It is heart-wrenching and mind-boggling. It is self-harm and societal-harm. It is exasperating and infuriating. It is depressing and destructive. It is sympathy and dystopia. It is empathy and myopia. It is the homeless problem in California.
With an estimated aggregate population that would land it in easily on the list of the 30 largest cities in the state, between Corona and Elk Grove, the homelessness is not going away.
In fact, the past three years have seen a massive increase in both the number of homeless in California (though possibly not a majority from California, as Los Angeles county Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s on-the-ground surveys show) that has set neighborhoods on edge, overwhelmed social service agencies, and left government agencies scrambling for solutions.
Many of those solutions have been clearly lacking, either in vision or implementation or even in their basic concept. And there are, astonishingly, any number of groups and individuals – either for political reasons and/or, more nefariously, for selfish power and personal economic reasons – who do not seem to even want the problem to be solved.
As the issue – and the population – has grown from a few thousand people in a few urban pockets to tens of thousands of people spread out to formerly unvisited neighborhoods while the public spending has grown from the millions into the billions, a very simple question comes to mind: Has the money spent on homelessness grown to meet the problem or has the problem grown to meet the money?
To that end, this week’s recall candidate issue “round-up” is on the issue of homelessness and here are the two questions we asked:
Q1 – While Gavin Newsom has been governor, more than $13 billion has been spent in California on the problem of homelessness. Despite that figure, which works out to be about $2,000 per person per month (the figure is much higher in municipalities like San Francisco and Los Angeles), the homeless population has grown exponentially. Why do you believe Newsom’s approach to the issue has been so unsuccessful?
Q2 – As governor, what would you do to alleviate the problem?
Q1 – Newsom has been in office for 24 years, and he has failed to solve the homeless crisis at the city, county, and state level. His record of failure is one reason he is facing a recall. Half of the nation’s homeless are in California.
He governs by press conferences and symbolic acts that mean nothing and lead to nowhere. A lot of taxpayer’s money is being wasted by Newsom. Newsom is a corporate interest bagman who has collected $72.2 million to stay in power from real estate, health, tech, gambling, and other industries.
Q2 – As governor, I will end homelessness, poverty, mass incarceration, and the war on drugs with comprehensive programs.
As governor, I will end poverty on the streets with a comprehensive homeless program. I will double the budget for homeless services, and I am prepared to go higher if necessary. I will create thousands of new shelter beds for all those in need each day on public land and in public buildings throughout the state in our major cities. Homeless facilities will include focused services for specific groups of homeless individuals with similar situations and difficult challenges. All homeless facilities will include clean rest rooms, showers, washing machines and other cleaning equipment, storage space, and mail, e-mail, and phone services. I will provide extra services to homeless individuals struggling with trauma, addiction, physical disability, and psychological issues. I would make the homeless program voluntary. If a person is a danger to themselves or others, I would support government intervention so the person, with due process rights respected, can be in a safe space with basic needs being met.
Long-term, I will build large-scale multi-unit permanent affordable housing in major cities near transit services. I will campaign for the adoption of a statewide ballot measure so counties and cities can have rent control to stabilize and reduce rents. I will push to reduce evictions, displacement, and gentrification. I will change laws, regulations, and policies to bring down the cost of building new housing and to significantly expand the supply of housing.
Q1 – Gavin Newsom has spent BILLIONS on homelessness throughout his political career and the problem has only gotten worse and worse. The problem is, in typical career politician mode, he continues to throw good money after bad; the state auditor just issued a blistering report severely criticizing the state for failing to spend resources or to know if their spending has had a positive impact. When a solution doesn’t work, the politicians just spend more on it! It’s an insult to the taxpayers and it doesn’t solve the problem. Newsom’s approach doesn’t work because he, and all the other candidates, only focus on housing. They don’t address the underlying problem: the homeless need treatment as most in that situation because they are addicted to substances or mentally ill. We can build as many beds as we want, but they won’t get used if we don’t focus on treatment first and getting homeless off the street. There are some who have lost their homes because of rising costs and I have a plan to reduce the cost of building so we can have more affordable housing. I’m the only candidate with a plan that focused on solutions that will work; treatment – by court order if necessary – as well as lowering the cost of building – these solutions will actually solve the problem.
