The principal argument I see regarding homelessness in blue areas is that cities draw a larger homeless population than rural areas which is objectively true. However, from the evidence I have found, blue states appear to have higher homeless rates per capita to include when comparing across states with similar total populations.

Note: The statistics were captured from the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress performed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The argument you typically hear from the right: Generally speaking, liberal policies and acceptance of homelessness leads to more homelessness.

While this is a complicated and nuanced topic, I am struggling to think of an explanation for how that is not true. The top 10 states (counting DC) by homelessness per capita are:

  1. DC
  2. New York
  3. Hawaii
  4. California
  5. Oregon
  6. Washington
  7. Alaska
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Nevada
  10. Vermont

Texas, for example, has a total population of ~30M people while Massachusetts has a population of ~7M. Texas has a total homeless population of roughly 27k and Massachusetts has a total homeless population of 18k.

My initial thought was that blue states would have more urban areas so I decided to compare cities. If you bring that down to the city level - Dallas has the largest homeless population in Texas and Dallas+Collin county appears to have a homeless population of ~4000 people out of a total 3.6M. See here for Collin County .

Boston appears to at least have a high rate of homelessness among the cities in Massachusetts but I did not confirm if it is the highest rate. According to their census it has a homeless population of ~4439 in 2022 but only has 654,776 people in the city.

One example is clearly not sufficient but at least on the surface it seems what I can find does support that red states do generally have less homelessness.

Is there evidence that runs counter to the above or alternative explanations?


Since posting this I found the book Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell which for me personally answered the question.

  • 25
    For anyone reading this and also unfamiliar with the colours of political parties in the USA - Blue is the Democrats (the left leaning one) and Red is the Republicans (the right leaning one). Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:27
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    It’s entirely possible the data is self-reported by states and that the different states do not use the same definition of homelessness. It might seem like an obvious word to define, but in actual practice and data gathering, it is not. In other words, a fair comparison might not be possible. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 1:18
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    "I am struggling to think of an explanation for how that is not true." You may be suffering from a form of availability bias or primacy effect. To help overcome this, you might try listing all your correlations and then actively trying to develop arguments both for correlations not given causal arguments (e.g., try to show that "urbanisation causes homelessness") and correlations that reverse causation from the explanations you've heard (e.g., try to show that "homelessness leads to liberal policies"). This may loosen up the tendency to believe explanations you hear earlier or more often.
    – cjs
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 1:32
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    How long can you be homeless in Nebraska and not die from exposure.... There's a whole lot of nothing out there, in the fourth largest country in the world. Hell, half an hour out of Chicago, and it's all grass as far as you can see.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 1:51
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    Given that "cities create/draw more homeless per capita", then your "homeless per capita" statistic is obviously going to correlate to "proportion of population living in cities", so that states that rank highly on the latter will tend to rank higher on the former. And they do (Vermont seems to be the most notable oddity here, having one of the lowest proportions of people living in cities but still #10 on your list). In other words your data does little more than reiterate the point you started with: cities tend to have more homeless. It's a circular argument. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 3:57

9 Answers 9


This is just one thing, maybe not the most important. The homeless population is tough to estimate, and it's much easier to count in places with more and better shelters and less hostility.

That 2020 report counts people during the last week of January by looking at populations in homeless shelters, tent cities and so on (on page 6, near top of right-hand column, "Point-in-time" counts) Well, in Texas, tent cities are illegal. From "The Daily Texan" Texas legislature needs to stop targeting homeless people last November:

In 2019, Austin made it legal for those who are homeless to camp outside, which was previously illegal for 25 years. [...] [Governor Greg] Abbott renewed the public property camping ban through the use of Proposition B [...] The new law made it so that the city government could not opt out of criminalizing homelessness and instituted a fine of $500 for those guilty of “unauthorized camping.”

So those people aren't counted as well as in a city that allows tents.

Backing up, that 2020 homelessness report also has different numbers. On page 22 it lists 21.1K homeless in TX and 6.2K in MA (you had 27 and 18). That's still a slightly higher percent for MA, but not by as much as that funny hex chart you linked (which I couldn't get to work).

