Misguided Solutions to State Homeless Problem

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)

Recently, state Senator John Moorlach (R-Orange County) wrote in this space about California’s struggle to solve the problem of homelessness. In his piece “Grappling with California’s Housing Crisis” Moorlach, however, comes dangerously close to accepting the notion that if government throws enough money at a problem like homelessness we can solve it.

Homelessness in California is a grand example of how government largesse may be hurting and not helping. As Moorlach’s Democrat colleague Jim Beall said at last year’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing, “more than $10 billion has been spent on the homeless the last few years, yet, the crisis is not over . . .” Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If true, the state’s policy towards the homeless, as articulated by Committee Chairman Beall, is insane.

While it’s likely Democrat Beall would just as soon press on with more spending, I’m surprised Republican Moorlach, who asked good questions at the hearing, didn’t ask something like “$10 billion spent and what do we have to show for it?” Or, “if we’ve spent that kind of money trying to build our way out of the problem – and it’s not working – why haven’t we tried something different?”

California has indeed spent billions of dollars over the years building housing to deal with its chronic and episodic homeless problems and they’re still with us today. In fact, homelessness has gotten worse. The condition in the City of Los Angeles, according to the LA Times, has risen a breathtakingly 75 percent over the past six years. The City of San Francisco is not far behind as almost all urban areas in California have experienced profound increases. Some estimates have homelessness growing in the state by over 65 percent over the past few years.

Past solutions clearly don’t work. Plus, building has its own set of complications:

First, on average, a unit of affordable housing costs nearly $400,000 to build in California – even more in the state’s high-cost areas. Given that situation, the historic level of funding in Proposition 1 ($4 billion) will barely support 10,000 units. Proposition 2, spending half as much as its sister measure, may only build 5,000 units of housing for the homeless mentally ill – that’s barely enough to match the population of living on the street tonight in Sacramento.

Secondly, getting past the legions of activist neighbors who frown on new housing of any kind, will take some doing. A 150-unit project for seniors was just dismissed from a San Francisco neighborhood after opponents spoke up. NIMBYs have just commenced a lawsuit to stop a “smart” development in San Diego. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was recently confronted by a roomful of angry beach residents over the prospect of erecting a new homeless facility nearby. A bill in the state Legislature to promote greater downtown living was defeated after several housing combatants stormed a hearing room to express their outrage.

Lastly, forcing someone into a rental housing situation may not be a solution. When 63 percent of tent-dwellers in Seattle recently refused to leave their current street abodes for the warmth and security of emergency shelter something is wrong. So, simply “housing the homeless” doesn’t work. Moreover, despite some evidence to the contrary, there is little direct correlation between homelessness and the obvious lack of affordable housing – competing data suggests that nexus only exists for a few. By contrast, according to a survey done in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) nearly half of the homeless population suffers from mental illnesses. In addition, the National Coalition for the Homeless tells us that drug addiction is clearly a factor in remaining homeless.  Is it possible we’ve been flying blind all these years? In other words, have we been enacting billion-dollar policies while ignoring the facts? Even if California had the fiscal and political wherewithal to build more permanent housing for the homeless, it won’t solve the problem.

Senator Moorlach deserves praise for co-sponsoring the state legislation that authorized SB 2 and put it on the 2018 ballot. Its assistance – importantly, including services – is, by definition, aimed at caring for homeless individuals with mental illnesses. Against prevailing attitudes, he seems to be admitting that housing isn’t the only problem. “So many of the homeless are on the streets because of substance dependency and mental issues,” Moorlach states.

But then, inexplicably, he falls back on endorsing the failed strategies of the past, saying “In Orange County, we hope to harness existing public and private funds and contributions from governments and foundations” to build more housing. He further applauds fellow Orange County legislators Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) for authoring AB 448 “which sets up the Orange County Housing Finance Trust to enable local municipalities to plan and construct additional housing for the homeless.”

As compassionate as I know Senator Moorlach is – and his consideration of policies that address the various ills that affect homeless populations is unmatched in Sacramento – he should be consistent in his policy making and associated rhetoric. The homeless problem in California is not one dimensional (housing, only) and Senator Moorlach knows it isn’t. Social scholars Alice Baum and Donald Burnes tell us, instead, homelessness is a disengagement from ordinary society – from family, friends, neighborhood, church and community.

With the right policies coming from Sacramento, we can begin to arrest the social decline and downward spiral of so many fellow Californians. Starting with:

* • Immediately building or rehabilitating temporary, emergency shelters;
* • With teams of volunteers, removing the homeless from street living;
* • Providing regular on-site addiction, mental health and medical services;
* • Facilitating the provision of these services through qualified non-profits;
* • Considering a state policy for “re-institutionalizing” the mentally ill; and
* • Yes, help clear a land-use path for building more housing, of all kinds.

onsultant specializing in housing issues.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California Businessowners Take the Homelessness Crisis to Court

Homeless hungry foodLast month, the downtown San Diego franchise of the Burgerim restaurant chain closed its doors, contending that chaotic conditions caused by large numbers of homeless people in and around nearby Horton Plaza Park had driven customers away and made it impossible to operate, even during the Christmas season. The shuttering of the Burgerim location, which had been open for little over a year, was a warning signal to the San Diego business community—and to city hall, too. Burgerim would not be leaving quietly. The franchisee, backed by parent company Burgerim USA, intended to sue in state court, claiming that neither its landlord nor the City of San Diego had lived up to their responsibilities to keep the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter clean and suitable for business.

