San Francisco Residents Use Environmental Lawsuit to Stop Homeless Shelter

In the most played-out storyline in urban politics, San Francisco residents are alleging that a new housing development was approved without appropriate environmental review.

The development in question is a planned 200-bed temporary homeless shelter on the city’s Embarcadero waterfront area. It would replace what is currently a publicly owned parking lot used by fans visiting the nearby Giants stadium.

The shelter was first proposed by Mayor London Breed back in March as part of the city’s Navigation Center program, which provides temporary shelter to homeless people while they are connected to other city services.

These plans met immediate opposition from neighbors, who in, public hearings, protests, and official appeals raised objections that commonly dog proposed homeless shelters: The new shelter would bring drugs and crime to the nearby residential neighborhood. Its 200-bed size would prove too large for the city to effectively handle, particularly given its record managing other Navigation Centers. The presence of contaminated soils and groundwater at the site would create health hazards for the people who would live there.

The city’s Board of Supervisors ultimately rejected these complaints, approving the Navigation Center in June. In doing so, they also declared the project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires that government agencies study the environmental impacts of proposed projects before approving them.

The kind of environmental impact reports that CEQA demands cost a lot in both time and money to prepare, and would have delayed the approval of the Navigation Center by months at the very least. Because of how long and expensive these delays can be, NIMBYs frequently use the law to slow down, alter, or even stop projects they don’t like.

This includes not just homeless shelters and affordable housing, but also regular market-rate developments as well.

City officials tried to avoid this problem in this case by saying that an exemption built into CEQA for urban infill projects applied to the Embarcadero Navigation Center.

But in a lawsuit filed last week, the neighborhood group Safe Embarcadero For All (SEFA) has argued that the many, many negative environmental impacts the project would bring to the neighborhood amounted to “unusual circumstances” that made this infill exemption inappropriate.

“This project will have a significant effect on the environment due to these unusual circumstances, including by attracting additional homeless persons, open drug and alcohol use, crime, daily emergency calls, public urination and defecation and other nuisances,” reads the lawsuit.

Their lawsuit also argues that the state government’s sign off is necessary for the Navigation Center.

SEFA is currently asking for an injunction to stop the Embarcadero Navigation Center from going forward while the case winds through the courts.

San Francisco’s homelessness population has increased by 30 percent in the last two years.

This is not to say that the city’s Navigation Centers have been a huge success at transitioning people into permanent housing. They haven’t.

But the SEFA lawsuit is nevertheless a good example of how any response to the city’s dire homelessness problem, whether its the constructions of more shelters or just the construction of more housing in general, is hamstrung by the state’s onerous environmental review laws.

CHRISTIAN BRITSCHGI is an associate editor at Reason.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

California’s Homeless Industrial Complex – Causes and Solutions

In his final speech from the White House in January 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation that the military had joined with the arms industry and had acquired unwarranted influence over American politics. His term for this alliance was the “military industrial complex.”

Since that time, Eisenhower’s term has been co-opted by other critics of special interests pooling their resources to exercise dangerous influence on America’s democracy; one example would be the so-called “homeless industrial complex.”

This label has been around awhile, and has bipartisan origins. In 2012 a guest editorial appeared in the liberal Washington Post entitled “Dismantling the social services industrial complex.” In it, the author explains “an odd mirror image of this huge complex has emerged in the very ‘industry’ that seeks to feed, clothe and otherwise meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable in our society. It’s a social services-industrial complex, if you will, one that could prove even more difficult to subdue than its military counterpart.”

In 2013, writing for Poverty Insights, author John Roberts asked “Is There a Homeless Industrial Complex That Perpetuates Homelessness?” And in January 2017, a former homeless activist published in the ultra-liberal Huffington Post an article entitled “The Homeless Industrial Complex Problem.”

The alliance of special interests that constitutes what has now become the Homeless Industrial Complex are government bureaucracies, homeless advocacy groups operating through nonprofit entities, and large government contractors, especially construction companies and land development firms.

Here’s how the process works: Developers accept public money to build projects to house the homeless – either “bridge housing,” or “permanent supportive housing.” Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.

That may not sound so bad, but the problem is the price tag. Developers don’t just build housing projects, they build ridiculously overpriced, overbuilt housing projects. Cities and counties create massive bureaucracies. The nonprofits don’t just run these projects – the actual people staffing these shelters aren’t overpaid – they operate huge bureaucratic empires with overhead, marketing budgets, and executive salaries that do nothing for the homeless.

None of these dynamics are terribly unique. Government funded programs are rarely considered bargains. And despite prodigious waste, America’s military is nonetheless the most fearsome in the world. Similarly, despite mismanaging literally billions in proceeds from bonds and taxes collected to help the homeless, in absolute numbers America’s population of homeless may have actually declined over the past 10 years.

How Many Homeless Are There in America?

This surprises a lot of people, but there’s a lot more to that story. According to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in 2007 there were 647,000 homeless people in the U.S., but by the time the most recent count was released in 2018, that number had declined to 543,000. Why, if so much money is being wasted, and the homeless crisis seems to be more acute than ever, are the absolute numbers of homeless actually falling? First of all, the numbers may be incorrect. These counts may be grossly understated.

An illuminating critique of how HUD’s “point-in-time” homeless count may be understating the numbers was published by CityLab in March 2019. Author Alastair Boone participated in an official count, covering a section of Oakland, California, in the early hours of January 30, 2019. HUD requires cities and counties to complete the count, on this day, every two years, in order to receive federal funding for homeless programs. But canvassing the streets of any city during the pre-dawn hours during the coldest month of the year is bound to miss a lot of people. Quoting from the article, “The count is during the winter early in the morning, when it’s harder to actually find folks because they’re seeking some sort of refuge. They want to stay out of sight in general for their own safety.”

Knowing just how many Americans are homeless is further complicated by competing definitions of homelessness. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) claimed in a 2015 report that 1.3 million K-12 students were homeless in that year. But NCES defines the homeless as not only those who are unsheltered or in homeless shelters, but those sharing housing due to loss of their own home, or living in hotels or motels.

Even in California, a state where homelessness is now a crisis célèbre for state legislators in Sacramento, and a cautionary horror story for conservative critics of California politics, at first glance, the overall numbers suggest the problem is overblown. On the map depicted below, using HUD data, the state by state homeless trend is shown for the ten years from 2007 to 2017. California’s total homeless population actually dropped by 3.4 percent.

But reports from around the state dispute the HUD assessment. According to a June 2019 article published in the New York Times, “in Alameda County, the number of homeless residents jumped 43 percent over the past two years. In Orange County, that number was 42 percent. Kern County volunteers surveying the region’s homeless population found a 50 percent increase over 2018. San Francisco notched a 17 percent increase since 2017. When Los Angeles officials released the results of their most recent count, homelessness was up by 12 percent over last year in the county and up 16 percent in the City of Los Angeles.”

Nobody seems to know whether these flaws and ambiguities in how the homeless are counted mean that the crisis is in fact worse now than ever, despite official numbers showing a decline. But total numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. How the homeless are treated, and where the homeless are concentrated, has changed a great deal in the past ten years. This is the real reason the homeless crisis today is worse than ever.

The next map, below, using data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, shows 2018 estimates of the total homeless population by state. Viewed in this context, the states where homelessness increased dramatically over the past ten years, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, nonetheless confront a relatively insignificant challenge. As of 2018, the estimated homeless population of all three of those states combined totaled only 2,340 people.

Most homeless, on the other hand, are concentrated in states that share one or more of three characteristics; a mild winter climate, large urban centers, and liberal politics. New York, with the nation’s second largest homeless population, fulfills two of those three criteria. Sunny California, in first place with an estimated homeless population exceeding 129,000 in 2018, fulfills all three.