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    @BobaFit ??? no, I don't believe anyone said that. This answer says the ones in red states are not counted very well, and I backed that up by pointing out they get arrested and the ones who don't get arrested are not arrested because they stay out of sight. "The ideology is strong with this one," indeed. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 14:47
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    It's probably worth noting as well that, given a choice, homeless people would likely choose to live somewhere where they are better tolerated (at least on a statistical level). As a result, over the long term, migration of the demographic would be toward more liberal areas. That could also skew the results in that direction. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:08
  • 8
    I'll look after work but as a computer scientist, that particular strategy is actually a bit of a meme in my career field. Google can find just about anything. It's designed to find what you ask it for not provide unbiased results. I'm not invalidating what you found, I would just strongly caution you against using terms with a heavy emotional bias (brutal) and then providing that to others as supporting your position. If I Google "liberals are ruining the economy" it also provides several confirming articles but their existence is definitely not support that the assertion is true. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 17:42
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    Having worked in this area before, I can confirm that accurately counting the number of homeless is quite difficult. Virginia for one has an annual "point in time" survey of the homeless population and despite the massive effort that goes into it the results are still estimates. One thing that might be valuable to add to this answer is that the definition of "homeless" is neither obvious nor necessarily consistent from state to state. So we can’t take it for granted that a fair comparison of statistics is even possible. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 1:16
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    A lot of States don't count people in hotels, "couchsurfing", or living in their cars, as being homeless, although they definitely are not in permanent housing. In places with no/few social services, a lot of displaced folks end up relying on family/friends or other informal situations.
    – MandisaW
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 7:19

All of those states have expensive housing. For example, looking at median home prices Vermont is 21st and the rest are in the top 12. Housing costs are 56% lower in Dallas compared to Boston.

The expense and scarcity of housing is one alternative explanation. (See The Obvious Answer to Homelessness for a summary.) Their argument is that blue cities and states see higher rates of homelessness not because of their homeless policies, but because they tend to have a housing crunch and high cost of living.

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    This cannot be the whole story, even from the standpoint of the parameter of housing costs, since if it were, we would see astronomical homelessness in the most expensive parts of the most expensive cities. For example, Manhattan.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:37
  • 35
    @BobaFit I expect people are much more willing to move from Manhattan to Queens to afford an apartment, than from Manhattan to Texas, hence you see this about cities and states, but not neighbourhoods. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:58
  • 3
    @user253751 Or Oakland to San Jose, a $9 bus ride away. As I said, not the whole story, even from the standpoint of the cost of housing.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 16:16
  • 2
    @BobaFit Are you counting Manhattan as "not astronomical" because it has fewer homeless people on the street? That would be expected: NYC has far more shelters than, say, L.A. But it also does have far more homeless people than L.A.
    – cjs
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 0:56
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    The relationship also isn't inherently linear after someone has become homeless. Someone who can't afford an apartment in Manhattan is willing to move to Queens (or farther afield) where they can afford one rather than become homeless, but someone who is already homeless and can't afford an apartment (and/or has other barriers that make it hard to be stably housed) in the entire metro area doesn't care about the rent in the specific neighborhood where they're residing; they care about things like safety, police response to their presence, proximity to services and opportunities, etc... Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 0:09

I believe the existing answers; that democratic states are able to more accurately count homeless populations than states with harsher laws and the high urbanization expected in democratic states, meaning higher population density per cubic foot which leads to a struggle to meet housing needs for such crowded urban environments, are the biggest causes for this discrepancy. Still, I want to add a third, smaller but still quite real, confounding variable.

Prisoners aren't, technically, homeless

States that are 'hard' on homelessness usually do this by creating laws against it*. Problem is, how do you enforce the laws? Either it's jail time, or a fine that no homeless person is going to be able to pay (they probably wouldn't be homeless if they could!), which in turn results in being sent to jail for failing to pay your fine. The net result is that homeless people are going to end up in jail. This tends to result in a revolving door, where one gets out of jail, is homeless, and thus is sent right back to jail for being homeless.

