Issues & Insights

California’s Approach To Homelessness: That’s Not How This Works

I&I Editorial

Even as a homeless fellow was using aisle 10 of a San Francisco’s Safeway as an open sewer last weekend, the thinking in Sacramento and city halls across California remained mired in the “we need more money” mindset. Of course increased outlays will only make matters worse.

California freely spends other people’s money on the homeless, just as anyone would expect a Democrat-dominated state to do. Consider some recent headlines:

  • “California Unleashes Hundreds of Millions in Emergency Aid for Cities and Counties to Fight Homelessness,” office of Gov. Gavin Newsom
  • “Governor: More Federal Spending on Housing Will Fix California’s Homeless Epidemic,” California Globe
  • “Homeless-related Violence Continues as More Money is Thrown at Housing,” California Globe
  • “L.A. Homeless Crisis: Spend $780 Million — INCREASE Homelessness by 33%,” California Political Review
  • “LA Is Spending Over $1 Billion to House the Homeless. It’s Failing,” Reason TV
  • “San Jose leaders approve mayor’s spending plan to help end homelessness, add affordable housing,” ABC 7 News, Bay Area
  • “Homeless hearing on Skid Row: Millions spent, but no improvement, officials say,” ABC 7 News, Los Angeles

The lesson about spending should have been learned more than 50 years ago, when Sargent Shriver was waging President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. When asked why the program was failing to reach its goal, he said Washington just hadn’t spent enough. Even the most reactionary politicians and stubborn government functionaries should have realized at that moment that generous spending wasn’t the answer.

Despite outlays of $25 trillion over a little more than a half-century, poverty remains at roughly the same place it was in 1964, when Johnson said during his State of the Union address his administration was declaring an “unconditional war.” More to the point, the poverty rate had been falling consistently for years but began to virtually flatline at roughly the same time Johnson made his announcement. It has since bounced between 11.1% and 15.3%.

Economists Lowell E. Gallaway and Daniel G. Garrett found that even small gains in this war are expensive. Over the first 11 years following Johnson’s declaration of war, “every 1 percentage point fall in the poverty rate” needed “a 50-percentage point increase in real public aid.” Yet in the 11 years preceding the new program, a single point decrease in the poverty rate needed no more than “a 10 percentage point increase in public aid.”

California’s festering experience with homelessness is a similar story. Despite all the spending, and the pleas and plans for additional money, homelessness has spiked 30% since 2017 in San Francisco, grew 16% in the city of Los Angeles and 12% in the county over 2018, and swelled 42% in San Jose over two years. In Alameda County, the number of homeless has jumped 43% since 2017. The homeless population has been climbing sharply in Sacramento, and Santa Clara and Kern counties, as well.

Even Sonoma County, known for its wines, not urban problems, has a mile-long tent city.

The misery has reached the point that nearly half of the nation’s homeless who sleep on the streets and in other public places are in California.

None can doubt homelessness in California is a genuine crisis. Human urine and feces litter San Francisco streets (and at least one Safeway aisle), and diseases that plagued man during the Medieval period, as well running-wild rats and accumulating trash, are exhausting Los Angeles. Violence has reached a point that even veterans of the street haven’t seen before.

It’s truly an understatement when the the Acton Institute says that “government policies to reduce homelessness may have made the situation worse.” California enables and encourages homelessness through an assortment of questionable measures. Public urination and defecation are not prosecuted (and by implication are approved of); taking over public spaces is tolerated, as is open drug use; laws stand between the mentally ill homeless and treatment; and a regulatory framework restricts the supply of desperately needed new housing.

Meanwhile, a homeless-industrial complex stands firmly in the way of progress. It’s made up of government bureaucracies, and homeless advocacy groups, the more radical of which regard homeless humans as an endangered species that cannot be removed from its natural habitat. They are relentless in blocking ideas and plans that would help their fellow man.

Allan Brownfeld, an author and former White House and congressional aide, says the greatest beneficiaries of the Johnson program have not been the intended targets but the bureaucracies who were charged to care for the welfare of others.

“In the so-called ‘War On Poverty,’ for example, programs were not designed to give money to the poor, whatever the merits of that would have been, but, instead, to give money to people who were to provide ‘services’ to the poor,” he said. “The result has been that the only poverty such legislation corrected was that of its own employees.”

Though we’ve had decades to learn from the mistakes, nothing has changed. To borrow Brownfeld’s words from the late 1970s, “thousands of well-organized individuals and groups have a vested interest in the continuation of many otherwise useless and costly programs.”

Expenditures on the homeless aren’t effective in part because the funds become a magnet and crutch for the homeless. Injudicious spending encourages further dependence.

The more-spending mindset also more often than not misallocates funds, a fact not lost on the public paying the bills. A poll of 901 Los Angeles County voters released this fall found that two-thirds believe that spending on behalf of the homeless is done “very ineffectively” (41%) or “somewhat ineffectively” (25%).

None of this is to say public funds should never be used to reduce homelessness. As much as we would like for that to be true, it’s not possible. But instead of feeding government bureaucracies with taxpayers’ money, public funds ought to be used to supplement the private programs that have successfully helped the homeless off the streets and into proper housing.