Whether the numbers of homeless people are up or down in California is only half the story. How California’s homelessness has worsened over the past ten years represents a qualitative change. The mismanagement of California’s homeless can be attributed to the Homeless Industrial Complex, but other policy failures are also to blame. All in all, California’s response to homelessness is a textbook example of how to get almost everything wrong.

Policies That Made California’s Homeless Crisis Worse

An assortment of policy failures can be directly linked to why homelessness in California is a bigger problem than ever, even in the unlikely event the numbers of homeless have not dramatically increased. These policy failures have taken the form of overzealous court rulings, citizen approved ballot measures that wreaked havoc in their unintended consequences, and flawed legislation.

Court Decisions: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, unsurprisingly, is the author of at least three rulings that have tied the hands of law enforcement in dealing with the homeless. The first of these is Jones v. the City of Los Angeles, decided in 2006, that ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing could be built. Subsequent to the Jones ruling, activist attorneys have repeatedly sued cities and counties to force them to define “permanent supportive housing” with specifications that make it far more difficult and expensive to get anything built.

An analysis published by Washington State based municipal law attorney Oskar Rey in June 2019 describes similar cases in other states. The Jonesruling was reinforced in Sept. 2018, quoting from Rey, “in the case of Martin v City of Boise, where the 9th circuit found that the City of Boise’s enforcement of ordinances prohibiting camping, sleeping, or lying in public violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment if an individual does not have a meaningful alternative (such as space in a shelter or a legal place to camp).” Rey continues:

“A different Ninth Circuit case, Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, decided in 2012, addresses a related issue—due process requirements for the removal of unauthorized encampments on public property. Prior to clearing encampments, local governments must provide notice to camp resident (72-hour minimum notice is common). It is also important to have outreach personnel present during encampment removal, whose job it is to help individuals in an encampment identify shelter options or alternative locations to go to. Personal property found during the encampment removal must be held for a certain amount of time so that it can be claimed by the owner.”

The practical impact of these cases is to create private space wherever a homeless person camps on publicly owned property. Apart from trying – often ineffectively – to prevent the homeless from blocking passage on roads and sidewalks, if a homeless person wants to camp in a public space, they cannot be removed.

State Ballot Initiatives: In 2014 California voters approved Prop. 47, which downgraded drug and property crimes. Prop. 47 has led to what police derisively refer to as “catch and release,” because suspects are only issued citations with a court date, and let go. With respect to the homeless, passage of this initiative has made it a waste of time for police to arrest anyone for openly using illegal drugs or for petty theft. Only very serious crimes are still investigated. Prop. 47 has enabled anarchy among the homeless and in the neighborhoods where homeless are concentrated.

In 2016, California voters approved Prop. 57, intended to make individuals convicted of nonviolent felony crimes eligible for parole. About 7,000 inmates became immediately eligible, and as of early 2016, there were about 25,000 nonviolent state felons that could seek early release and parole under Proposition 57. Hopefully most of these released inmates reintegrated successfully into society. But those among this at-risk population who did not joined California’s homeless.

State Legislation: Flawed legislation by California lawmakers would include AB 109, passed in 2011, which released tens of thousands of “non-violent” criminals out of county jails due to overcrowding without providing adequate means to monitor and assist their transition back into society. Thousands of these inmates were coping with drug addiction and mental illness, and they have found their way onto California’s streets and parks. Many of them are “non-violent” drug dealers or convicted thieves. As with Prop. 57, AB 109 has changed the character of California’s homeless population.

And then there’s the infamous AB 953, a ridiculous bit of legislation that epitomizes the mentality of California’s utopian leftist politicians. As if there weren’t enough laws and court rulings tying the hands of law enforcement, AB 953, the “The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015” makes it even harder. This law, supposedly intended to address dubious claims, especially in California, of discriminatory policing, requires police departments to submit to the State of California an annual report of their “stop data.” The following table, drawn from this report, shows the “Officer Reporting Requirements.”

When it comes to the practical effect of AB 953, it’s hard to find anything good. Every single time they interact with a citizen officers have to input 17 variables into a form that is either paper (four pages, requiring reentry into a database), or onto a tablet, cell phone, or in-car laptop. The mere fact that this is a time consuming process will prevent a police officer from making as many stops during a normal shift, and may deter them from even making some stops. Worse, the data collected is designed to either prove or disprove that officers in any given police department are stopping a disproportionate number of citizens who are members of “protected status groups.” Needless to say, officers, and their departments, may become reluctant to exceed their “quotas,” and as a result have an incentive to not make stops when stops are warranted.

No summary of counterproductive state legislation would be complete without mentioning the laws that make it nearly impossible to get treatment for mentally ill homeless people. According to a report published by CalMatters, this problem began way back in 1967 in California with “a law signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. Aimed at safeguarding the civil rights of one of society’s most vulnerable populations, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act put an end to the inappropriate and often indefinite institutionalization of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.”

Ever since, and especially in recent years as the percentage of homeless who suffer from mental illness has increased, attempts to reform the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act have been tenaciously resisted by the ACLU and other homeless advocacy groups. As reported by San Francisco’s public radio station KQED, during 2018 three laws were introduced by California legislators that would “attempt to change conservatorship rules to allow city health workers to help homeless people with substance abuse and mental health problems by legally and temporarily stepping in to force a mentally ill person into treatment.” Only one, SB 1045, became law, and the final version was so watered down that San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed, a liberal Democrat, claimed “As drafted, SB 1045 would allow us to help fewer than five individuals.” There are an estimated 7,000 homeless living on the streets of San Francisco.

Most of these court rulings and laws, nearly all of them passed or decided in the last decade, have made it far more difficult to manage California’s homeless population. Their effect has been to increase the proportion of mentally ill, drug addicts, and criminals as a percentage of the homeless, at the same time as police and social service workers have far less ability to detain, relocate, or even offer help to the homeless.

Mismanaged Homeless Encampments Raise Threat of Medieval Disease Epidemics

Notwithstanding the many passed or proposed state laws that attempt to create more housing, or throw additional billions at the Homeless Industrial Complex to be largely squandered, another set of state laws – either proposed or already passed – threaten to turn California’s homeless epidemic into a serious disease epidemic. In 2014 the California Legislature passed AB 2657, banning rat poison that uses anticoagulants. The reason for this legislation was to protect endangered species who feed on the poisoned rats and themselves become poisoned. While the law didn’t explicitly prohibit use of the poison within inner cities, the City of Los Angeles has stopped relying on the poison, and instead is setting traps and considering bringing in “working cats” to control the rodent population. It’s not working. An even more restrictive ban on effective rodenticides, AB 2422, is currently moving through California’s state legislature, and is expected to pass.

Most people agree that using poisons this potent should be restricted in suburban areas bordering wildlife habitat. But the consequences of denying its use in the downtown core of Los Angeles could be catastrophic to the human population. And the mountains of trash that create rat habitat are not just coming from homeless people, they are a product of a disastrous decision by the Los Angeles City Council that has led to mountains of uncollected trash from businesses and residences.

In 2017, the Los Angeles City Council began to implement the “RecycLA” program, where they gave seven companies the exclusive right to collect trash. Putting small haulers out of business in the name of saving the streets from excessive traffic, the measure was sold as a way to create economies of scale. Instead, these companies were unable to smoothly absorb the additional work, at the same time as in many cases they doubled or tripled their collection fees. The consequences of these failed schemes are that Los Angeles now has two sources contributing to the mountains of trash in the city – homeless encampments, but also illegal dumping by disgruntled businesses and residences.