Q2 – I have the most comprehensive plan of any candidate for governor. It is focused on treatment, enforcement, focused funding, and lowering the cost of housing. We have got to get the homeless out of tent cities and into treatment. We do that by enforcing the law against public camping, loitering, etc. and then requiring – with a court order if needed – the homeless get treatment. That’s how we solve homelessness. You can read my entire plan here: https://johncox.com/solutions/homelessness/
Q1 – Newsom made addressing homelessness the key issue in his 2020 State of the State address, and yet, under his watch the problem has only grown. As an Assemblymember, I called for an audit of all homelessness spending in California to determine why we spend billions more on homelessness every year, but the problem only gets worse. The audit fell one vote short despite garnering bipartisan support. Newsom has regularly taken actions to shirk accountability.
The biggest problem with his approach is that it lacks a strategic plan, which has been confirmed by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Even staffers in Newsom’s own administration acknowledge that homelessness is not a money problem, but a leadership problem. This lack of leadership has led to an even larger homelessness population, despite record levels of spending.
Q2 – Shortly after taking office, I would call Special Sessions of the Legislature to address our failing schools, soaring cost of living, rising crime rates, and jarring homelessness. The Legislature would have two choices: pass the necessary reforms or face accountability from voters in 2022.
I would identify the programs that work, and eliminate wasteful spending on those that don’t. I would also make sure shelter is available. But once homeless individuals have a roof over their head, I would connect them with the needed services, such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and job training.
While homelessness is not just a housing issue, there is no doubt that California has an affordability crisis. We need to eliminate the overregulation that makes housing so difficult and costly to build, while pushing back against policies like the rooftop solar mandate that increase the price of a home by tens of thousands of dollars. This will benefit all Californians.
Q1 – Governor Newsom’s approach to homelessness has been throwing money at the problem without addressing the underlying causes. He has been unwilling to stand up against tent encampments and provide the enforcement needed to get people into shelters and services. Furthermore, his support for flawed laws like Prop 47 and Prop 57 have allowed drug use to increase on our streets and reduced tools to incentivize rehabilitation. Until California is willing to provide common sense measures to get people help and keep our communities clean, no amount of money solve the problem.
Q2 – As Mayor of San Diego, I took a tough but compassionate approach that allowed us to reduce unsheltered homeless by more than 10%. Courts have made it clear that shelter space must be available in order to enforce against tent encampments. I created shelters and required people to use those shelters if they were available. I will implement the same approach at the state level, by creating a right to shelter and an obligation to use it. Under my plan, the state will take on responsibility for building a network of shelters and we will immediately begin to clean up state highways, properties and parks. By creating shelters, we are able to provide enforcement to keep public spaces clear. I will work hand-in-hand with local governments to support their efforts to reduce homelessness and hold them accountable if they refuse. We will also implement California’s first comprehensive program targeted at reducing veterans homeless called Housing California’s Heroes.
Q1 – If we are going to tackle the homeless crisis, we must be willing to face the fact that simply throwing money at the problem is not a viable solution. Rather than focusing on housing, we must first examine the factors that led to them experiencing homelessness in the first place. Mental illness and crippling addiction are often central to the problem. These are issues that no amount of available housing or financial support will solve. Ending homelessness is not just about putting a roof over someone’s head- that’s a band-aid. We have to get to the root of the problem to ensure long-term success.
Our current homeless crisis, with more than 160,000 people living without shelter, without medical treatment, without mental health services, is inhumane. To look at the streets of San Francisco or Los Angeles is to know that merely inviting this population to use these services is inadequate.
Q2 – I’ve come to believe that an entirely voluntary approach is a failure. For many homeless who are incapable of caring for themselves, humane treatment must be mandated to get them help and integrated back into society and to live the lives that they deserve. I will ensure the opening of new mental health and drug treatment facilities and empower our first responders to take meaningful action in placing the unstable where they need to be.
Q1 – Since his time as a San Francisco Supervisor and the development of his “Care Not Cash” program, Newsom has failed to understand how homelessness functions in society. While the surface outcome
(homelessness) may be the same for California’s unhoused population, the reasons this has happened vary greatly among individuals.
Some are the result of displacement from population shifts and gentrification, others because of past or current economic downturns. Some face serious mental or physical health issues, while others lack a stable network of family or friends in the community that many of us have relied on when times get tough.
