A public good is a product or service that benefits most of society. Examples are national defense, roads, schools and public lands. Most Americans are willing to pay taxes to obtain these public goods. A camp for vagabonds benefits a tiny minority of society and many taxpayers object to supporting it. Individuals who choose to live an itinerant lifestyle are free to do so, but should society be forced to support that choice? Could we lighten the public guilt by differentiating between the homeless by unwanted circumstance and the unhoused by choice?
Historically, nonessential, but desirable services often are provided via volunteers and donations. For individuals strongly endorsing a vagabond camp, perhaps a more equitable path would be privately organizing the purchase and financial support of a managed camp.
In contrast, subsidized housing for low-income workers probably is a public good. Low-wage workers provide necessary services (e.g., health care, sanitation, retail, etc.) that benefit a majority. La Plata county commissioners are earmarking $1,000,000 of taxpayer funds for a vagabond camp. Wouldn’t these funds be better used to support low-wage workers?
Distinguishing between essential public goods and desirable social services is how we prioritize public spending. A referendum in Durango could determine whether a vagabond camp is a public good or not. $1,000,000 of taxpayer funds plus future local government financial support are real costs.