Where there’s trash, there are rats, and where there are rats, there are disease carrying fleas. Dr. Drew Pinsky, an outspoken celebrity doctor and Los Angeles native, recently quoted on Fox News, said: “Rats have taken over the city. We’re the only city in the country, Los Angeles, without a rodent control program. We have multiple rodent-borne, flea-borne illnesses, plague, typhus. We’re going to have louse-borne illness. Measles could break into that population. We have tuberculosis exploding.”

All of this is easily confirmed. Los Angeles has already had outbreaks of typhushepatitis and tuberculosis, as have other cities in California. Shigella, a communicable form of diarrhea, is now common among the homeless. There have even been outbreaks of trench fever, spread by lice. As reported by the Atlantic earlier this year “Medieval Diseases Are Infecting California’s Homeless.”

To-date, except for those people living and working in proximity to the many encampments, the homeless crisis in America has been an abstraction. But now there is a possibility that this perfect storm of neglect, indulgence, and corruption may lead to disease outbreaks on a scale not seen in this country for over a century. The homeless problem has become a timebomb.

Homelessness Around the United States

When it comes to mismanaging the homeless, California may be leader of the pack, but other major urban centers are not far behind. The following table shows which American cities have the largest homeless populations. While four out of the top ten – Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco – are in California, it is New York City with the most homeless. An estimated 78,000 homeless are living on the streets of the Big Apple. As usual with numbers, however, there’s more to this story. According to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York City has one of the lowest levels of unsheltered homeless at 5 percent, while in Los Angeles, 75 percent of people were found in unsheltered locations. Overall, over half of all homeless people live in one of the country’s 50 largest cities. In fact, nearly a quarter of all people sleeping unsheltered did so in either New York or Los Angeles. ‘

But how is it that New York City manages to get 95 percent of their homeless into overnight shelters, whereas Los Angeles only gets 25 percent of their homeless into shelters? An interesting analysis published in Medium in May 2018 explains how New Yorkers addressed the problem of homelessness. The approach was first to simply build more shelter beds. The correlation between the number of available shelter beds and the number of sheltered homeless is high across the nation, as the graphic below illustrates.

What New York City did was to prioritize getting people under a roof for the night. In other cities where this has been tried, such as Columbus, Ohio, the number of unsheltered homeless has been brought under control. But New York City has gone a step further, offering reasonable conditions and incentives to their sheltered population even at this most basic first step of assistance. Quoting from Medium:

“In New York, shelters have common areas and guests are allowed during certain hours. People can leave during the day — they are expected to look for a job if they’re able to work, and they receive assistance in that pursuit — but must come back by 10 p.m. in most cases, unless they receive a job-related exemption. All facilities have access to laundry and showers, and residents receive 3 meals a day. New York shelters provide a small platform from which people can rebuild their lives, but are also affordable enough to be able to scale to meet the city’s immense problem.”

As the next chart shows, New York City’s nearly 800 shelters with an overnight capacity of over 62,000 individuals gives them a rate of unsheltered homeless of only 45 per 100,000 residents. San Francisco and Los Angeles, by contrast, have a rate of unsheltered homeless ten times higher; Seattle, five times higher. What’s different in these cities?

Part of it is New York’s legacy of providing assistance to the homeless dating back to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. New York’s network of overnight shelters were acquired over decades, meaning New Yorkers today are able to allocate a higher percentage of the nearly $1.7 billion in city, state and federal money on caseworkers and shelter subsidies, and relatively less on acquisition of new shelter capacity. And because New York City prioritizes providing immediate shelter over the far more expensive “permanent supportive housing,” what seems like a prodigious amount budgeted to help the homeless comes out to only around $21,000 per homeless person.

One obvious challenge facing cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other West Coast cities facing a homeless crisis is the high cost of housing. But other policies have helped cause the problem, and are making the problem worse. As described, state and local laws, court rulings and citizen initiatives have all made California’s homeless crisis much harder to manage. Not only is it harder to compel the homeless to seek shelter, or get them into treatment for addiction and mental illness, or prosecute them for criminal offenses, but the emphasis on permanent supportive housing takes money away from funds that could be used for overnight shelters. Up north, Seattle faces similar policy failures.

Four articles published in City Journal over the past six months by Christopher Rufo, a research fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Wealth & Poverty, offer a blistering critique of Seattle’s inept response to homelessness, and the growing backlash from residents. For starters, the Seattle metro area spends more than $1.0 billion fighting homelessness every year. That equates to nearly $100,000 per homeless individual living in Seattle, nearly five times as much as New York City spends. And yet, as previously shown, Seattle’s rate of unsheltered homeless is five times greater than New York City. By these measures, New York City is twenty-five times more efficient at battling homelessness than Seattle.

Why is it that Seattle, the “Emerald City,” home to what is arguably the second biggest high-tech nexus on earth, a locus for fabulous wealth and a place of dazzling scenic beauty, with per capita income 50 percent higher than New York City, can’t begin to manage their homeless problem?

Rufo attributes the root cause of Seattle’s failure to what he calls “unlimited compassion,” and calls for a complete rethink of the assumptions that guide policies towards the homeless. It would not be much of an overstatement to characterize Rufo’s lengthy first article, from the Fall of 2018, entitled “Seattle Under Siege,” as a seminal manifesto challenging the entire ideological framework of the “compassion brigades” that dominate Seattle politics. This ideology is not unique to Seattle. It informs failed homeless policies across the U.S., especially in blue states, and especially on the West Coast.

The Socialist/Liberal Ideology That Fails to Help the Homeless

What Rufo identifies as the “four ideological power centers” that frame the homeless debate in Seattle (and elsewhere) are “the socialists, the compassion brigades, the addiction evangelists, and the homeless-industrial complex.” The first three fit nicely into a Socialist/Liberal ideology. The last of Rufo’s categories, his shared concern about the “homeless industrial complex,” is a bit more complicated, and motivated not by ideology but by desire for power and profit. More on that later.

An interesting fact about the urban centers on the West Coast is that their high-tech driven wealth is highly correlated with higher wealth inequality, along with higher home prices and higher rents. And where the rich and poor live elbow to elbow at the same time as the cost-of-living soars, socialists come out of the woodwork, offering indignant soundbites and instant solutions. In Seattle, along with San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, avowed socialists sit on the city councils, offering a political agenda that’s guaranteed to make everything worse for the people its supposed to help.

In Seattle, the “Socialist Alternative” city council member is Kashama Sawant, who along with Adrienne Quinn, the new of boss the homeless activist group “All Home,” promotes an agenda that is all too familiar for anyone watching urban politics in cities controlled by liberals. For Sawant, that agenda includes rent control, public housing, minimum-wage hikes, and punitive corporate taxation. As for Quinn, Rufo writes: “In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, she lays out her plan to ‘address the root causes of homelessness’ by solving ‘racism,’ ‘wage inequity,’ ‘climate change,’ ‘housing costs,’ ‘public transportation,’ ‘green building,’ ‘sanctuary cities,’ the ‘child-welfare system,’ ‘brain injuries,’ and ‘mental-health and addiction services.’”

Needless to say, this socialist agenda will never solve the problem of homelessness. Rent control discourages investment in housing; public housing is rarely built cost-effectively, especially in blue cities with extreme environmentalist building codes and costly labor laws, minimum wage hikes are job killers, and punitive corporate taxes send corporations packing for Texas. The most ironic thing about the socialist agenda in 21st century America is that it is inevitably co-opted by the corporate Left. The only thing these two special interests have in common, ultimately, is a vested interest in never seeing lasting solutions to any of the problems they’re supposedly fighting to solve. Lasting solutions would end their revenue streams.

