San Francisco Becoming a ‘Sanctuary City’ for the Homeless

homelessWhen San Franciscans went to the polls on Nov. 6, they knew in advance what the consequences are likely to be if an initiative to tax corporations to fund services for the homeless was approved. Yet they passed it anyway.

Nearly 61 percent voted for Proposition C, which imposes a tax on businesses in the city and county to raise as much as $300 million a year to “help homeless people secure permanent housing,” for “construction, rehabilitation, acquisition, and operation of permanent housing with supportive services,” and for “programs serving people who have recently become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.”

They will find that, rather than reducing the number of homeless in San Francisco and helping those who remain on the streets, what is being called the biggest tax hike in city history will only increase their numbers and do little to nothing to improve their plight.

The approval of Proposition C stands in stark relief to the views of Mark Farrell, who was briefly San Francisco mayor. Earlier this year Farrell told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was weary of facilitating homelessness.

“Enough is enough. We have offered services time and again and gotten many off the street, but there is a resistant population that remains, and their tents have to go,” he said.

“We have moved as a city from a position of compassion to enabling (unacceptable) street behavior, and as mayor I don’t stand for that.”

The new mayor, London Breed, is left with the the urban equivalent of a cleanup on aisle five. She opposed Prop C because she knew there would be “the inevitable flight of headquarter companies — and jobs — from San Francisco.” She also acknowledged that the initiative will make the homeless problem worse. Yet due to the will of the voters, Breed is now saddled with it, and, according to local television news, is “working with City Attorney Dennis Herrera to validate voter-approved Proposition C in court so that the city can begin gathering funds from the measure.”

It will be a failing enterprise. Additional funds will do nothing.

If San Francisco is to begin moving the homeless off its streets, it needs to start with adding more housing. Much more. But expanding the housing stock isn’t an option when the costs of building are staggeringly steep, and policymakers have done little to alleviate the construction hurdles that have created the shortage.

In the meantime, the city will become a magnet for more homeless, having become a “sanctuary city” for them through Prop C. If residents think they have a problem now with people on the streets, just wait until even more homeless make their way there in search of the promise of housing that will never materialize.

San Francisco voters could have also looked up the road to Seattle for some insight before they approved Prop C. There the city council voted to tax businesses within the city limits $275 per employee to fund homeless programs, then turned around and repealed the tax less than a month later. Critics of the repeal said the council went back on the tax hike because members were bullied by big companies opposed to it. Or maybe they simply realized that the company line from Starbucks — “Together we must work to bring families inside, once and for all” — made more sense than a coercive and punitive program straight from a central planner’s desk that would worsen the homeless problem and hurt the city’s economy.

San Francisco has to do something about its homeless crisis. It is swimming in human feces and urine, awash in used hypodermic needles, and flooded with litter. Proposition C, which the San Francisco controller estimates will cost $200 million to $240 million a year in city GDP, and 725 to 875 jobs over 20 years, is far from being the answer. Given government’s poor record in eliminating homelessness, there’s little alternative but to turn to the private sector for help.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute 

California homeless man accidentally dumped with trash

Homeless trashA homeless man survived after somehow being collected along with waste during a cleanup this week and then dumped into a pile of trash at a transfer station.

Around 9 a.m. Monday, employees at the Sun Street Transfer Station were using a wheel loader to push trash when they noticed something moving in the piles, said Cesar Zuñiga, operations manager with the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority.

The workers backed up, stared at the trash and realized it was a person. They called over the radio and ceased operations.

“Sure enough, it was a person that was brought in the waste load somehow,” Zuñiga said.

Upon closer inspection, the man was sitting waist-deep in the trash.

The man, who appeared to be in his late 50s or early 60s, seemed dazed and confused, Zuñiga said. The man didn’t say a word, he said, and had a little bit of dried blood on his arm. He was able to walk on his own shortly after being found.

Paramedics transported the man to a hospital. The incident rattled employees. …

Click here to read the full article from the Ventura County Star

Proposed bill would guarantee a bed for every homeless person in state

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Every homeless person in California would have a right to a bed year-round under a statewide “right to shelter” policy proposed by Sen. Scott Wiener.

The San Francisco Democrat plans to announce SB48 on Wednesday, although key details of the bill — including how much the added shelters will cost, how they will be paid for and who will be responsible for ensuring enough beds are made available — will not be worked out until at least next year.

Wiener’s bill calls for the Legislature and stakeholders to work together to create the policy. Wiener said Tuesday that he hopes to have a finished bill in 2019, but that it’s possible he’ll need to work on it the following year as well.

