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Why They Wrongly Say Poverty Causes Homelessness

In this new talk, I explain why and how activists convinced themselves and others that a problem of untreated mental illness and addiction was really about poverty

Last week, I published a video on homelessness that appears to have touched a nerve. After Elon Musk shared the post, at least some part of it was viewed 25 million times. This resulted in a renewed debate about the nature of homelessness and whether it is a result of poverty, addiction, or untreated mental illness.

The evidence is overwhelming that addiction and untreated mental illness are behind homelessness, not poverty and lack of homes. People who are priced out of housing markets for reasons unrelated to addiction and mental illness find somewhere else to live. They don’t decide to pitch a tent on the filthiest and most dangerous sidewalks in America.

Before my video blew up, I had been feeling discouraged about homelessness. In the introduction to my 2021 book, San Fransicko, I worried that I would write a book that would have no impact. Judging from the situation on the streets, and the continually rising drug deaths, San Fransicko had no impact.

But the viral video shows that the evidence and ideas in San Fransicko are more relevant than ever precisely because the problem is more acute than ever. Indeed, in response to the video, many people have asked questions I didn’t have time to address.

I am thus happy to release a new, hour-long video in which I discuss the evidence that homelessness is a result of addiction and mental illness, not poverty.

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