Compassion brigades, as Rufo puts it, “are the moral crusaders of homelessness policy, the activists who put signs on their lawns that read: ‘In this house, we believe black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal,’ and so on. They see compassion as the highest virtue; all else must be subordinated to it.”

What Rufo refers to is expanded on by the idea of six universal moral foundations, first expressed in 2004 by Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia. These virtues (and their opposites) are: “Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, and Liberty/oppression.” Needless to say, Haidt’s paradigm is fodder for ideologues of all stripes. Liberals are accused by conservatives of possessing only two of these virtues – Care (compassion), and Fairness. As an aside, conservatives accuse Libertarians of only possessing one of these virtues, Liberty. For themselves, conservatives familiar with Haidt’s work rather immodestly consider themselves to possess all six universal virtues.

But regardless of what social psychologists theorize, or how those theories are latched onto by various ideologues, Rufo’s assertion that the “compassion brigades” ascribe inordinate emphasis to compassion, at the expense of other moral considerations, is evidence based. And understanding this moral weakness in the moral arguments of liberal advocates for the homeless is a prerequisite to developing counter-arguments that offer equivalent moral worth.

Which brings us to Rufo’s third ideological power center, the “addiction evangelists,” who he describes as the intellectual heirs of the 1960’s counterculture. This time, the counterculture wants to “elevate addicts and street people to a protected class.” Rufo identifies Seattle’s proponents of this ethos, but they’re found everywhere. One primary justification for the pro-addiction movement is “harm reduction” by providing clean needles, and safe injection sites. But providing addiction infrastructure has the predictable consequence of attracting addicts, and the more addiction infrastructure is provided, the more addicts are attracted.

In all of these ideological movements – socialism, compassion, addiction evangelism – Rufo documents how the unintended consequence has been to increase the number of homeless people and the number of drug addicts on the streets of Seattle. Another consequence has been to invite a growing backlash from residents who have had enough. But progress is slow, especially when the will of the people isn’t enough. When over 70,000 Seattle residents submitted a ballot measure to ban safe injection sites, it was thrown out in court. Apparently “public health policy is not subject to veto by citizen initiative.”

The Homeless Industrial Complex

As is usually the case with leftist movements in America, public policies would not embrace the movement unless powerful special interests saw an economic benefit. In the case of the homeless, this economic benefit has grown over time. Litigation and legislation, as described, have increased the cost of providing shelter for the homeless. These costs have also increased because the character of the homeless population has changed due to a variety of causes, making it more costly to effectively help them: permissive drug laws combined with easier access to harder drugs such as opiates, mass release of nonviolent prison inmates, and laws restricting the ability to compel treatment for addiction or mental illness.

At the same time as per capita costs have risen, public awareness has led to massive increases in funding to provide assistance. Institutions have arisen that benefit from perverse incentives. If the problem gets worse, they get more money. Seattle provides dramatic examples of this. Again, from Christopher Rufo:

“It wasn’t always this way. When I spoke with Eleanor Owen, one of the original co-founders of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center, she explained that the organization’s mission has shifted over the years from helping the homeless to securing government contracts, maintaining a $112 million real-estate portfolio, and paying a staff of nearly 900. ‘It’s disgraceful,’ she said. ‘When we started, we kept our costs low and helped people get back on their feet. Now the question is: How can I collect another city contract? How can I collect more Medicaid dollars? How can I collect more federal matching funds? It’s more important to keep the staff paid than to actually help the poor become self-sufficient.’”

Nowhere, however, is the mismanagement of homeless more acute than in the deep blue state of California, where land values and anti-development legislation, along with a host of other laws and court rulings as previously described, combined with the most forgiving winter weather in America, have combined to make it America’s homeless capital.

California’s homeless are estimated to number over 130,000, living on sidewalks, parks and parking lots, vacant lots and on the beach. In Los Angeles County, the most recent count puts the number of homeless at 59,000. And in greater Los Angeles, there is plenty of money available to help the homeless. In 2016 Los Angeles voters approved Measure HHH, allocating $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units to house the homeless. Since then, Los Angeles voters approved a quarter cent sales tax increase, also to help the homeless. Additional hundreds of millions are coming from the state to help the homeless.

Every major city in California is spending tens of millions or more on programs for the homeless. But most of the money is being wasted. Why? Because there is a Homeless Industrial Complex that is getting rich, wasting the money, while the homeless population swells.

A disgraceful example of wasteful spending can be found in the homeless shelter being built in Venice Beach, where a permanent population of over 1,000 homeless have taken over virtually every public venue, including the beach. Because their tents are now protected by law as private space, they not only serve as housing, but as pop-up drug retailers and brothels. To get these folks off the streets and off the beach, a 154 bed shelter has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council. It will be a “wet” shelter, meaning druggies and drunkards will be able to come and go as they please. The estimated cost for this shelter so far is at least $8 million, which equates to over $50,000 per bed.

These costs, grossly inflated and far too expensive to offer a solution scaled to the overall problem, are nonetheless unsurprising if you consider the cost of any new construction in exorbitant California. But this isn’t new construction, it’s “temporary” construction of very large tents on three acres of land. Eight million dollars (or more), to put up some large tents and plumb for bathrooms and a kitchen. As a “wet” shelter, it will become a hotel for freeloading partiers as much as a refuge for the truly needy. Not only is it only capable of housing a small fraction of the 1,000+ homeless already in Venice, it will attract more homeless people to relocate to Venice.

The story gets worse. This property, owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit District and located on some of the most precious real estate on earth, could have been sold to private investors to generate tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Why wasn’t that choice made? Why, for that matter, aren’t homeless shelters being built in Pacific Palisades, or Brentwood, or Beverly Hills, or the other tony enclaves of LA’s super rich? The answer speaks to the hypocrisy of the proponents of these “solutions” as much as it nurtures the cynicism of its critics. Because as with all boondoggles that destroy neighborhoods in the name of compassion, the Homeless Industrial Complex knows better than to foul their own nests.

The Homeless Industrial Complex’s expensive maltreatment of Venice Beach in particular, and taxpayers in general, is an example of how “bridge housing” projects are co-opted and corrupted. But even more horrendous waste is exemplified by the efforts to construct “permanent supportive housing.”

According to an NPR report from June 2018, “when voters passed Measure HHH, they were told that new ‘permanent supportive housing’ would cost about $140,000 a unit. But average per unit costs are now more than triple that. The PATH Ventures project in East Hollywood has an estimated per-unit cost of $440,000.”

A privately funded development company, Flyaway Homes, has debuted in Los Angeles with the mission of rapidly providing housing for the homeless. Using retrofitted shipping containers, the company’s modular approach to apartment building construction is purported to streamline the approval process and cut costs. But the two projects they’ve got underway are too expensive to ever offer a solution to more than fraction of the homeless.

Their 82nd Street Development will cost $4.5 million to house 32 “clients” in 16 two-bedroom, 480 square foot apartments. That’s $281,250 per two-bedroom apartment. The firm’s 820 W. Colden Ave. property will cost $3.6 million to house 32 clients in eight four-bedroom apartments. That’s $450,000 per apartment.

These costs are utterly unsustainable. But the Homeless Industrial Complex has grown into a juggernaut, crushing the opposition. At community hearings across California, “homeless advocates,” who are often bused in from other areas expressly to shout down local opposition, demand action, because “no one deserves to live on a sidewalk.”

Money is squandered, and the population of homeless people multiplies.