Burgerim’s legal action will be of special interest to members of the multi-billion-dollar homelessness industry nationwide. (In Seattle alone, $1 billion a year gets spent on the city’s 11,500 homeless people). San Diego County’s homeless number about 8,500, which means this beautiful Southern Californian region has the nation’s fourth-largest homeless population (after New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle), a rank it has held for several years. The San Jose area is fifth.

Despite the many billions spent on homelessness, however, the problem is getting worse, especially in California. Along with homeless encampments come deadly outbreaks of hepatis A, typhus, and other communicable diseases, driven by attending drug addiction. Some parts of the city are littered with syringes. A desperate San Diego now steam-cleans its streets and sidewalks. Even in expensive neighborhoods, unguarded greenery is often strewn with trash and toilet paper, revealing where homeless people have spent the night. The city tries to keep the squalor at bay with improved shelter programs. It even plans to provide 500 bins, where the homeless can stash their belongings, but that effort alone will cost the city about $2 million a year in overtime for the cops who guard the lockers. Advocates suggest that these overtime millions could be better spent placing hundreds of homeless in their own studio apartments.

Will Burgerim’s lawsuit have any effect on this complex, expensive, and apparently intractable social issue? Can retail and restaurant tenants really use the courts to force landlords and municipal governments to protect them against a problem that no one seems able to solve?

Absolutely, says Niv Davidovich, a lawyer for Burgerim. “There is ample case law that will allow the Burgerim lawsuit to move forward,” he maintains. “Landlords and the city are responsible for reasonably maintaining the common areas of any commercial property. If they fail to do so, they are violating the lease terms, violating their covenant of good faith and fair dealing with the tenant, which is implied into the lease by operation of law, and are acting negligently, thus subjecting themselves to liability both in tort and contract.”

Whatever the fate of Burgerim’s lawsuit, it’s difficult to foresee how legal action will affect the homelessness crisis long-term. If held liable for problems caused by people over whom they have no control, private landlords at least have the option of going out of business—a nightmare scenario that has already destroyed large sections of urban America. But what about municipal government? Can the law force cities to end or control homelessness?

For decades it’s been an open secret that “homeless” is, for the most part, a euphemism for chronic afflictions that have proven very difficult to treat. The overwhelming majority of homeless people end up on the streets either because they are mentally ill, or because they engage in self-destructive behaviors, or because they live in a cruelly compassionate “non-judgmental” society that no longer grants itself the moral authority to distinguish between illness and health.

In the mid-1980s, when I worked in New York’s City Hall, Mayor Ed Koch commissioned a detailed study of the city’s single homeless men. I no longer have the report, but I recall its main conclusions, which divided this population into five main groups. A large segment of homeless men were clinically diagnosed as seriously mentally ill; occasionally dangerous, they were for the most part frightened, confused, and unable to cope with life. A smaller group suffered from severe personality disorders. They weren’t necessarily sick, but they had a hard time interacting with others. If they held a job, they would fight with the boss; get them an apartment, and they would fight with the landlord. Another 20 percent of the persistently homeless were crippled by substance abuse (though men in all five groups used drugs and alcohol to some extent). Hardcore slackers—what we used to call “bums”—made up about 15 percent of the total. They were generally healthy, and often had job skills, but preferred not to be tied down to regular jobs. They might work or panhandle long enough to buy a bus ticket to Florida or San Diego, but wherever they went, they would soon wind up back on the streets.

The remaining segment—roughly 10 percent of the homeless—were simply down on their luck. They had lost a job, they had been burned out of their apartment building, or they had seen a marriage break up. They needed a helping hand to get back on their feet. Find them a job, and they would keep it. Get them an apartment, and they would take care of it, and pay the rent. The report concluded that only this last 10 percent of the homeless population could be helped in any meaningful way, an observation that sheds light on why, despite billions in spending and hundreds of social programs, homelessness and the chaos it creates has reached the crisis point in cities and states across the country.

Do We Have a Right to Shelter?

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)

Does everyone by virtue of their existence have a right to shelter? It’s a question the California legislature will consider in 2019.

Earlier this month, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced Senate Bill 48. This Right to Shelter Bill “aims to ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers,” according to Wiener’s office. This “right” includes:

  • “A safe place to sleep and keep one’s belongings.
  • “An ability to access shelter without having to sign up on a daily basis.
  • “An ability to remain with one’s partner.
  • “An ability to access services necessary to stabilize one’s life and transition into supportive housing or permanent housing, including mental health, addiction treatment, and other services.”

When Wiener declares that “California’s housing crisis, along with our mental health and addiction challenges, are driving people into homelessness, and we must act,” we can’t disagree. But shelter is a right? On that we cannot agree.