Of course, anyone who is in jail is not technically homeless; sure, they may have gone to jail for being homeless, and they may end up being homeless if they get out of jail as well, but while in jail they are not counted as being homeless. In essence, the jails are being used as (expensive!) temporary shelter/housing for homeless folks. Thus, states that have harsher anti-homeless laws that jail people for being homeless would technically have fewer homeless.

I'd argue that someone in jail for homelessness is still someone who is struggling with homelessness; thus, counting only unjailed homeless, but not jailed 'homeless', would unfairly skew numbers to make places with harsher penalties and jailtime for homeless appear to have fewer 'homeless' than they really have.

* These laws don't technically say it's illegal to be homeless, but they do make activities that go hand-in-hand with being homeless, like sleeping in public and loitering, illegal. Since these 'crimes' are generally limited to homeless folks who lack alternatives and usually only result in jail time if one is homeless when reported, they are effectively still an indirect criminalization of homelessness.

  • 2
    Interesting conjecture, but it would be helpful if you could find actual numbers showing a negative correlation between prison population and "homeless" population.
    – dan04
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 17:23
  • 3
    @dan04 Only a small fraction of the prison population is there because of homelessness related issues so you have to count prison population with respect to certain crimes related to being homeless. Much more difficult to get accurate data.
    – quarague
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 17:43
  • 2
    @quarague I think that's why they want to show a correlation between total prison population and total "homeless" population and not prisoners there because of homelessness. The correlation should exist but be noisier. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 21:37
  • 2
    "higher population density per cubic foot" I think you meant square foot. I can't say that I've ever seen population density evaluated on a per cubic foot (i.e. volume of space, rather than land area) basis.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 22:58

There's a wide variety of reasons, but some recent shifts in thinking on this are instructive as to what exacerbates the problem

Arrest vs social services

San Francisco (deep blue city in a deep blue state) is something of a unique experiment to deal with homelessness. It's been such a contentious issue there, there's a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to it, as well as an official SF city department.

In the 90s, you had police action used to combat homelessness. This section highlights the microcosm of different approaches (from Wikipedia)

Jordan introduced the Matrix Program, which expanded the role police had in tackling homelessness by increasing the number of citations given to homeless people for city misdemeanors, with 6,000 citations issued in the first six months of the program's initiation. Matrix teams of city police usually accompanied with social service workers to systematically sweep the city block by block to engage members of the homeless community and dismantle homeless encampments. The initial reception from city residents was mostly positive with 75% of calls to the Mayor's office praising the crackdown as a needed step to clean the city up.

Critics of Matrix accused the program of using resources on punitive enforcement of quality of life laws that generally only affect the homeless community, like sleeping in public and loitering, instead of promoting services to aid homeless people. Mass citations to homeless people, critics argued, was counter-productive since those in extreme poverty lacked the funds to pay the fines. Judges would respond to unpaid fines by issuing arrest warrants, resulting in the incarceration of homeless people when the same resources used to jail the inmates could instead go towards expanding shelter services.

Willie Brown, Jordan's successor, promptly went the other direction. He took steps to dismantle the legal processes in play here, while keeping the policy of removing homeless encampments. Since Brown took office, San Francisco has been trending towards social services, rather than legal enforcement, although all mayors have still cleared homeless encampments from time to time.

There are also new legal problems now associated with clearing camps. Martin v. Boise (9th circuit ruling, governs CA and other western US states) prohibits clearing of camps without adequate shelters in place. And groups like the ACLU have fought vigorously against such policies.

SF is promising to do better, as usual (projecting zero unsheltered homeless by 2025). It does, at least, note there are other challenges at play, which will likely hamper said goal.

It is critically important to note that the ability to scale permanent housing and shelter opportunities and achieve the end of unsheltered homelessness is not only constrained by the present gap in financial resources. Other constraints include the difficulty of identifying and securing sites, the delays that consistently occur in leasing and development activities, and the need to build the nonprofit and City department capacity to scale up interventions, support an expanded system of housing, shelter, and prevention programs, and take the necessary steps to identify and respond to racial disparities or risk deepening those inequities

In other words, throwing money at this problem can't actually solve it. Let's talk about some of what they mention as other factors.

