Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This quote, often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, needs to be revised to fit California Democrats’ formula for problem solving. California insanity is taking the same failed policies and “fixing” them by throwing more money at them.
Governor Gavin Newsom is in the hot seat. He’s a master of rhetoric and echoing the radical progressivism that destroyed San Francisco and is now spreading across the state. This is why the homelessness problem he helped to create when he was mayor of the leftist mecca has become a statewide epidemic. California accounts for 12% of the U.S. population but has over 25% of the nation’s homeless people. Newsom’s solution is to downplay the massive amounts of money being wasted on failed programs and triple it.
Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday directing agencies under his command to identify state land that could be used as temporary shelter locations for the homeless. The order also kick-starts a creating a $750 million fund that providers could tap to pay rents, fund affordable housing or aid boarding and care homes.
In addition, the Democratic governor said the final portion of $650 million in emergency homeless aid to cities and counties approved in June was being released Wednesday after a final federal homelessness count. The report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found California’s homeless population increased 16% last year, to about 151,000 people. That’s more than a quarter of the national total.
Lest we forget, these aren’t new solutions. They’re variations on things progressives have been trying for years, but more importantly they’re massive expansions on programs that have been demonstrated to do nothing to mitigate homelessness. It’s essentially a massive homeless persons relocation ploy that does little to address the core issue while spending billions in a short amount of time to disguise the problem.
It’s the “kind” solution, one that doesn’t “victimize” those suffering from the various problems that cause homelessness. But its fundamental flaw is that it only addresses the surface issue of homelessness visibility. They aren’t taking the proper steps to prevent people from becoming homeless, nor are they establishing a realistic path for people who are currently homeless to receive the assistance they need to improve their situation. Instead, it’s focused on removing homeless people from visibility on city streets and relocate them en masse to designated public lands.
In essence, these programs are designed remove homeless people from view, not help them change their circumstances. They will all still be homeless, but they’ll be homeless somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind.
To solve a problem, one must understand it. This is the major disconnect in Newsom’s various solutions over the years as he has attempted to juggle his progressive sensibilities with the fact that those sensibilities are part of the problem. Democrats talk about substance abuse, mental illness, and unskilled workers not having enough opportunity. But they tie the hands of law enforcement and make it conducive for substance abusers to continue abusing. Their mental illness solutions tend to only apply to those who are a cognizant enough and willing to seek treatment. And, of course, they only inflate cost of living with insane taxes that make it impossible for many to make ends meat.
A program in Albuquerque drew national attention a few years back. It was heralded by some as a “conservative solution” to homelessness. While it had some distinctly conservative tenets such as the appreciation of hard work and increased opportunity over welfare programs, it had its flaws. But where it succeeded, it succeeded tremendously and should be examined as one among many solutions California and the rest of the nation should consider adopting.
The funny part is the program, like so many good solutions to homelessness, was quite simple. Vans would drive around looking for panhandlers. They would offer them work for the day, and then drive them to areas where the city needed basic manual labor like picking up garbage. They’d pay them $9/hour and offer them access to shelters, substance abuse services, and mental health institutions.
The van program has earned national media attention, and dozens of cities are looking into duplicating it, but it’s just one part of an array of interlocking initiatives that in just five years has turned the largest city in one of the nation’s poorest states into a national leader in the effort to address homelessness—a counterpoint to San Francisco, a wealthy city that’s spent large amounts to deal with a homelessness crisis with little to show for it . What makes Albuquerque’s holistic approach so attractive to other urban executives is how it marries liberal and conservative principles—no questions-asked charity and an old-fashioned work ethic. The city is putting the people most at risk of dying on the streets into homes straightaway, which has saved dozens of lives and has realized net savings to the taxpayer of more than $2 million a year. Forward-thinking social service agencies have built successful day labor and job placement programs for homeless people who had little hope of getting work on their own. Activists have convinced city and county officials to fund the creation of a sturdy village of tiny homes (rather than tents) for people currently living on the street. And, perhaps most important, a series of excessive force cases by the Albuquerque Police Department prompted voters to tax themselves to beef up mental health and substance abuse programs weakened by budget cuts.
One of the key tenets of federalism is allowing individual government entities from local, city, county, and state levels to experiment with solutions that others can then adopt or innovate. While there were problems with the Albuquerque experiment, there were demonstrable successes and benefits upon which to build. And unlike the Newsom series of solutions, this one didn’t have to cost taxpayers extra. The costs associated with it were mostly mitigated by cost savings to the city.
The key to California’s failure to find viable solutions to the various components of homelessness is the state’s addiction to regulating everything. Very few things can happen in California without permission from the overseers in Sacramento. Those who can make it past Sacramento’s red tape are then tasked with overcoming regulatory objections from city and county governments. Valid programs are often shut down or prevented from starting because they couldn’t meet the high standards imposed by government. It’s not as easy as just getting food and feeding the homeless. Many who do so are likely breaking some sort of California or local law.
As progressive Forbes writer Michael Shellenberger noted, California wants everything to be perfect and often won’t allow good solutions to make an immediate impact first.
Bales says he was one of the people who urged the US Government’s Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to intervene. “We’ve been crying out for a National Guard-like response,” said Bales, whose church provides food, showers, and shelter to 1,350 people camped nearby. In 2016 Bales lost the lower half of his leg to a flesh-eating bacteria from contamination on Skid Row.
According to Bales and other experts, California made homelessness worse by making perfect housing the enemy of good housing, by liberalizing drug laws, and by opposing mandatory treatment for mental illness and drug addiction.
Other states have done a better job despite spending less money. “This isn’t rocket science,” said John Snook, who runs the Treatment Advocacy Center, which advises states on mental health and homelessness policy around the country. “Arizona is a red state that doesn’t spend a ton on its services but is the best scenario in every aspect. World-class coordination with law enforcement. Strong oversight. They don’t let people fall apart and then return to jail in 30 days like California does.”
Then, of course, there’s the insane cost of living. As a Southern California resident for over a dozen years, I still cringe whenever I fill up the gas tank or go to eat at a restaurant. One bedroom apartments in San Francisco rent for $3468 a month on average. Most of this is market driven; it’s hard for me to leave because of access to the best medical care for my family and the amazing weather. Nevertheless, a good chunk of the problem with California’s costs can be attributed to high taxes, zoning restrictions, and building codes that create challenges right at the foundation of homelessness solutions, namely getting them into homes.
A Los Angeles initiative that cost taxpayers $1.2 billion has been unable to build a single unit after three years. Estimates were way off, resulting in a median cost per homeless unit of $531,000. Again, that’s the cost for one living area for a single homeless person. Welcome to Los Angeles, folks.
The $1.2 billion bond was supposed to pay for 10,000 housing units spread across 114 projects. The units were supposed to cost between $350,000-$414,000. But with a median cost now over $531,000, including over 1000 units that will cost over $600,000, the 10,000 unit goal has been reduced by 24%.
Even with the lower expectations based on higher costs, movement is slow. Of the 114 projects earmarked, only 19 have begun.
“The length of time needed to complete these projects does not meet the level of urgency needed to match the magnitude of our homelessness crisis,” a new Los Angeles Controller audit report stated.
As long as California continues to believe their massive homelessness programs aren’t working because they’re underfunded, they’ll continue to throw money at them. But money isn’t the problem. Their solutions are fundamentally flawed.