The “Transformation” vs “Containment” Approaches to the Homeless

San Diego has the fourth highest number of homeless of any city in the U.S., over 8,500. According to Paul Webster, operator of a privately funded homeless shelter in San Diego, there are two ways to treat the homeless, the “transformational model” and the “containment” model. The transformation model works to identify homeless individuals who are able to transition back to self-sufficiency and gives them the training and services to accomplish that. The containment model emphasizes getting shelter for the homeless before offering additional services. Webster is critical of a relatively recent federal law, the 2009 Hearth Act, that bureaucratized the process of getting public money to combat homelessness at the same time as it made it harder to secure funding for transformational programs. Since 2009, all organizations set up to help the homeless have to submit applications through regional quasi-government organizations called “continuums of care.” The applications have to be “evidence based” and reliant on data such as the HUD “point in time” counts. All grant requests as well have to include “homelessness management information systems” that facilitate “coordinated entry” of the homeless into supportive care.

The new guidelines, enforced by HUD, also incorporated “low barrier entry” requirements in order to “reach the most vulnerable.” This meant applicants could not prohibit drug use, they can’t require work, and they cannot require program compliance. Applicants for state and local grants have to adhere to these same HUD guidelines.Webster’s organization, Solutions for Change, requires no drug use, work, they have roommate restrictions, partying restrictions, and they do drug testing. This means that they can’t accept federal funds and they also aren’t eligible for state funds because of the “housing first” rule, meaning that housing has to be provided before providing any other solutions to homelessness.

The implications of the Hearth Act on how the homeless are treated go well beyond determining who gets funds. It has created an incentive for homeless organizations to prioritize helping drug addicts, because one of the ways to attract benefits to help the homeless is by getting Social Security Disability income. The so-called “housing navigators” who help qualify people for SSDI know it is easier to secure this benefit if the person is afflicted with drug addiction.

According to Webster, there are three types of homeless. The “cannots” who are mentally ill or disabled; these comprise about 15 percent of the homeless. Then there are the “have nots” who could succeed if they were trained to acquire new skills and had access to services. The have-nots are often not counted; they live doubled up in homes, with friends, in cars, many of them are single mothers who want to avoid living on the street. These have-nots are about 42 percent of the homeless. The third group are the “will nots” who do not want to change. Most of these are drug addicts or alcoholics. These are the most problematic of the three.

The will-nots know they have safe havens on the street, where they can get drugs cheaply and readily. The will-nots become very sophisticated at getting things for nothing – the government doesn’t make a distinction between the unwilling and the unable – as a result the unwilling will always have the ability to crowd out the unable. The result of laws aimed at helping the homeless, the Federal Hearth Act, or at criminal justice reform, California’s Prop. 47 and AB 953, are that the will-nots generally receive the bulk of the services aimed at helping the homeless, despite the fact that their treatment is invariably more expensive, and the likelihood they will ever change is much lower. Left behind are the cannots and the have-nots. Also left behind, at least when it comes to funding, are organizations that work on permanent transformation, instead of mere containment.

To state the obvious, all of this must change. Here are some ways to make that happen:

Solutions to America’s Homeless Crisis

Pick Up the Trash: With Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities already facing the imminent threat of a breakout disease epidemic, this measure comes before all others. It ought to be easy, America’s cities in the second half of the 20th century were not inundated with tons of uncollected trash on the streets. In the case of Los Angeles, if their recently launched “RecycLA” program is truly the corruption riddled, ineffective, price gouging, trash neglecting disaster it appears to be, then cancel the program and go back to what worked in the past.

The failure of large urban cities to even pick up their trash points to larger shifts in culture and governance that have to be addressed. Some cities, notably New York City, still manage to fulfill most of these basic obligations of local government. To the extent that piled up trash remains a problem after waste management contracts are restructured and the system of garbage collection works again, these larger structural issues have to be addressed – starting with the homeless encampments.

Time could be running out. If rodent populations aren’t brought under control – perhaps also by temporarily permitting application of otherwise problematic rodenticides in infested urban settings – large numbers of innocent people may become afflicted with deadly diseases. If this does happen, it will be something that was totally avoidable. Look for an avalanche of lawsuits and possible criminal prosecutions against negligent local politicians.

Lower the Cost of New Housing: This is a monster topic, but cannot be excluded from any discussion of the homeless crisis. In some respects it is an excuse, since with other policy revisions it would be possible to shelter the homeless without having to engage in ridiculously expensive housing solutions. But the cost of housing, especially in blue states that are dominated by extreme environmentalists and labor unions (in that order), is artificially high as the result of policies that must change if costs are to come down.

California, ever the cautionary example, needs to eliminate or dramatically reduce the scope of extreme environmentalist inspired mandates, starting with the California Environmental Quality Act. This law, passed in 1970, has been abused by opportunistic attorneys and state bureaucrats to stop most housing developments in their tracks. It takes years, if not decades, to approve housing projects that in other states would take weeks or months to get approval. CEQA and similar California laws are the reason why the median price of a home in California is $547,700, whereas in Texas it’s $196,100.

Also afflicting blue states is what might be termed the “density delusion,” that is, the delusional conventional wisdom among liberal policymakers that the only environmentally correct way to permit housing construction is to engage in “infill” within the borders of existing urbanized areas. Somehow, the theory goes, if everyone lives in tightly packed cities, “greenhouse gas” emissions will be reduced. That, and preservation of “open space,” are the moral arguments for high density housing. But these arguments are flawed.

The “climate” argument for high density housing ignores the extra fuel burned as more and more commuter vehicles idle on a finite allocation of congested roads. It ignores the fact that jobs move to the urban periphery when new homes are constructed out there, relieving rush hour congestion. It also ignores the fact that high rise housing costs far more per unit, because of the massive quantities of cement and steel required for any construction over three stories. And it is cruelly indifferent to the destruction of established suburban neighborhoods as apartments are seeded onto lots right next to single family dwellings. America is less than four percent urbanized. There is plenty of extra “open space,” and it is futile to expect infill alone to enable housing supply to increase enough to lower prices.

Politically contrived housing scarcity creates a real-estate bubble, something that is in the economic interests of wealthy investors and speculators, pension portfolio managers, and local governments who collect higher property tax revenue. It also increases profits to those mega-development firms that have the financial clout to push their projects through the approval process. This is perhaps the true motivation for “smart growth.” Reversing these policies will not solve the homeless crisis, but it will make it less likely for the hard working “have nots” (roughly 40 percent of the homeless population) to lose their homes and rentals, and it will make it easier for them to afford housing once they get back on their feet.

Quit Blaming Homelessness on Prejudice and Privilege: According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population. Similarly, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and people who identify as two or more races make up a disproportionate share of the homeless population. Clearly, minority communities are disproportionately represented among the homeless.

While these statistics are probably accurate, they are used to reinforce the liberal catechism that finds all disparities by race to be the result of white racism. Accepting this catechism results in policies that are ineffective, expensive, and divisive. Rather than granting preferences and entitlements to people based on their alleged status as victims of racism, it would be far more productive to identify the more likely cause of individual criminality, addiction, unemployability, which is the parental status of the homes they grew up in.

The next table, below, shows parental status by race for children under 18. As shown, 57 percent of Black children in 2014 were being raised by single mothers, compared to only 18 percent of white children. Note the remarkable degree of correlation between the proportions of homeless by race, and the proportions of single parent households by race. It’s easy, and plays well to the crowd, to attribute minority homelessness to racism. But a growing body of evidence suggests that intact families are the prevailing indicator of individual success in life. Until that evidence is confronted by the communities affected by it, other suggested causes for minorities being disproportionately represented among the homeless lack authenticity, and smack of opportunism.