Inadequate housing

San Francisco (and other heavily populated blue states) are facing a serious problem with a major housing shortage creating "working poor" conditions due to exorbitant housing costs

Jed Kolko, chief economist of residential real estate site Trulia, says tech is an important part of housing demand in San Francisco both on the rental market and the for sale market. The key difference between a tech hub like San Francisco compared to Seattle, Austin, and Raleigh — the first of which has a greater share of its economy rooted in tech — is housing supply. Other tech hubs around the country build more, which alleviates demand. San Francisco is one of the most regulated cities in America when it comes to urban development, which heavily restricts how much can be built.

San Francisco also has lots of red tape, such as rent control

Landlords can only raise a tenant’s rent by a set amount each year (tied to inflation). Landlords can also petition for other increases. Notably, capital improvements can be passed through to the tenant for a maximum increase of 10% or increased operating and maintenance costs for a maximum increase of 7%, but these rent increases must be documented and approved by the Rent Board before they can be imposed. The tenant can request a hardship exemption for the capital improvement and operating and maintenance passthroughs.

And it has a powerful Board of Supervisors that reject housing projects for unclear reasons

On Tuesday, in an 8-3 vote, the board upheld an appeal of the apartment complex at 469 Stevenson St., essentially saying that the project’s 1,129-page environmental study was inadequate and directing city planning staff and the developer to redo it. The broader study could take a year or two, and the Board of Supervisors could still reject the project if they deem that inadequate.

This isn't a unique problem to SF. California has a law called the California Environmental Quality Act which allows anyone to sue to block a project on the grounds that a proper environmental review has not been done. The law is routinely used to block new housing projects

Yet when a local nonprofit developer proposed several years ago to build a 49-unit apartment building on the lot—with 24 homes set aside for disabled veterans experiencing homelessness—it was slammed with an environmental lawsuit. A single angry neighbor was able to delay the project, thanks to a piece of legislation known as the California Environmental Quality Act. Although a 189-page assessment found that all possible environmental effects could be mitigated, the suit demanded that planners spend years conducting additional environmental research. The site—covered in cracked concrete and lined with a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence—remains empty to this day.

Poor mental health services

This site, for instance, gives the following statistics

According to a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. At a minimum, 140,000 or 25 percent of these people were seriously mentally ill, and 250,000 or 45 percent had any mental illness. By comparison, a 2016 study found that 4.2 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

Virtually all states have strong systems to deal with people who are openly a danger to themselves or others, but not so much when they are no obvious danger, but are incapable of taking proper care of themselves. The cost of such a wide grey area can be unacceptably high when that first line cross is a deadly one

“I pushed a woman in front of a train,” the deranged suspect told police after surrendering without incident, according to a second source. The suspect has a documented history of mental health issues with the NYPD, the second police source added, and there was no indication that the killing was a hate crime.

The catch for some blue states is that bar seems to be higher than in other states. Eric Adams, Democratic mayor of New York City, raised eyebrows when he openly advocated for broader involuntary commitment after the aforementioned murder of a woman at the hands of a mentally ill homeless man.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams today announced a new pathway forward to address the ongoing crisis of individuals experiencing severe mental illnesses left untreated and unsheltered in New York City’s streets and subways. In a public address, Mayor Adams detailed a compassionate new vision to tackle this crisis, beginning with a directive being issued immediately to city agencies and contractors involved in evaluating and providing care to individuals in psychiatric crisis so that more people in need of help receive it. Mayor Adams also laid out an 11-point legislative agenda that will be among his top priorities in Albany during the upcoming legislative session. The agenda takes aim at gaps in New York State’s Mental Hygiene Law that intensify the city’s challenges in meeting the needs of its most vulnerable residents with severe mental illness. Finally, Mayor Adams announced new clinical co-response teams deployed in New York City’s subways to respond to those with serious mental health issues, as well as an enhanced training in partnership with New York State for all first responders to compassionately care for those in crisis.

Adams put out a brochure on some places where the system in NY is failing

There should be no question that people in these categories – even if not threatening violence or suicide or walking into traffic — are at risk of “serious harm” to themselves, in ways they would surely wish to avoid if their minds were functioning properly. But in New York, such individuals are routinely denied care by evaluators who interpret the law to require a demonstrated risk of violence, suicide or serious bodily injury.