“We don’t have enough shelter capacity in California,” Wiener said. “There are counties and cities that have no shelter capacity, or they only open in the winter.”

Wiener said his goal is a statewide guarantee that homeless people who want to sleep in a shelter will have beds. But he said he also wants flexibility so communities can shape the policy to fit their needs. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

Middle class is disappearing in California as wealth gap grows

PovertyCalifornia made major news this month, surpassing Britain and reclaiming a valuable economic marker as the fifth largest economy in the world. Its post-recession growth is accelerating under President Trump’s administration and the state even turned in a modest surplus.

However, the state remains one of the most unequal in the nation — one that has both billions of dollars in Silicon Valley and rampant homelessness. The Golden State’s efforts to eliminate poverty instead accentuates it, and its tax system inadvertently aids those who are already wealthy. With the middle class leaving in droves, California’s society represents a neo-feudal mix of robber barons and poor. It’s an unsustainable mixture.

California has a gross domestic product of more than $2.7 trillion. This represents about 13.9 percent of the national U.S. economy. The topline numbers are a bit misleading, as the state represents a similar 12.1 percent of the national population.

California represented the world’s fifth largest economy before the recession, falling to 10th largest in 2012 while growing at an anemic 0.1 percent per year. The state has been fortunate to be the center of the tech and internet sectors, which represent almost 10 percent of the total. Part of the growth was due to a rapidly expanding real estate sector, which heavily benefits wealthy residents. …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill

Court Says California Cities Must Let Homeless Sleep On Streets

homelessA ruling this month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which holds it is unconstitutional to ban homeless people from sleeping on the streets is likely to complicate the attempts to crack down on homelessness problems by local governments in California.

While the ruling involved a 2009 law adopted by Boise, Idaho, it is binding on California, which is one of the states under the 9th appellate court, which is based in San Francisco.

“[J]ust as the state may not criminalize the state of being ‘homeless in public places,’ the state may not ‘criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless — namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets,’” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for a three-judge panel.

The finding that the law is a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment was welcomed by activists who have long argued that such restrictions make being poor a crime.

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, told the Idaho Statesman that “criminally punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane, and we applaud the court for holding that it is also unconstitutional.” Her group provided an attorney to the handful of Boise homeless men and women who sued over the city’s law.

If Boise does not appeal the ruling, the 9th Circuit will have expanded on the protections for the homeless that it created in 2007. The appellate panel ruled then that Los Angeles could not ban people from sleeping outside when shelters were full.

Legality of living in cars is next battleground

Meanwhile, the next fight over homeless rights in California has already emerged. It involves regulations in many cities that have the de facto effect of banning people from sleeping in their vehicles, even if the practice is not specifically singled out.

In Los Angeles, for example, a city ordinance that bans overnight parking in residential areas and a growing number of such restrictions in commercial areas have made it increasingly difficult for vehicle dwellers to find anywhere to sleep. This has made life difficult for the estimated 15,000 people who live in their cars, trucks or recreational vehicles in the city. The policy prompted sharp criticism from some quarters this spring over a perception that City Hall was insufficiently sympathetic to those without shelter.

City officials in San Diego and Santa Barbara are going in the opposite direction, starting trial programs in which car dwellers are allowed to use a handful of designated parking lots overnight – so long as they meet a handful of rules meant to preserve public safety and to minimize littering and public defecation and urination.

But San Diego may have to expand its program or develop other new policies as well. Last month, federal Judge Anthony Battaglia issued an injunction banning the city from ticketing people for living in their vehicles.

Unlike in the other high-profile federal cases involving city laws and homelessness, Battaglia’s argument wasn’t based on the idea that penalties which appeared to single out the homeless were cruel and unusual.

Instead, he concluded that “plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the ordinance is vague because it fails to alert the public what behavior is lawful and what behavior is prohibited.” He noted that some people were given tickets merely for reading books in their cars.

The injunction is not permanent, but Battaglia indicated he is likely to make it so in coming months.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

San Francisco leaders overwhelmed by homeless crisis

sanfranciscohomelessOn June 30, 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom won national headlines when he announced his “Ten Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness.”

Newsom said he wanted a “dramatic shift” from reactive policies used to deal with those without shelter who often suffer from addiction, mental illness or both. He promised that the aggressive transients seen in downtown areas harassing storekeepers, residents and tourists would get indoor housing; that the newly homeless would have access to immediate help to prevent them from going on downward spirals; and, perhaps most remarkably, that emergency homeless shelters eventually would have to close because they would have no transients left to serve.