Untie Hands of Law Enforcement: The theory of “Broken Windows,” or “order maintenance” policing argues that “tolerating too much local disorder created a climate in which criminal behavior, including serious crimes, would become more likely, since criminals would sense that public norms and vigilance were weak.” Broken Windows policing, whereby police crack down on low level crimes, was begun in the 1990s in New York City and is often credited with greatly reducing crime rates.

At the other extreme is the near lawlessness that prevails on the streets of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities experiencing a homeless crisis. In California, as described, well-intentioned citizen approved ballot measures and ill-conceived legislation have tied the hands of law enforcement. Public intoxication, petty crime and vagrancy are all either decriminalized or have been downgraded to the point where offenders have to be released almost immediately after apprehension. California’s legislature has even passed laws supposedly necessary to prevent “racial profiling” which in practice make police hesitant to make stops both because of possible repercussions and because of the time consuming new reporting requirements.

The consequences of tying the hands of law enforcement are obvious. It is preposterous that criminals, drunks, drug addicts, and insane people are permitted to take over entire sections of cities and neighborhoods, but that’s exactly what’s happened. It is important to stress that of while a little over 40 percent of the homeless are so-called “have nots,” these people almost all find shelter, often with friends or family. The remainder, the “cannots” and the “will nots,” are the ones found living on the streets. Virtually all of these “cannots” and “have nots” are either mentally ill, alcoholics, or drug addicts; many of them are criminals.

In every state where they’ve been enacted, measures that tie the hands of police have to be overturned by voters or repealed by the legislature. The police need to be allowed to do their jobs.

Make it Easier to Incarcerate the Mentally Ill: It’s worth wondering how anyone can think it is compassionate to allow a raving schizophrenic, terrified by their own thoughts, to roam unmedicated on crowded city streets. But that’s exactly what’s been happening in the interests of protecting their human rights. Certainly it is important to avoid overreach, but at this point laws available to compel the mentally ill into treatment are inadequate. Often the afflicted have family members that have the means to help, and are desperate to get their relative into treatment, but the laws prevent them.

Approximately 15 percent of the homeless are mentally ill; arguably, the alcoholics and drug addicts are also suffering from a form of mental illness. Together these cohorts constitute well over half of all homeless, and nearly all of the unsheltered homeless seen on the streets. Families, caseworkers, and mental health professionals need to be given the legal tools to help these people.

Overturn Jones vs Los Angeles and similar court rulings: Starting over a decade ago with the 2006 decision in the case Jones vs the City of Los Angeles, homeless cannot be prohibited from sleeping on the street unless “permanent supportive housing” is available. Similar rulings have been issued in Idaho and Washington State. The impact of these rulings, combined with the other constraints on law enforcement, make it nearly impossible to clear the streets of homeless encampments. The problem has been exacerbated by subsequent lawsuits to enforce the Jones decision which have defined “permanent supportive housing” in ways that make it more expensive. The practical impact of the Jones case has been to make it financially infeasible to ever deliver adequate housing alternatives to the homeless. A major city with the financial wherewithal to pay for a sustained legal battle needs to challenge the Jones decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the objective being a ruling that will permit less elaborate, more cost-effective housing and shelter solutions to be allowable.

Set Limits on Costs: In Los Angeles today, a temporary shelter (designed to last three years) is being constructed at a cost of over $50,000 per bed, and “permanent supportive housing” units are being constructed for, on average, over $400,000 each. Los Angeles is also planning to deploy mobile toilets for the homeless to use, with the expected cost per unit of $339,000 per year. In Seattle, the cost for existing programs to help the homeless is approximately $100,000 per homeless person per year. Given the number of unsheltered homeless in Seattle, this spending is totally ineffective. These costs are absurd. Designing solutions that cost less, but offer shelter to 100 percent of the homeless, is vastly preferable to solutions that cost so much that only a fraction of the homeless get assistance.

Creative solutions exist that cost far less. Off the shelf tents, sheds, prefab “tiny homes,” and prefab homes made from shipping containers are all less costly options. Relocating the homeless to repurposed industrial or retail sites that are already built out and not on premium real estate would cut costs. Putting shelters in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate on earth not only squanders finite available funds, but when the unused property is government owned, the chance is lost to sell that property and invest the proceeds in less expensive locations. Somehow, pressure has to bear on politicians to recognize that costs are out of control and act accordingly.

Assert the Moral Argument for a New Approach: Most citizens who live in neighborhoods or commercial centers overrun with homeless people feel a justifiable anger at the failure of civic leaders to get the problem under control. But no serious conversation about solutions should fail to acknowledge the fact that the homeless are people who deserve compassion. For every predator, opportunist, or slacker, there are far more who have simply lost their way. Who knows what happened in the life of an inmate just thrown back onto the streets, or a teenager who just aged out of foster care?

When discussing new policies to manage the problem of homelessness, the importance of compassion can remain first among equals when considered along with other moral virtues; fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, liberty. When offering new solutions, practical solutions, solutions that work for everyone affected by homelessness, reformers have to emphasize the moral worth of their ideas. They may have to shout this over the well-orchestrated objections coming from the compassion brigades. But fighting the compassion brigades does not require one to lack compassion.

The culture of normalizing drug use, protecting the rights of the mentally ill to their detriment, insisting on prohibitively expensive accommodations for the homeless – these are all morally flawed arguments. The deterrent value of strictly enforced laws against vagrancy has moral worth, because individuals – specifically, the “will nots” – will not be enabled to more easily choose a life of idle indulgence. Compelling the mentally ill to submit to treatment is a humane policy, not oppression. Similarly, compelling addicts and alcoholics into treatment facilities where they can detox and work productively is often the only way to offer them a chance to recover their dignity and regain control of their lives. Part of this moral conversation must examine the wisdom of the “housing first” policy of containment that is now a condition of receiving federal funds for homeless programs. Proponents of new approaches to helping the homeless should consider the success of transformational programs, which offer job training, counseling and sobriety programs in addition to shelter.

When discussing the moral worth of a new approach to combating homelessness, perhaps the most urgent area to demand reform is to put an end to the waste and corruption that infests the entire process as it is today. The absurd costs of any sort of construction, the myriad parties to the process, all with their hands out, all of them hiding behind righteous rhetoric. The Homeless Industrial Complex has spawned far too many charlatans and opportunists. They must be exposed and expelled.

America’s Homeless Industrial Complex has acquired money and power by presiding over a problem that has only gotten worse, year after year. The worse the problem has gotten, the more money and power they have acquired. Creative solutions exist, and only await a critical mass of networked citizens and conscientious policymakers to insist on change.

An edited version of this article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Lack of Political Will Allows California’s Homeless Epidemic to Continue

Los Angeles could be at risk of a deadly typhus epidemic this summer according to Dr. Drew Pinsky, an outspoken celebrity doctor and specialist in addiction medicine. Pinsky, a Los Angeles native, recently quoted on Fox News, said: “We have tens and tens of thousands of people living in tents. Horrible conditions. Rats have taken over the city. We’re the only city in the country, Los Angeles, without a rodent control program. We have multiple rodent-borne, flea-borne illnesses, plague, typhus. We’re going to have louse-borne illness. Measles could break into that population. We have tuberculosis exploding.”

All of this is easily confirmed. Los Angeles already has outbreaks of typhushepatitis and tuberculosis,  as do other cities in California. Shigella, a communicable form of diarrhea, is now common among the homeless. There have even been outbreaks of trench fever, spread by lice. As reported by the Atlantic earlier this year “Medieval Diseases Are Infecting California’s Homeless.”

There are estimated to be over 55,000 homeless in Los Angeles County, and at least 130,000 statewide, living on sidewalks, parks and parking lots, vacant lots and on the beach. There is no sanitation and no trash collection. The populations of disease carrying animals and insects that thrive in these conditions are exploding: rats, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, lice.