Gavin Newsom (former SF mayor and current CA gov) has also embraced expanded mental health services, including a faster track for involuntary commital

Right now, homeless people with severe mental health disorders bounce from the streets to jails and hospitals. They can be held against their will at a psychiatric hospital for up to three days. But they must be released if they promise to take medication and follow up with other services.

The new law would let a court order a treatment plan for up to one year, which could be extended for a second year. The plan could include medication, housing and therapy. While it shares some elements of programs in other states, the system would be the first of its kind in the country, according to the office of Democratic state Sen. Tom Umberg, a co-author of the law.

This issue is less a red-blue one than the other issues I mentioned (advocacy groups that chart this have lists that do not line up neatly at all). Combined with other blue state problems listed, however, seems to exacerbate the problem.

  • 10
    "there would be the same apartments" the entire point of scrapping rent control is that rent control is a disincentive to creating housing. To say that there would be the same apartments is either shortsighted and ignoring the long term effects of the policy, only focusing on the immediate supply available or should be supported by evidence that landlords aren't greedy enough to build the housing necessary to chase the increased rents. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:25
  • 7
    @user253751 To add to what David said, rent control has a poor track record of improving housing prices. Price controls in general tend to lead to shortages of the thing being price controlled, which is exactly what we see in San Francisco. Why build something if the government is going to tell you how much you can make off it?
    – Machavity
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:50
  • 6
    @Machavity Yes, but pay close attention to the economic definition of "shortage". A "shortage" is the economist-speak way of saying "the price isn't high enough to drive enough people out of the market to lower the demand to meet the supply". But those people who are out of the market because the price is too high, they still need houses, so it would still be a shortage in colloquial terms, just not in economic terms. David's concern is easily worked around by making the rent control not apply to new buildings. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:53
  • 2
    There's also an element of self-selection: the people most annoyed by the homeless vote with their feet and move to jurisdictions with harsh rule enforcement (and vice versa). Thus SF will keep getting worse and worse while Texas will keep getting better and better. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:13
  • 5
    @JonathanReez to a degree this is true, but I don't think it's a large degree. I think people overestimate how mobile the average person is. I've seen so many examples of people claiming that if xyz policy happens those that don't like it will just leave, but in practice studies again and again show that a large number of folks will stick around and endure the policy because they don't want to leave families, friends, work, etc by relocating. Homelessness may be a bit of a problem, but is it really enough to completely abandon a state and everyone you know over?
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:32

My initial thought was that blue states would have more urban areas so I decided to compare cities. If you bring that down to the city level - Dallas has the largest homeless population in Texas and Dallas+Collin county appears to have a homeless population of ~4000 people out of a total 3.6M. See here for Collin County .

Comparing cities isn't necessarily helpful. Even in relatively red states, cities tend to be relatively blue, and also to have higher homelessness rates.

A better comparison is to look at the fraction of the population in states that live in urban areas. Let's look at the 10 states with the highest homelessness rates that you listed, and look at where they stand in terms of level of urbanization:

  • DC: 100% urban population (not ranked in this data, since not a state)
  • New York: 87.9% urban population (ranked 12th)
  • Hawaii: 91.9% urban population (ranked 5th)
  • California: 95.0% urban population (ranked 1st)
  • Oregon: 81.0% urban population (ranked 18th)
  • Washington: 84.0% urban poppulation (ranked 16th)
  • Alaska: 66.0% (ranked 37th)
  • Massachusetts: 92.0% urban population (ranked 4th)
  • Nevada: 94.2% urban population (ranked 3rd)
  • Vermont: 38.9% urban population (ranked 49th)

So aside from Alaska and Vermont, the states with the highest homeless population are highly urbanised. Alaska is, notably, a fairly red state. I don't know what the situation is in Vermont, and perhaps that warrants another question.