We further suggest that policymakers around the state take a look at San Diego County, where the homeless population has actually fallen. Officials there have taken an almost fully opposite approach to that of San Francisco, and the shift in thinking and in acting is paying off.

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  • the greatest beneficiaries of the Johnson program have not been the intended targets but the bureaucracies who were charged to care for the welfare of others.
    these were the actual intended beneficiaries
    never assume the public goal is related to the real goal

  • Maybe the California voters will follow the Australian voters who recently voted their green lunacy party’s’ overzealous actions on energy out of office, and express their opinions at upcoming elections. The misdirected leadership of our one-party state has caused the costs for electricity and transportation fuels to be among the highest in the country. Further lunacy will continue to incur increased energy costs for all residents and have a negative impact on the growing population of homeless.

  • take all the money given to all those privet agencies that only enrich themselves and build insane asylums for the mentaly incompetent and crimanaly insane homeless.
    boost the drug and alcohol treatment availability for the drunks and druggies. above all, stop letting breaking the law go unpunished. if they crap on the street, provide them a toilet….in a jail cell.
    if you want to stop something, tax it.
    if you want more of something, subsidise it.
    stop paying homeless people to be homeless.

      • there is no such thing as federal money
        every penny they waste was taken from the citizens at gunpoint

  • The very headline is a joke. CA’s approach to homelessness is to ignore it at the peril of their once booming economy. No one up north here talks about vacationing there anymore. And we hate the Californians moving here. Look at what has happened to Bend, OR. It is no longer recognizable. Nor affordable to the locals who grew up there, just like in CA. The health issues that can and already do happen there, could kill thousands. But maybe that is what Mr. Newsom is hoping for…If he is anything like his aunt, he likely is in it for scheisting those he supposedly serves…There should be a national force that goes after those who would stand by and watch there citizens lose their homes an lifestyles, and not give a shit.

  • The Democrats, post – Reagan, decided their path to power began by echoing Alinsky and Lenin in subverting the excepted social and institutional contracts that held America together. The hard Soros/CAIR/MSM left took over .. force feeding America racism, class warfare, unlimited immigration, voter fraud, climate stupidity, gun control, gender dysphoria… an insane list designed to undermine the will of the deplorables and bitter clingers.
    Homelessness was just another deliberate subversion; ugly, smelly, burnt out drug fueled bums living next to us. Not surprisingly, this particular Marxist political fetish will go off the rails horribly in the near future, as Nature abhors a vacuum. History tells us genetic mutations will shortly produce a deadly viral epidemic within these squalid encampments that will easily pass to suburbia and the urban cores…..when the privileged liberal and conservative enclaves find that they and their children are needlessly dying because of the left political subversions ….things may change…. may change, not will change. Noted epidemiologists are privately predicting that up to 70K non-homeless deaths, on top 50K homeless deaths within 24 months.
    Trump has been briefed and is finally starting to deal with this issue, but the Newsom and Kali Marxist Democrats are intransigent to ending this insanity. Like Pharaoh, after the Democrats first and second born are dead, their hearts and minds will still refuse to change.

  • The first thing we need to do, the very first thing, is to stop calling this a homeless problem. This is a drug problem. This is a mental illness problem, much of it caused by drugs. You see folks what poo pooing the war on drugs gets us? The attitude that “I’ll let my kids have some of my pot, because at least I know the quality is good, and they are going to do it anyways!”. How about the attitude that heavier drugs “increase creativity” and “open doors of understanding”. Remember that swill, and if you complained about the attitude, you were a square, overreaching jerk?

    Well here we are. Two generations of people addled by drug use, their logic circuits blown. These people don’t want housing, they reject help by a large majority. And if you were successful to provide them housing, they would have the appliances and copper ripped out before you know it to get drugs. And who would hire these people for paying jobs even if you did give them housing. We deflect the real problem by calling them “homeless”. Homeless is not what they are, it is what they choose because of drugs.

    The answer is so simple. We have shuttered medical facilities, and shuttered military bases. Both of these facilities have dormitories, large open rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, etc. We convert these facilities for the homeless right now.

    Next, the homeless are offered three choices. 1) We’ll get them cleaned up, a new set of fresh clothes, and a one way ticket back to family. 2) They willfully go to a facility where they will get clean both inside and out, given work at the facility to do so that it is largely self-sustaining, job training, placement and off-site place to live once they get a job and can pay for it. 3). They go to jail for loitering, no visible means of support, etc.

    Bring in the cleaning crews that we have seen do magnificent jobs on their own dime, pay them well, and clean up the debris left behind.

    This is how it is done in a normal society. Simple, straightforward, efficient and economical. Something politicians simply don’t understand.

  • 1 in 5 homeless people are in California. It was said the states would be the laboratories for what works or doesn’t as to what to do nationally. In that respect, California serves as a major example of what NOT to do to control the problem. The old joke about a liberal trying to change a flat tire by throwing money at it still applies. It never works because most of the dollars never find their way to those in need. Same with any government program, from education to farming, to anything. The bureaucracy is strong and corrupt officials line their pockets with that money.

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