My dad, who spent 14 years as a judge in New York City, sent me the following feedback on my post about Houston's proposed anti-panhandling ordinance:
Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 15, 2002 to Elsewhere in Houston
I think that stats will verify that most [homeless people] are substance abusers or mentally ill persons with addictions (MICA). Spending large sums of money at the end process, arrest, jail, etc. is not an answer. Maybe we should allocate more and more money earlier and earlier. For example, in the schools where we could have certified intervention people addressing substance abuse as soon as there is any evidence of abuse.
I learned from bitter, but repeated experience in reading sentence reports from Probation officers that the substance abuse began with the defendant as early as 10 years old. These reports would show beer drinking, marijuana smoking, cocaine and then anything that would give them a high to the point that they were hopelessly addicted by their early 20's. Repeated jail did little to rehab these folks or teach them any recovery skills. Time tested AA on the other hand, if the addicted person was caught early, gave them a better chance of recovering.
The unfortunate thing about all of this is that politicians don't get votes for realistic approaches to addiction, but garner votes by being "tough on crime".
Sad but true; however my experience, personally and professionally, is that if you aggressively attack the problem sooner rather than later, you get a better bang for your buck.