Many tourists from countries worldwide and states near and far visit Washington, DC to see our monuments and state buildings like the White House and the U.S.Capitol. However, the least popular characteristic of this city is its homeless population. Next to these iconic buildings are human beings on the streets sleeping with the rats. While they sleep on sidewalks or under bridges or even digging through trash cans for sustenance, members of Congress and the current administration discuss policies and legislation which impacts the world but does not directly solve the human rights issue here within the U.S. Some may wonder as they pass by a homeless person “why don’t they just go to a shelter?” A valid question. If you were homeless, wouldn’t you just go to a shelter? Can you imagine the extremes the poverty stricken face just to survive another day? It is often assumed these individuals have been offered a roof over their heads and warm meals but won’t accept it. As the cold winter’s air whistles its chilly tune, we hurry along to conduct our daily affairs then retire at home in the comfort of our warm beds. Meanwhile, some of the wanderers of our city sit outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library awaiting a ride to an available shelter at nightfall.
In a city that looks this good and is the capital of the United States, why does this issue still persist? We can argue the issue is because of broken families, drug abuse, disabilities, poverty, etc. But I ask again, why hasn’t this already been addressed? Could it be that the government cannot afford to give these people the help they need to get back on their feet? Or, could it be that these people are not a priority to the government, just like they are not a priority to the community they are in? Between victim blaming, a form of neighborly oppression, and systemic oppression it is hard to decide which is worse. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
With DC residents paying 10% of their income in federal taxes and 8% of their income in state taxes, the hope is that their tax dollars are being used in a constructive way. Based on what we’re seeing in the city, we know that DC residents are keeping the city running through their taxes. The purchases we make circulate in the economy, creating jobs for one another. On top of that, the sales taxes we pay put additional revenue into the pockets of the government. Even in the private sector, our purchases make business possible from the corner stores to multi billion dollar companies. One would think that playing such an important role [as a taxpayer] in this city would earn us more than cold concrete and a hungry belly should we end up on the streets. The question is, what would it cost for the DC government to help its least fortunate?
Hypothetically, if the government paid $2,000 a month per homeless person in rental assistance for 3 years, that would cost $72,000 per person in a 3 year timespan. According to U.S.News, 4,922 people are homeless in DC. If they were to receive the proposed rental assistance, the cost would be $354,384,000 over the next 3 years. I know, that sounds like a lot but, let's say each person receives employment placement at a job that pays at least $20 per hour. If each person pays $4,160 in Federal taxes and $2,995 in State taxes annually and retires in 20 years, the government will earn a combined $704,338,200 in Federal ($409,510,400) and State ($294,827,800) taxes from the previously homeless in their work life until retirement. That is not factoring in an increase in wages, sales tax, or the fact it could take more than 20 years until retirement. Just the $349,954,200 of human capital being overlooked for the next 20 years. Some homeless people don’t even need a full 3 years of rental assistance, but may need assistance with things like credit repair, employment placement, and therapy just to name a few. See the chart below that we created to show how the government assistance compares to the homeless income tax contribution:
In conclusion, it will be extremely beneficial for DC government officials to fix the homeless situation now. It will increase the quality of life in DC and the aesthetics in tourism, improve morale, and foster growth for both these individuals and the community in the short and long term. Not to mention, it will put money in the government’s pocket in the long term to invest in better resources to support its residents. With a budget of approximately $19.8 billion for 2024, it is more than possible. I want to take the time to remind you that human capital is a city’s greatest treasure and a worthwhile investment. What do you think?
The Street Poet Initiative is an impactful way to invest in DC’s homeless community. Donate and support the work of S.P.I., by clicking here.