  • 4
    Hmm I very much appreciate the data-driven approach but I think there is a critical flaw in this line of reasoning. The reason that cities in red states, despite most assuredly being blue as you said, are relevant, is that those cities are still affected by the red policies set at the state level. I think this line of reasoning could be further explored but that seems like a substantial issue that would have to be accounted for. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:10
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    I think the implication is that irrespective of policies set at state level, cities tend to have a high concentration of homeless people, and cities have a tendency to vote democrat. State level policies could influence levels of homelessness, but equally, city governments also have an influence, and city governments aren't necessarily the same party as the state government. There could be some mileage in looking at homelessness levels in cities of a similar size in different states, but urbanization seems to be the largest factor.
    – James_pic
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:17
  • 3
    While there may be red cities, there are no blue states. +1. Illinois is a red state, that's been allowed to elect a republican four times in like the last 150y. 2h south of Chicago, you might as well be in Kentucky, which is about another 6h away. ... Name a city in (Kentucky ;) a red state with more than 3M people in it. IDK one....
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 1:33
  • 2
    @Mazura there are definitely blue states, like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In these states, both urban and rural populations lean Democrat. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 18:54
  • 8
    It would help to point out the cause and effect. The reason those states are blue is because they are urbanized, urban locations tend to vote blue, the more urban a state is the more it would vote blue. So rather then saying democrat's cause homelessness it possible to instead argue that high urbanization causes both democratic states and homelessness (due to lack of housing that comes with urbanization). Ie they got their causation and correlation confused by not tracing back to the real root cause of the correlation.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:38

The default Democrat position on many issues, not just homelessness, is to favor the perceived underdog (Ukraine, George Floyd, the homeless, etc.)

If people are living on the street, regardless of how they got there or how they spend their time, they are less fortunate, and by definition, victims. The left wing of American politics is interested in "giving a voice to" or "fighting for" people that fall into the victim category. Exceptions to this principle are based on various identity attributes, also known as Intersectionality.

This is a somewhat esoteric way of defining the leftist point of view, but I think it's especially relevant to the question of homelessness: "BioLeninism" is the force at work here, and the reason that the homeless are allowed to exist on the streets of blue cities more so than their red counterparts.


I am struggling to think of an explanation for how that is not true.

You don't have to, because the burden of proof is on the one making a claim. Note that I very specifically said "claim", not "argument", because an argument requires evidence whereas a claim does not.

In other words, those making this claim:

Generally speaking, liberal policies and acceptance of homelessness leads to more homelessness.

are the ones required to provide evidence to turn it into an argument; until then, you can and should dismiss it out of hand.

Over and above that however, your investigation falls into the classic fallacy of assuming that correlation implies causation. That Democratic-led states appear to have a higher percentage of homeless people, is a single data point that could very well provide a useful starting location to investigate this claim fully; but is entirely insufficient alone to support said claim.

  • 9
    It’s not clear to me how this answer responds to the OP. Given that the function of this site is discussion of politics, it seems that saying anything that isn’t already fully proven should be dismissed outright ignores the purpose of this website’s existence. Your point about correlation appears (I may be misinterpreting) to say that since a rigorous mathematical analysis hasn’t been done then there is no reason to discuss which while technically does countermand the argument laid out in the OP, was also explicitly conceded in the OP and subsequently seems redundant. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 12:12
  • 2
    There is an even more egregious error than the shibboleth you invoke. Very obvious correlation does not imply non-causation either. It's not a "single data point." It's many thousands of data points, many of which were predicted in advance.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 13:10
  • 7
    I was going to add that 1st para as a comment on the Q. Basically, and maybe by accident, the OP is asking in bad faith. The title is a neutral "why do..." but down below the Q turns into the horribly slanted "Liberal policies lead to homelessness, unless proved wrong". Consider the same Q with reverse slant "conservatives say that, but can they explain which policies and how?" Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:56
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    @OwenReynolds, the Q is not that biased. You can always choose to comment on the Q to suggest removal of what you consider biased, rather than supporting this non-answer which basically boils down to "let's not discuss it or cite explanations". That the Q is uncomfortable to answer easily from a blue perspective doesn't make it biased. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:25
  • 2
    I have to agree with @GrantCurell. While I agree a good scientist should not accept anything as proven without full evidence, the fact of the matter is that many laws discussed in politics can not be easily proven with absolute rigor because of the difficulty of a proper controlled study and the magnitude of confounding variables. To say we should thus throw up our hands and give up is silly. Laws are going to be passed, one way or another, even in absence of 100% scientific rigor. Given that discussion of theory and possible results to at least inform those laws is logical and needful.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:44

Homeless people do not migrate between states to find a better place to be homeless. They tend to not have a vehicle or means to travel, so they are stationary.