Fourteen years later, Newsom’s promises seem like fantasies – or cruel jokes – in a city where the quality of life and the tourism industry feel under siege from 7,500 or more homeless people. Despite spending more than $2 billion on the problem since 2004 – vastly more than big cities with similar homeless issues – San Francisco officials sometimes convey the sense of feeling overwhelmed.

The notion that the problem is out of control is frequently illustrated by visiting journalists who make parts of the city seem like obstacle courses covered by feces, used needles and surly, erratic individuals ready to intimidate passers-by into giving them money.

Yet San Francisco’s problem is actually in some ways both better and worse than in similar cities. Despite a brutal housing crisis that makes paying rent difficult even for those making $100,000 or more, the total number of homeless has been flat in recent years, unlike other large California cities. San Francisco has also managed to avoid the emergence of mass encampments of transients seen in neighboring Oakland and elsewhere in urban areas.

Disturbed, disruptive homeless more common in city

So what is driving the perception that the homeless problem is worse than ever in the city? An article in the June 1 issue of The Economist made the case that San Francisco had an intense concentration of the most disturbed, disruptivehomeless – individuals who generally make up a relative handful of the homeless in much of Southern California.

“[The] rates of mental illness and addiction among the homeless have increased. Use of more potent mind-bending drugs, like fentanyl and methamphetamine, has risen, too. Nearly 70 percent of psychiatric emergency-room visits by the homeless are the result of methamphetamine-induced psychosis,” The Economist wrote.

This psychosis may be driving a public health crisis spurred by open defecation in the streets. Complaints about human feces in the city nearly tripled from 2009 to 2017, reaching 21,000 last year.

Tourists are noticing. On July 2, the city’s convention and visitor bureau announced that it had lost one of its biggest accounts – an unnamed medical group which had a long tradition of regularly bringing 15,000 free-spending conventioneers to the Bay Area. Given tourism – not tech – remains San Francisco’s biggest industry, city officials werealarmed.

Long before that announcement, London Breed – the Willie Brown protege who took over as mayor on July 11 – said reducing homelessness’ impact on the city was her top priority. So far a key focus has been on giving the city newauthority to use conservatorship laws to allow interventions into the lives of the most troubled individuals.

Newsom plans ‘granular’ approach to issue if elected

As for Newsom, the lieutenant governor is now the heavy favorite to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown. Undaunted by what’s happened in San Francisco since his 2004 pledge, he’s touting the most aggressive efforts yet by the state government to reduce homelessness.

If he defeats Republican John Cox in November, Newsom told the Sacramento Bee that he’d “get deeply involved at a granular level where most governors haven’t in the past.”

“I want to be held accountable on this issue, and I want to be disruptive of the status quo,” Newsom said. “I’m willing to take risks. I’m not here to be loved. What’s going on is unacceptable, and it is inhumane.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California’s Shameful Poverty Crisis

PovertySeven years ago, the Census Bureau began calculating poverty by a new “supplemental” method, responding to criticism that the half-century-old official poverty rate was too simplistic and inaccurate.

The new method quickly gained wide acceptance as much more accurate because it included more forms of income and, most importantly, adjustments for widely varying costs of living.

Almost immediately, California achieved the dubious distinction of having the nation’s highest poverty rate, mostly because of its high costs of living, especially housing. Currently, it’s still No. 1 with a 20.4 percent poverty rate, more than twice that of No. 50 Vermont.

The Public Policy Institute of California and Stanford University’s Center on Poverty followed suit, using a similar methodology to calculate poverty rates for the state’s 58 counties.

Their California Poverty Measure currently tabs the state’s rate at 19.5 percent with Los Angeles County the highest at 24.9 percent and Placer County the lowest at 13.1 percent.

PPIC and Stanford also calculated an additional “near-poverty” rate of 19.2 percent, which implies that nearly 40 percent of Californians are coping with economic distress.

And now we have an even deeper dive into persistent economic despair in the nation’s richest state.

United Ways of California, a coalition of local organizations that raise money for charities, commissioned “Struggling to Stay Afloat,” which delves into poverty not only at the state and county levels, but right down to neighborhoods.

Moreover, the new study breaks down the data not only geographically, but by race or ethnicity, gender, occupation, marital status, education and other factors.

Overall, it found that “1 in 3 households in California, over 3.3 million families – including those with incomes well above the (official) federal poverty level – struggle every month to meet basic needs.”

Not surprisingly, Latinos have the highest poverty of any ethnic group, with 53 percent of households having incomes that fall below the “real cost measure.” The incomes deemed to be adequate vary widely from community to community, depending on local living costs.

