gunpoint. This is precisely what the State does when enforcing fair housing regulations on landlords. In attempting to aid one person, the State threatens and coerces another. Whatever our own individual thoughts are on the virtues of discrimination, we can at least that forced exchanges are immoral and help one person at the expense of another.

What does the Housing First mean for rights?

Housing First is the practice of putting homeless people directly into housing without taking any preliminary steps beforehand. If someone becomes homeless in a city implementing Housing First, then that person may be put directly into subsidized housing, regardless of what put her into homelessness in the first place. One perk of Housing First touted by proponents is that it costs tax payers less than the current system. According to them, the total emergency care costs for the homeless would be drastically reduced (up to 72% from what I read). But there are three problems with this. The glaringly obvious problem is that we are only seeing emergency care costs with no other associated costs factored in, such as the cost of long term housing for those who never transition out. Another problem is that these adherents are asking us to choose a lesser of two evils; we still pay involuntarily regardless. This is like a mugger asking you if you’d prefer getting stabbed with a nail or a Bowie knife. Can I not get stabbed at all? Is that an option? Apparently not.

The remaining problem is more insidious and thus requires expanded reflecting. Let’s say that the Housing First model is indeed the superior model. Let’s say we adopt it nationwide. And now let’s say that taxation is abolished. Would it survive privatization? Will private companies continue to dole out money for people who refuse drug treatment? Will they continue to dole out money for those clients who regrettably would be better suited to a hospice? Can a company even make enough profit from their do-gooder consumers to house hundreds of homeless people? If the answer to these questions are a NO, what does this tell us? Can a model like this truly be called successful if it requires State force to prop it up? I say that it cannot.

What does the Point in Time Count mean for rights?

Lastly, what of the Point in Time Count? The PIT Count is a nationwide effort to gather statistics for HUD. It sends hordes of do-gooders into the wilds to count homeless people, like a less interesting version of Pokemon Snap. Proponents say this is a good thing, for it brings in more tax dollars for HUD-compliant non-profits. But this is easily refuted from the perspective of liberty. What the PIT count really means for us, as citizens, is this. The best case scenario is that we see government mismanagement of collected data and no change at all. The worst case scenario is that we see a possible excuse for increased taxation, and a further cementing of government agencies with non-profits who eagerly take their funding. This will only lead us towards decreased efficiency in services for the homeless and further stifling of bureaucratic red tape. The libertarian answer to PIT Count is that even something as simple as statistics gathering can lead to unintended unethical behavior on the part of the State, and therefore cannot be supported.

A Closing Reflection

The cause of homelessness is not a lack of affordable housing. There is no single cause for homelessness, for there are as many situations as there are unique individuals. While we may try to do good for our fellow man, we only hurt him further when treating him like a child. And this is what social justice does to the homeless; it sees them as victims without agency who require a cradle. Instead I propose that we treat people like people, and that we recognize that the injuring of one person to aid another is no good deed itself.