In the case of SB 48, the “right to shelter” is fabricated out of the loss of others’ rights. Funding for shelter is provided only when others’ right to their property — their money — is violated. Obligating some to pay for others’ “rights” corrupts the proper understanding of what a right truly is. It assigns a burden to society that it did not ask for.

Rather than establishing a heretofore hidden right, the bill actually introduces a mandate, which is defined as “an official instruction or command.” Rights cannot be commanded into existence, nor can commands be interpreted as rights. A more fitting name for Wiener’s legislation would be the “Demand to Provide Shelter” Bill.

None of this means we’re indifferent to the homeless. Humans need housing. But issuing mandates isn’t going to solve the homeless problem, particularly in California, where the housing crisis has forced thousands to go without suitable shelter.

The best policymakers can do is get out of the way. That, however, requires them to take an active role. Government has been the primary author of the housing crisis, and its network of hurdles must be undone. Replace the California Environmental Quality Act with law that reasonably protects the environment but doesn’t create conditions that discourage home building. Forbid rent control laws in every corner of the state. Streamline and shorten the building permit process, and reduce, and waive when possible, permit fees. Lift local regulations that inhibit construction. Overhaul local zoning laws that block housing expansion.

In the best of all cases, policymakers would tear down every barrier they have erected. Eliminating even one of the hurdles mentioned above will do far more for the homeless than passing laws intended to create rights for them.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Democratic State Senator Wants to Give CA Homeless a ‘Right to Shelter’

800px-Helping_the_homelessDemocratic lawmakers are already gearing up for brawls with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom over costly efforts to expand state government with a single-payer health care system and a bold new push for subsidized pre-kindergarten education. Now, another ambitious bill with a huge price tag has emerged: one guaranteeing the state’s steadily growing homeless population an inherent right to government paid or provided shelter.

A 2017 federal estimate put the total number of California’s homeless at 134,000. If 100,000 took advantage of shelter at a cost of $100 per night, that’s a $3.65 billion annual outlay.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, is the lead proponent. He told the Bay City Beacon that his “right to shelter” Senate Bill 48 is inspired by the policy put in place by New York City in 1981 after New York courts interpreted the state’s constitution as creating such a right.

“Shelter isn’t the ultimate goal – permanent housing is the goal – but shelter is a critical step in helping people get back on their feet. Access to shelter shouldn’t depend on where you live, yet in California today, it does. Too many parts of California either have no shelters or inadequate shelters,” Wiener said in a statement about his measure.

Wiener won praise from some fellow Bay Area politicians for his framing of the homeless crisis as a state problem, rather than one that should be seen exclusively as a local headache – one that San Francisco has seemed overwhelmed by in recent years.

“Elevating this up above our internal San Francisco food fight is certainly good,” San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said.

Proposal knocked for vagueness on details, funding

A 2017 report in The Urbanist online magazine found that while the focus had long been on San Francisco’s homeless population, officials in neighboring counties – Alameda, Oakland, San Mateo and Santa Clara – all struggled to come up with effective plans and funding to deal with their growing homelessness.

However, some of the coverage of Weiner’s bill paralleled the criticism that California Senate Democrats faced in 2017 when they passed Senate Bill 562. It would have committed the state to establishing a single-payer health-care system without offering such key details as how its $400 billion annual cost would be covered – or outlining how such a state law could overcome the obstacles to state single-payer that are well-established in federal law. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon knocked senators for expecting the Assembly to fix a bill that was “woefully incomplete.”

Similarly, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight wrote last week of Wiener’s bill, “He doesn’t know exactly how it will work. He doesn’t know how much it will cost or how it will be funded.”

In interviews, Wiener offered a vague vision of a statewide network of “Navigation Centers” – friendlier, more supportive homeless shelters that offered access to health, substance abuse and other programs.

Inspired by New York City program with many critics

Yet even after Wiener begins fleshing out his proposal in substantive ways, California residents will learn that the history of New York City’s pioneering program is as problematic as inspirational. While the city’s program is widely praised on humanitarian grounds for sheltering more than 60,000 people a night, it has also long been a political punching bag that faces criticism from across the ideological spectrum.

A 2017 report by the Daily Beast website – normally sympathetic to liberal initiatives – was typical.

On the left, there are complaints about the shoddy, crime-ridden private facilities and residential hotels that the city contracts to handle some of the homeless.

Moderates worry that so much is spent on shelter that there’s not much money left to spend on programs to transition the homeless to jobs and productive lives.

Conservatives like the American Enterprise Institute’s Kevin Corinth say there’s statistical evidence that family homelessness is increasing much faster in New York City than nationally because once such families secure city shelter, parents lose their incentive to seek jobs or career training. The average stay in a shelter is more than a year.

But on his home turf, at least, Wiener is finding praise for thinking big.

“We can’t just have people languishing and dying in the streets as we wait decades to build enough affordable housing for everyone,” San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen told the Chronicle. “We need a safe, dignified place for people to be in the interim.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

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