The problem of the homeless could be completely solved in a few months if there were the political and judicial will to get it done. The national guard could be deployed, working with city and county law enforcement. The homeless could be sorted into groups; criminals, substance abusers, mentally ill, undocumented aliens, and all the rest. For each of these groups, separate facilities could be built on vacant or underutilized government land in or near urban centers but away from downtowns and residential areas. They could consist of tents, porta-potties, and mobile modules providing food and medical services.

There’s plenty of money available to do this. Just in Los Angeles, in 2016 voters approved Measure HHH, allocating $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units to house the homeless. Since then, Los Angeles voters approved a quarter cent sales tax increase, also to help the homeless. Additional hundreds of millions are coming from the state to help the homeless.

Every major city in California is spending tens of millions or more on programs for the homeless. But most of the money is being wasted. Why? Because there is a Homeless Industrial Complex that is getting filthy rich, wasting the money, while the homeless population swells.

WHAT IS THE HOMELESS INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX?

Here’s how the process works: Developers accept public money to build these projects to house the homeless – either “bridge housing,” or “permanent supportive housing.” Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? The problem is the price tag. Developers don’t just build housing projects, they build ridiculously overpriced, overbuilt housing projects. Cities and counties don’t just collect building fees, they collect outrageously expensive building fees, at the same time as they create a massive bureaucracy. The nonprofits don’t just run these projects – the actual people staffing these shelters aren’t overpaid – they operate huge bureaucratic empires with overhead and executive salaries that do nothing for the homeless.

An example of wasteful spending can be found in the homeless shelter being built in Venice Beach, where a permanent population of over 1,000 homeless have taken over virtually every public venue, including the beach. Because their tents are now protected by law as private space, they not only serve as housing, but as pop-up drug retailers and brothels. To get these folks off the streets and off the beach, a 154 bed shelter has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council. It will be a “wet” shelter, meaning druggies and drunkards will be able to come and go as they please. The estimated cost for this shelter so far is $8 million, which equates to over $50,000 per bed. Why doesn’t anyone ask why?

These costs aren’t that bad if you consider the cost of new construction in exorbitant California. But this isn’t new construction, it’s “temporary” construction of very large tents on three acres of land. Eight million dollars, to put up some large tents and plumb for bathrooms and a kitchen. As a “wet” shelter, it will become a hotel for freeloading partiers as much as a refuge for the truly needy. Not only is it only capable of housing a small fraction of the 1,000+ homeless already in Venice, it will attract more homeless people to relocate to Venice.

Finally, this property, owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit District and located on some of the most precious real estate on earth, could have been sold to private investors to generate tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Why wasn’t that choice made? Why, for that matter, aren’t homeless shelters being built in Pacific Palisades, or Brentwood, or Beverly Hills, or the other tony enclaves of LA’s super rich? Because as with all boondoggles that destroy neighborhoods in the name of compassion, the Homeless Industrial Complex knows better than to defecate where they masticate.

The Homeless Industrial Complex’s expensive maltreatment of Venice Beach in particular, and taxpayers in general, is an example of how “bridge housing” projects are co-opted and corrupted. But even more horrendous waste is exemplified by the efforts to construct “permanent supportive housing.”

According to an NPR report from June 2018, “when voters passed Measure HHH, they were told that new ‘permanent supportive housing’ would cost about $140,000 a unit. But average per unit costs are now more than triple that. The PATH Ventures project in East Hollywood has an estimated per-unit cost of $440,000.”

A privately funded development company, Flyaway Homes, has debuted in Los Angeles with the mission of rapidly providing housing for the homeless. Using retrofitted shipping containers, the company’s modular approach to apartment building construction is purported to streamline the approval process and cut costs. But the two projects they’ve got underway are too expensive to ever offer a solution to more than fraction of the homeless.

Their 82nd Street Development will cost $4.5 million to house 32 “clients” in 16 two-bedroom, 480 square foot apartments. That’s $281,250 per two-bedroom apartment. The firm’s 820 W. Colden Ave. property will cost $3.6 million to house 32 clients in eight four-bedroom apartments. That’s $450,000 per apartment.

These costs are utterly unsustainable. But the Homeless Industrial Complex has grown into a juggernaut, crushing the opposition. At community hearings across California, “homeless advocates,” who are often bused in from other areas expressly to shout down local opposition, demand action, because “no one deserves to live on a sidewalk.”

Money is squandered, and the population of homeless people multiplies. This is not compassion in action, rather, it’s corruption in action.

WAYS TO REIN IN THE HOMELESS INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

(1) Acknowledge there’s a problem. Agree that it’s no longer acceptable to throw money at the homeless epidemic without questioning all the current proposals and the underlying premises. Billions of dollars are being wasted. Admit it.

(2) Recognize that a special interest, the Homeless Industrial Complex – comprised of developers, government bureaucrats, and activist nonprofits – has taken over the homeless agenda and turned it into a profit center. They are not going to solve the problem, they are going to milk it. Their PR firms will sell compliant media a feel-good story about someone who turned their life around, living in a fine new apartment. What they won’t tell you is that because of the $400,000 they charged to build that single apartment unit, dozens if not hundreds of people are still on the street with nothing.

(3) Act at the municipal and state level to set a limit on the cost per shelter “bed.” This cost must represent a compromise between ideal facilities for homeless people, and what is affordable at a scale sufficient to solve the problem. There is no reason the capital costs for a shelter bed should be $50,000 each, but that’s exactly what’s proposed in Venice – $8 million for a semi-permanent “tent” with 154 beds. Similarly, there is no reason a basic apartment unit for the homeless should cost over $400,000, but in Los Angeles, by most accounts, that’s what they cost. This is outrageous. Durable tents and supportive facilities should be set up for a small fraction of that amount. Pick a number. Stick to it. Demand creative solutions.

(4) Stop differentiating between “bridge housing” (basic shelter) and “permanent supportive housing.” Permanent supportive housing IS “bridge housing.” Amenities better than a durable, dry, sole occupancy tent and a porta-potty can belong exclusively in the realm of privately funded nonprofits and charities. Until there isn’t a single homeless person left on the street, not one penny of taxpayer money should be paying for anything beyond basic bridge housing.

(5) Accept that homeless shelters will be more cost-effectively constructed and operated if they are in industrial, commercial (where appropriate), or rural areas, and not in downtown areas or residential neighborhoods.

(6) Abandon decentralized solutions that involve seeding safe neighborhoods with mini-homeless shelters in converted residential homes. Estimates vary, but between 35 and 77 percent of homeless people suffer from substance abuse, and between 26 and 58 percent have mental illness, and by some accounts over half of them have a criminal record. It is not just too expensive, it is dangerous to mix a homeless population into family neighborhoods.

(7) Go to court. Challenge the decision in Jones vs the City of Los Angeles, that ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing could be built.

(8) File a state ballot referendum to overturn Prop. 47, which downgraded drug and property crimes. Prop. 47 has led to what police derisively refer to as “catch and release,” because suspects are only issued citations with a court date, and let go.

(9) Recognize that the rights of the homeless must be balanced with the rights of local residents, and that homeless accommodations should be safe but should never be better than the cheapest unit of commercial housing.

10) Confront the fact that a lot of homeless people are homeless by choice, not because they’ve ran out of options, and they DON’T WANT HELP. Act accordingly: Do we give these people control over our public spaces, our neighborhoods, our parks and beaches? And what of the others? The mentally ill, the substance abusers, the criminals? Do we give them control of over our public spaces?

