Skip to main content
Longboat Key Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 4 years ago

Our View: The economics of homeless


True story: A prominent commercial real estate broker told us this week he is representing a successful, nationally known retailer who wants to open a store in Sarasota.

The broker said he tried to steer the company to Main Street, near Main and Lemon. The retailer said: Absolutely not. The company wants St. Armands Circle.

Why not Main Street? Because of the homeless and lack of foot traffic.

Add it all up: The homeless negatively affect foot traffic. The homeless negatively affect downtown Sarasota’s economic vitality and competitiveness. The homeless negatively affect downtown property values. The homeless negatively affect the city of Sarasota’s tax revenues.

It goes on: The city of Sarasota has revenue problems, in part because one of its economic engines — downtown — has been stagnant.

Sure, new hotels are in the planning stages, but new mid-price housing for young professionals is virtually non-existent and new downtown jobs are growing at a trickle.

To be sure, that one retailer who rejected downtown because of the homeless is not the first. It’s a nagging issue.

So let’s throw $1 million of taxpayer money to come up with a plan to control it — $500,000 from city taxpayers and $500,000 from all county taxpayers. (Have you ever tried getting $1 million from the city and county? Good luck.)

Something is not right here. Consider the following scenario:

Take the owner of a popular downtown bar or restaurant that draws large numbers of patrons with good food, good drinks and good live music. His restaurant generates sales for the business and sales-tax revenues that flow into city (county and state) coffers. And presumably, the value of his property increases, in part because of his success, which means he pays higher property taxes, which also flow into city coffers.

Then, someone complains. The noise is too loud, and the crowds are too big.

What does the city do?

It imposes restrictions and regulations to change (and punish) people’s behavior.

The consequence? The cost of satisfying new regulations raises the cost of doing business. The owner passes on the costs to consumers. And like all smart consumers, when costs rise, they go elsewhere.

The restaurant owner’s sales decline; tax collections decline; the value of the owner’s business and property decline; and downtown economic vitality decline. Everyone loses. The cycle spreads.

What makes it right for taxpayers to fund resolving a problem that is created by such organizations as the Salvation Army and any of the other downtown not-for-profits that feed and shelter the homeless? Taxpayers don’t pay for the restaurant owner to quit making noise; the restaurant owner and his customers do.

Take it a step further. Who pays if a bar patron drives home drunk and injures someone? The bar owner is liable as well.

It may sound blasphemous and unhumanitarian to place blame on the not-for-profits doing good deeds. But why are they any different than the merchant on Main Street? Should the non-profits not pay for contributing to the negative economic effects of their clientele on the economic health of downtown?

It’s similar to pollution. If a manufacturer’s sludge flows down a stream into a neighbor’s pond, the manufacturer would be required to pay the neighbor for the damage or stop the pollution.

As the city and county spend taxpayers’ $1 million, trying to find better choices for managing the city’s homeless, those organizations serving the homeless might also examine how they contribute to the economic detriment of one of the city’s most important economic drivers — Main Street.

A thriving, growing Main Street would generate more wealth and resources than would a stagnant, declining Main Street. It’s in the non-profits’ interest to see Main Street thrive.

The Salvation Army and others will say they need to be convenient to their clientele. But Sarasotans have also seen the homeless are like everyone else in at least one respect: They respond to incentives. If you provide free food and shelter, they’ll find it. The issue is humanitarian and economic. Address the economics — i.e. a thriving Main Street — and you’ll have the resources to address the humanitarian.


How have we arrived at a point where the West, and even the Anglosphere, is not only divided, but we also have only the choice between greater and lesser evils? The ultimate responsibility must lie with the person to whom the Free World looks for leadership: the president of the United States. It is because Barack Obama has abdicated that responsibility, refusing to make a clear distinction in his policy between liberty and tyranny, that the world is now in such an ominous predicament.

Other members of the administration must share the blame. Is it any surprise that Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Samantha Power inspire little confidence that they have learned the right lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan? President Obama has “led from behind,” which is as much as to say that he has not led at all. This abdication of leadership is apparent in the president’s naïve mishandling of the disintegration of the old order in the Middle East, in his failure to anticipate or respond adequately to the wave of Islamist extremism that has imperiled Western interests in the region, and above all in his arrogant treatment of America’s closest ally, Israel.

It is easy for President Obama to call on Israel to take risks for peace with the Palestinians. As Mr. Cameron has learned the hard way, his own colleagues are not prepared to risk British lives to bring peace to Syria. Nor has President Obama shown much inclination to risk American lives for Syria.

Israel, in constant danger of attack from Syria, is our best source of intelligence about what is happening there. Yet both Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron are eager that Israeli lives should be risked: not for peace, but to appease the intransigence of the Islamic world.

The British are proud of their parliament, which served as a model for so many others in the days when it stood for freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The eyes of the world were once again on Westminster, but what they beheld was an unedifying spectacle: a prime minister who failed to lead and a nation disinclined to follow its own best traditions. When Chamberlain resigned after the Norway debate in May 1940, there was a Churchill to replace him. If only we had a lionhearted leader waiting in the wings today.
Editor, Standpoint magazine, London,
Wall Street Journal, Aug. 31

We do have a unique window of opportunity to accomplish a strategic objective that poses a direct threat to us.
Syria has a serious amount of chemical weapons that cause U.S. and Allies much concern, especially seeing Iran’s Hezbollah terrorist group is backing Assad. We NEVER want Hezbollah to ever get its hands on any of these weapons!

We have the perfect reason to destroy Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles before Hezbollah uses them in our airports, sports venues, etc.

We could use Tomahawk missiles and other “stand-off” weapons so we do not lose pilots or Special Forces Direct Action Teams.

That also would send a signal to Iran and others that when we draw a line in the sand that we mean business.

My experience with Middle Easterners is they only respect brute strength. They have no respect for a country trying to be diplomatic or politically correct.

P.S. Make no mistake, the retaliation will come.
— Retired Marine Col. John Saputo
Veteran of Iraq War


Related Stories