John Balentine claims to “appreciate the plight of homeless people” (“Why do Portland’s homeless get special rights?” July 31) and has “long pondered” what would help “turn their lives around.”

His appreciation, however, is superficial and his “ponder” shallow. He claims “drugs and alcohol, as well as mental illness and family breakdown” are major causes of homelessness, needing “broad-based solutions” from the private sector (“churches and employers”) – the rising number of homeless in Portland “as proof” government aid does not work.

Good grief. Even the barest research reveals the primary causes of current homelessness are structural failures, not personal or moral ineptitude. Four primary causes listed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and cited by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty include, in rough order: lack of affordable housing, unemployment, low wages and poverty.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that people with extremely low income pay more than half their income for rent and utilities, leaving precious little for food, medicine, transportation, childcare – living on an economic knife edge.

Even if private sector actors (like churches and employers) occasionally had resources, they lack a compelling, consistent drive to address structural problems. As an afterthought: If Portland were to restore your memory, sweep its streets and parks of the homeless, where do you suppose they’d go?

David Locke
Georgetown