Eyewitness: Progressives Encourage Homelessness
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From WORLD. El Cajon (pronounced “el ka-HONE”) is a medium-sized city in the metro San Diego area. When I was elected mayor in 2008, downtown El Cajon and a vast grid of surrounding blocks were a hotbed of crime, urban blight, and homelessness. In my pre-political life I had worked in mental health, first as a clinician with a nursing degree and then as a doctor of clinical psychology. Over a career of supervising mental health teams in hospital emergency room settings, I’d had a lot of experience ministering to and caring for homeless people.
I brought that with me when I took office. We hired a new city manager, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work. Partnering with city officials, social services, law enforcement, the business community, and nonprofits, we developed new homeless shelters and programs. We enlisted the city’s pastors to pray, and much to the ridicule of many, we prayed with them. By 2020, any homeless person who would agree to get help had gotten it. Many became what are called “housed homeless,” but they were off the streets and being cared for. Meanwhile, the streets themselves were safer and more welcoming for all residents.
Then came September 2022. We noticed a new and sudden influx of homeless people to our city—not just on the streets but taking over El Cajon hotels. I asked our police department to make some friendly inquiries with these folks, to find out where they’d come from. As it turned out, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, without consulting us, had launched a hotel voucher program that quickly overwhelmed our two-star travel-lodge type properties, turning every one of them into a homeless encampment. …
Decades ago, California was the destination of dreams. …
Today, though, the state is overpriced, overtaxed, and in many places riddled with crime and filth. Many large and medium-sized cities have become nearly uninhabitable—overrun by unchecked encampments of makeshift tents and ramshackle lean-tos. Drug zombies, criminals, and untreated psychotics roam the ruins and rule the places that were once the domain of the rich and powerful. …
How did we get here? Let’s start with a few basic facts. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tells us there are currently 171,521 homeless people on the streets of California. To put matters in perspective, the next closest state is New York with 74,000. Some argue California is the most populous state and the numbers reflect that. But how then can you explain second-place Texas, with just 24,000 homeless?
Well, some say, climate is the determining factor. By this logic, Arizona should be a close second, but it falls far behind California with some 14,000 homeless people, and New Mexico with about 3,000. Even Hawaii, the most meteorologically idyllic state in the union, has just 6,000 homeless.
The truth is, California is unique in the nation in that it has crafted a network of laws and policies that are so permissive they actually encourage homelessness. Meanwhile, generous social benefits enable a lifestyle of addiction, even as ill-conceived laws discourage or prevent most standard enforcement techniques cities have historically used to mitigate the practice of living on the streets. The result: People from all over the country—and the world, actually—come here specifically to be homeless. California’s population accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. total of 334 million, but the state hosts 51 percent of the homeless. …
Homelessness in California used to revolve mainly around addicts and the untreated mentally ill. But in 2011, the state Legislature added a new toxin: crime.
Assembly Bill 109 and, in 2016, Proposition 57 sought to ease prison overcrowding in California by simply deciding that many crimes were no longer punishable by incarceration. More than 70 crimes were redefined as “less serious” or “non-violent.” This includes the rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sex trafficking, lewd acts with a minor of 15 years old and above, hostage-taking, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence resulting in injury, and many others.
Then, prisons began closing—two in the past two years. After that, El Cajon saw a 35 percent spike in homelessness. …
Meanwhile, in 2014 voters approved Proposition 47, converting a whole menu of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, including shoplifting of items less than $950. Recently, a group of 7-Eleven owners crowded into my office complaining that the homeless now steal from them with impunity—and with no fear of the police.
Proposition 47 also makes personal use of most drugs a minor offense, subject to a ticket or more likely no enforcement. In 2017, the legislature passed Senate Bill 180, which limits law enforcement’s ability to send chronic drug abusers back to prison. …
The voucher program is not new. It is essentially an extension of the Housing First model developed by New York clinical community psychologist Sam Tsemberis in 1992. If homelessness is caused by lack of housing, the premise goes, we should simply give homeless people houses. Soon many private and public figures announced they could provide every chronically homeless person with permanent supportive housing, or PSH, and thus help end homelessness within a decade. Since then, all major cities have tried Housing First. All have failed miserably.
In San Francisco, each PSH unit can cost up to $750,000. In Los Angeles, voters passed a bond issue for more PSH units. The city said they would cost $140,000 each. Instead, they cost triple that, and some cost over $700,000. In many cities, landlords receive massive rents or use third-party for-profit maintenance companies to earn millions on properties for the homeless. In California, the only state to fully adopt the Housing First model, there has been, at great public cost, a 33 percent increase in permanent housing units for the homeless. That sounds great until you consider that California’s homeless population has risen by 33.8 percent overall, and by 47.1 percent in the unsheltered population.
How can we solve a problem if we fundamentally misunderstand its cause? Progressives suggest that the root causes of homelessness are lack of housing, people “down on their luck,” and high rents in a tough economy. Couple this with a strident devotion to the idea that any attempt to link homelessness with poor choices, addiction, or criminality is wrong, and you create a paradigm that ensures any attempt to help will always end in failure. …
Let this be a cautionary tale for other states that say, “It can’t happen here.” It most assuredly can.
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(Excerpt from WORLD. Photo Credit: Canva)
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