Also, the homeless tend to be homeless due to high rates of (1) mental illness and (2) drug use.

Look for cities that don't institutionalize for mental illness, have lower enforcement rates for drug use and are more tolerant to people living on the streets or in camps, and you'll have your answer. The politics behind those policies is what drives homelessness.

  • 7
    Homeless people are perfectly capable of using public transport to get to better places to panhandle.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 7:32
  • 3
    What happens in the cities that do do these things? The homeless people still exist, but they're in prison so they're technically not homeless any more, right? Another job well done. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:58
  • 5
    @Valorum Being able to use public transport and being able to travel to different states/cities is a different issue.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 18:52
  • 3
    I think this is a valid observation. People with the worst social status have the worst mobility, as every hurricane shows that hits the poorest worst. This observation has an equivalent on the international level: The poorest, hardest hit people don't migrate far. You need thousands of dollars to cross the jungle or the Mediterranean Sea, which the poorest don't have. It costs hundreds of dollars to cross the U.S. Both endeavors also require substantial organization, research and planning which is also hard for the homeless and famished alike. Good argument. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 13:41
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    But I do disagree with the last sentence "The politics behind those policies is what drives homelessness" which does not seem to align with the actual observations in the text: Imprisoning people does not truly eliminate homelessness, it only masks it. Tolerance and help (as opposed to rejection and imprisonment) certainly do not "drive" mental illness and drug use, which you identify correctly as significant reasons for homelessness. The support may attract people from elsewhere, but as you realized, that migration is hampered. But the support lets the homeless appear in the statistics. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 13:46

From a legal standpoint, 6 of your top 10 states fall in the 9th circuit in the federal courts system (California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and Nevada) have stronger case law protections for personal property of Homeless, which hinders police from removing tent cities and other large homeless camps than in other states in the U.S. Additionally, 3 of these states are in parts of the country that are generally warm year round (Hawaii, Nevada, California), which among homeless people are actually more desirable. Cold weather is more of a problem for homeless than warm weather as killer heat is a problem during the day and it's easy to go into public places to cool off. Cold weather tends to be worse at night when things are closed. Hawaii has the extra problem of being impossible to leave the state without money, so homeless people may not be able to leave for another state with better prospects.

Alaska's high rate is likely due to the the fact that Alaska has the Alaska Permenant Fund (APF). Essentially, due to the income tax from the oil industry, the State of Alaska has a consistent surplus of income and created a fund with some of the surplus fund for it's residents. On an annual basis, the state pays every resident who meets the qualifications (cannot be out of state for more than 180 days of a year, and not have been convicted of a misdemenor or serving jail time within the past year within the state of Alaska or within the qualifying year, get convicted in the state of Alaska of a misdemeanor that resulted in any period of incarceration, having been previously convicted of a felony in the state of Alaska). This pay out varys based on market forces (the fund is invested in the stock market in part) with the lowest payout being $331 in 1984 and $2,072. On average and adjusted for inflation, the fund pays about $1600 annually to all qualified residents. While it's not a lot of money to live off, it's a lot of money when you have no stable income, so it may attract Homeless who have a guaranteed income (my grandmother, who worked with Homeless Children in Florida, was very close to a woman who eventually moved to Alaska for this reason).

In all likelihood, the highest states are all states with a high cost of living, in addition to a high rate of taxes. In fact, of the top 10, only Alaska and Nevada are known for low tax and property costs (parts of Alaska can have a high cost of living, due to the difficult terrain and the sheer size of the state. The Capital of Alaska, Juneau, is impossible to reach by land from the rest of the state and Canada, and it's the third most populous city in the State.). While Nevada doesn't have a cost of living, it has a long history of legalized gambling that likely lead to gambling addicts betting more than they could afford (And while Vegas is a young city, having a population that could be counted on fingers in 1903) it's likely that it's reputation for gambling has lead to more than one ill-advised person betting the deed to the house.

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