It is terribly difficult for proponents of rational policies to be heard in public hearings on the homeless. Professional activists, often hired by developers or well-heeled nonprofits, abetted by sincere homeless advocates who simply haven’t ran the numbers, will usually outnumber and shout down neighborhood “NIMBYs” who have come to raise objections. But the NIMBYs are right.

We have a moral obligation to help the homeless. But we are not obligated to cede our downtowns, our tourist attractions, and our residential neighborhoods to homeless encampments. And as a society, we also have a moral obligation to protect the general population from rampant infectious diseases. What if Dr. Pinsky is right? What if there is a major infectious disease epidemic in Los Angeles this summer? Is that what it’s going to take before we clean up our streets and get the homeless into cost-effective, safe, supervised, sanitary encampments?

The moral question of how to help the homeless cannot rest apart from financial reality. It is impossible to solve the homeless crisis under current law and according to current policies. Therefore a new approach must be taken.

Before criticizing the suggestion that we spend a $5,000 per bed (or less) instead of $50,000 per bed (or more) to build bridge housing facilities, imagine what could be done with all the money we save. We might be able to help a lot of people get their lives back on track. Instead of feeding the insatiable excesses of the Homeless Industrial Complex, which helps a few but neglects so many.This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

San Francisco Homeless Population Rises 17% in Two Years

San Francisco continues to struggle with homelessness, with a population count revealing last week that the local homeless population had risen by 17% since 2017 — though youth and veteran homelessness had dropped.

Many cities across the U.S. have struggled with rising homelessness in recent years, partly due to the pressure of rising housing costs, and the social devastation of the opioid epidemic. However, in California the problem is compounded by the presence of warmer weather and the availability of generous welfare benefits, both of which tend to attract transients from other parts of the country. Unscrupulous drug treatment clinics have also exploited the state’s health insurance system, luring addicts to receive treatment and kicking them out when the state insurance money runs out.

A news release from the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed stated:

Every two years, San Francisco is required to conduct a homelessness Point-in-Time Count by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD count, which was conducted on January 24, 2019, counted 8,011 homeless people, both sheltered and unsheltered, in San Francisco. The 2017 HUD count recorded 6,858 people. The increase in unsheltered people was driven largely by people living in vehicles, accounting for 68% of the increase in unsheltered people. There was also an increase in sheltered residents, resulting from the investments the City has made to add shelter beds.

The mayor pledged $5 million in additional spending on the problem.

Los Angeles has also struggled with homelessness — so much so that Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has struggled to deal with the problem, is widely considered to have abandoned plans for a presidential run because of the issue. He has pledged to end street homelessness by 2028, which is also the year that the city is due to host the summer Olympics. The Los Angeles Times notes that the city is due to release its own homeless count by the end of May.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Proposed Homeless Shelter in the Heart of San Francisco Sparks Community Outrage


sanfranciscohomelessThe prospect of a 225-bed homeless shelter on the Embarcadero, one of San Francisco’s most scenic and economically vital areas, took residents by surprise. Only eight days earlier, the proposal had been unveiled to turn what is now a parking lot — Seawall Lot 330 — into the largest homeless shelter of its type in the city. Neighbors arrived en masse at the Port Commission hearing to express their views. It was standing-room only, with people crowded on floors and in aisles, and spilling out the door.

After a brief presentation by Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, who touted the merits of the “Navigation Center” — as the new shelters are called — local homeowners, renters, and workers were granted two minutes each at the mic. All spoke passionately about their ties to the neighborhood and how the shelter would erode safety and quality of life. They worried that it would intensify drug use and other illegal activity and draw additional homeless people onto their property, leaving more needles and feces behind. Several described how their toddlers have already been poked by discarded syringes and had to take HIV tests. A father explained that his baby stroller was stolen as he was placing her in her car seat; a senior citizen recounted being chased by “a crazy person.”

Their testimonies were often agonizing. A few broke down as they pleaded with the commissioners to reject the proposal. Many emphasized that the waterfront is a jewel of the city. Placing an enormous homeless shelter in the center of it, in such close proximity to the prized Ferry Building, is bizarre. The location, they pointed out, is also a poor choice because few amenities like hospitals or grocery stores are nearby, and police response time in the area is slow. With no requirement for shelter residents to be sober, drug dealing, overdoses, and crime would proliferate.

Port Commissioners Kimberly Brandon, Willie Adams, and Doreen Woo Ho sat poker-faced. The Port of San Francisco owns Lot 330, and the proposal depends on their consent, which seems likely. Mayor London Breed supports the idea. The site itself was likely chosen for expediency, because the Port of San Francisco oversees the location, and commissioners are appointed by the mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“The community is feeling blindsided and shortchanged in regard to public process or a sincere desire for public input,” says Jamie Whitaker, who lives a block away from the site. “They cast us as millionaires who don’t care about the homeless, which is completely wrong. We just do not have faith in the city to provide the right kind of place for them and us. For example, there should be serious talk of building a mental hospital. It’s clear we have schizophrenic people in this city and they need help.”

After community members expressed their objections, a small contingent of homeless-rights activists spoke, trivializing their neighbors’ concerns as NIMBYism, and, predictably, accusing them of hating the poor. Most of the residents, however expressed compassion and praised the nearby Delancey Street Foundation, a self-supporting residential community for ex-convicts, addicts, and homeless people, because it provides vocational and social skills training in a drug and alcohol free setting. It’s a critical difference but the activists are deaf to nuance and unconcerned about anyone with homes, children, or businesses.

More crucial, though, is the attitude of city leaders and the media. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial headlined, “San Francisco Neighbors are Wrong to Fight A New Homeless Facility,” dismissing the concerns of residents as “the magnetizing fear of a homeless influx,” and implying that elitism fueled their protest. But the Chronicle also admitted that those living on the streets are “often struggling with addiction or mental illness.” The proposed Navigation Centers are neither psychiatric hospitals nor substance-abuse facilities, both of which the city desperately needs.

Further, the Navigation Centers have not reduced homelessness. At last count, approximately 7,500 people were living on the city’s streets on any given night; shelters aren’t making a dent because so many homeless people are “service-resistant.” No one is required to go or stay, and many don’t. Tents and illegal activity mushroom around the shelters, despite so-called good-neighbor policies that are supposed to maintain a modicum of safety in the surrounding area.

The city, however, refuses to guarantee that there will be no uptick in crime and vagrancy. “We feel swindled,” says Wallace Lee, a retiree living in the area. “Something strange is going on. I used to be a lawyer and how this city works is confusing even to me. What I do know is that city officials don’t care about our concerns. I’ve been coordinating people to show up at these meetings. We will challenge the legislation. I’ve made this my full-time job, I stay up until midnight. I heard from a lot of people who want to continue to fight and I’m encouraged.”

And now Mayor Breed claims that she is “ready for battle over housing, homeless.” Her attitude is making enemies of tens of thousands of San Franciscans. An us-versus-them approach is counterproductive. At worst, she’ll get what she’s preparing for: a war with the people who care most profoundly about the city. The commission vote is expected on April 23.

Gov. Newsom has a $500 million plan for homelessness


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)

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and a dozen other California mayors asked Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to allocate more state money for homelessness than what the governor has proposed.

Newsom’s proposed budget includes $500 million for homelessness — the same amount that was included in the state’s 2018-19 budget. The mayors did not say how much more money they’re requesting.

“We deliberately did not put a number in there because it’s a different relationship with this governor. He’s made housing a priority,” said Steinberg, who chairs the Big City Mayors group that met with Newsom at the Capitol. “He’s already said, and it’s backed up by his budget, that housing and homelessness is a priority. Of course we want to bump the number up … but we’re going to do it with him.”

Newsom did not commit to an additional amount of money, Steinberg said. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

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