All three of these statistical exercises are telling us the same thing – that California has an immense poverty problem rooted more in high living costs than in its family incomes. And housing is the most important cost driver.

The political response to California’s poverty crisis has been tepid, even though Democrats who dominate its politics often denounce economic disparity.

Raising minimum wages and welfare grants and offering a state tax credit to the working poor may have some impacts on the margin. However, the extra incomes they generate are quickly consumed by higher housing costs, plus the higher gas taxes, local sales taxes and energy bills being imposed to deal with other political priorities.

Poverty must be attacked at its roots, such as the ever-worsening shortage of housing, which drives its costs ever-upward, and the lack of education and training for good jobs that employers want to fill, but can’t.

Capitol politicians have sidestepped the politically difficult task of overcoming local opposition to housing construction, or reducing environmental red tape. The state Democratic Party just endorsed a ballot measure that would make local rent control ordinances easier to enact, thus discouraging new housing investment even more.

Nor has the dominant party been willing to buck the union-led education establishment and insist on more accountability for educating poor kids – more than half of the state’s 6 million K-12 students – so they can break their families’ poverty cycles.

Cowardice and tokenism cannot and will not erase California’s shameful status as the nation’s most poverty-ridden state.

This article was originally published by the San Jose Mercury News

What Could go Wrong in Building Tiny Houses for Homeless?

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just voted to go forward with a pilot program to house homeless people in tiny houses in the backyards of single-family homes. And if you pay taxes in L.A. County, you’re going to pay for it.

The program will pay $75,000 to homeowners who agree to have a tiny house constructed on their property, or $50,000 to upgrade an illegal dwelling unit, like a converted garage. The selected homeless person or family will pay rent, covered by low-income vouchers. Tenants would contribute 30 percent of their incomes. Taxpayers, presumably, would make up the difference.

If you ever drove by a homeless encampment and said to yourself, “The government ought to do something,” you probably never thought that what it would do is move the residents of the encampment into a backyard next door to your own house, at your expense.

But that might very well happen.

L.A. County is testing this concept in a pilot program that will cost $550,000.

Here’s how it will work for homeowners: The county will provide a maximum subsidy of $75,000 to build two or three new “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs, sometimes called granny flats. The subsidy will be provided in the form of a loan that will be gradually forgiven, with the principal reduced for every year that the unit is used as homeless housing. After 10 years, the loan will be completely forgiven and the homeowners can evict the homeless tenants and do whatever they wish with the units.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, the many families currently living in bootleg housing could find themselves evicted so the owners can take advantage of $50,000 in government loans to legalize the units so they can house somebody else.

That means that this program, if it’s ever scaled up, could vastly increase the homeless population almost overnight.

Something else that could go terribly wrong is the “magnet effect.” That’s when people in other counties and states see the backyard tiny-house option as a great opportunity and move to L.A. County to take advantage of it. That could increase the homeless population even more. Then there’s the obvious problem.

Here’s how Supervisor Sheila Kuehl described the homeless population: “Many, many of them are just regular people like you and me who just lost their job or lost their house and really don’t have other choices.”

That may be, but many, many of them are not regular people. Many, many of them are people with issues that will make them terrible tenants and horrible neighbors.

Suppose the people who are chosen by the county to live in the homeless housing choose to abuse drugs, damage property or become a nuisance to the neighbors or the neighborhood. What’s the plan?

That was probably one of the questions that stalled a plan for backyard homeless housing in Multnomah County, Oregon, where Portland is located. The pilot project was set to build four tiny homes last year, but was delayed by a cluster of concerns over locations, legalities and tax consequences.

It turned out that Portland’s strict rules about how close a house can be to a tree meant that there were fewer available locations than expected.

Then there was difficulty working out legal agreements between the homeowner and the homeless tenants, between the tenants and the property manager and between the property manager and the county.

There was also the question of how to compensate homeowners for the trouble. The county initially planned to make pre-fab tiny houses available for free, but that would have triggered unpleasant tax consequences. So they worked out a plan to sell the houses to the homeowners and offer financing similar to what’s being proposed here. And Oregon property owners can have their $75,000 loan forgiven in just five years, not 10.

The city of Los Angeles is spending a $100,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to study the feasibility of backyard homeless housing within the city’s boundaries. Maybe this will solve the problem of homelessness in a way that will inspire the world. Or maybe it will be the start of a wave of gated communities with HOA agreements that don’t even allow adding a birdhouse without a two-thirds vote of the board.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

Homeless may get mobile showers at Los Angeles Metro stations

sanfranciscohomelessAs the homeless population continues to grow in Los Angeles, the agency that operates public transportation in the county is considering putting showers in or near some of its train stations in an effort to promote hygiene.

Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion on Thursday following a four-month study to examine a pilot hygiene and mobile shower program, which would also examine incorporating public restrooms at all new rail stations on the system.

“I hope that when we look at this, it’s a first start, it’s about a humanitarian issue in my opinion because we do have a very diverse population that uses our rail and bus services and our hubs,” Metro Director and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis told board members.

Solis, who spearheaded the study for the pilot program, said the program would be collaborated with the Los Angeles County’s Office of Homeless Initiative, Department of Public Health, Department of Public Works, and other relevant departments. The pilot program, if adopted, would first roll out at the Westlake/MacArthur Park and North Hollywood stations. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

When do We Finally Say ‘No’ to Tolerating the Damage and Chaos of Homelessness?

What’s the best way for a free country to make decisions about how to spend tax money?

One way to do it is to hold elections to choose public officials who will make decisions on behalf of the people who elected them, then hold a fully public process to create budgets and appropriate the money that taxpayers are required to hand over.

Another way to do it is to find the people in society who are totally unable to manage their own lives and put them in charge of public spending.

That’s how we do it in California.

Our government at all levels has accepted the argument that the moment people self-identify as having “nowhere else to go,” they acquire a civil right to pitch a tent and live on public property ansanfranciscohomelessywhere, including streets, sidewalks, plazas, parks, stormwater channels and freeway embankments.

Then it’s your responsibility as a taxpayer to pay whatever it costs to mitigate the damage and clean up the chaos.

The cost is rapidly becoming incalculable, from the $17 million needed by the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation for homeless encampment cleanups, to the staggering damage from wildfires caused by cooking in the midst of dry brush, to the catastrophic toll of a hepatitis A epidemic that took 20 lives in San Diego and put hundreds of people in the hospital.

Taxpayers in Orange County are paying for month-long motel vouchers for hundreds of people as the price of reclaiming the intended public use of the Santa Ana River trail. It’s not clear what will be different in a month, but that was the deal reached in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter. He was involved because attorneys for seven homeless people filed a federal lawsuit alleging that their civil rights were violated by the eviction from the huge encampment.

Judge Carter personally walked the river trail with county and city officials to see the problem first-hand, and he acknowledged that the offer of shelter would be rejected by many. “Some who want to wander will wander,” he said.

Justice William O. Douglas said something similar in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a vagrancy law in Jacksonville, Florida. This was the text of Jacksonville’s ordinance:

“Rogues and vagabonds, or dissolute persons who go about begging, common gamblers, persons who use juggling or unlawful games or plays, common drunkards, common night walkers, thieves, pilferers or pickpockets, traders in stolen property, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons, keepers of gambling places, common railers and brawlers, persons wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object, habitual loafers, disorderly persons, persons neglecting all lawful business and habitually spending their time by frequenting houses of ill fame, gaming houses, or places where alcoholic beverages are sold or served, persons able to work but habitually living upon the earnings of their wives or minor children shall be deemed vagrants and, upon conviction in the Municipal Court shall be punished as provided for Class D offenses [90 days imprisonment, a $500 fine, or both].”

The law was “unconstitutionally vague,” Douglas wrote for the court in Papachristou v. City Of Jacksonville, criminalizing activities that “by modern standards are normally innocent.”

The justice defended night walking. He wrote that in his personal experience, “sleepless people often walk at night, perhaps hopeful that sleep-inducing relaxation will result.”

Douglas also cited poets as authority to throw out Jacksonville’s ordinance. “Persons ‘wandering or strolling’ from place to place have been extolled by Walt Whitman and Vachel Lindsay,” Douglas wrote, “They are embedded in Walt Whitman’s writings, especially in his ‘Song of the Open Road.’ They are reflected, too, in the spirit of Vachel Lindsay’s ‘I Want to Go Wandering.’”

And that’s federal law now, if you’re wondering how we got where we are today.

No matter how much money we choose to spend on services or housing — and the tax increases are stacking up — the public has no right to demand that people get off the streets. We’ll pay for the services and housing and still have to pay for the damage and the chaos.

Eventually some city or county official will have the courage to reject a settlement in one of these lawsuits, and he or she will fight all the way to the Supreme Court in defense of the public’s right to preserve public spaces for their intended use.

By then, five of the justices may recognize that Walt Whitman didn’t write “Song of the Open Sewer.”

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”