To address the root cause of homelessness is deal with these complex and varied sources, not simply to respond as if the unhoused population is an undifferentiated mass, as Newsom and most officials of both major parties have a tendency to do. I suspect few of them have ever actually spoken to an unhoused individual or faced housing insecurity in their adult lifetimes themselves. Instead we need targeted policy positions that focus on the causes of homelessness to reduces the cost of dealing with its consequences.
Q2 – California indisputably needs more affordable housing, which is some cases will help prevent people falling into homelessness in the first place. We need to implement a housing first approach, providing basic shelter to those who desire it. It’s much harder to build a new life while facing housing insecurity. Those in our society convicted of crimes are granted food, shelter, and healthcare at state expense; it’s both reasonable and ethical to provide the same to those in society who are not incarcerated.
Housing costs would be deducted from residents’ universal basic income and negative income tax, which in my platform would be available to unhoused Californians as it would be to all others, until such time as they transition into their own housing. Ultimately, this is more effective and more affordable than our present system and improves the quality of life of the unhoused, as well as the rest of society who carry the burdens of the consequences of our homelessness crisis.
As someone who lives in a neighborhood with a large unhoused population, I do not think it shows a lack of compassion to point out that others also suffer quality of life issues from California’s failed homelessness policies. We should also implement tax breaks for dedicated caregivers. Many people who wind up unhoused lack a supportive family or community environment to care for
them. Tax breaks would allow such people to be cared for by those with whom they have a preexisting relationship rather than the state. In general, laws and policies should be set up to make it easier to help
people help each other and not rely on direct state intervention.
Jenny Rae Le Roux:
Q1 – Gavin Newsom has two answers to every problem: spend more money and create another government agency. California spent $4B on homelessness just last year, yet the problem is getting worse – homelessness increased 17% in Newsom’s first year and another 7% in 2020. This money is spread amongst nine state agencies overseeing 41 programs to address homelessness.
Newsom’s plan hasn’t worked because it prioritizes housing above coordinated problem-solving for individual homeless people and he hasn’t held his own government agencies accountable to do what they have been commissioned to do. A February 2021 audit found that the state’s Homeless Council hasn’t even defined its strategic objectives three years later.
Q2 – My plan, “Spend Smarter,” will refocus problem solving at the root causes. We must reduce the homeless population and lower the price of housing.
First, I will audit existing services and shelters rather than building more without knowing if our current housing supply and services are fully utilized. For example, a private audit of emergency shelters in LA County found that they are only 78% full and only 58% met minimum quality standards. After the audit, I will fill gaps and ensure the homeless are legally bound to use housing options provided to them rather than occupying public spaces.
Second, I will require every city to gather the names, ages, and veteran/non-veteran status of the homeless and to share updates on these lists monthly with the state. This approach has enabled Bakersfield and 20+ other communities around the country to get to zero chronic or veteran homeless.
In addition, I will ensure funding is focused on coordinated care managed at the local level, with specific focus on sufficient substance abuse and mental health support.
Recall organizers reply
Per usual, we asked recall organizers what role this issue has played – and can be expected to play – in process. This is what Mike Netter or www.recallgavin2020.com had to say:
Q1 – The state’s homeless population has grown dramatically in the past three years. Do you think this issue has played a significant role in the recall campaign?
No matter how any polls ask the question about the top concern in California homelessness is there. It’s one of the most visible issues that Californian see and hear about not only in the press but if they live almost anywhere and have first-hand experience. The spread of disease and human wreckage across the states landscape has grown over 6% just since Newsom has been in office 2019-2021; this was off a baseline that was already the highest in the country.
This doesn’t really have to do with housing as much as the release of prisoners en masse who have nowhere to go. Mental patients that get no treatment are people we see on the street corner. Addiction problems go untreated. It seems the more the state spends the worse it gets and the public is recognizing that the state under Newsom just spends badly. He has yet to take action on his pledge to appoint a cabinet-level homelessness czar. Newsom said at a news conference not long ago : “You want to know who the homeless czar is? I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.” We that czar needs to be fired on this issue alone.
Q2 – Do you expect “quality of life” issues like homelessness and crime will spur people who otherwise wouldn’t to vote “Yes?”
People are spurred to vote by things which affect them directly. Many don’t care about politics as evidenced by the mere 12.5 million (out of 22 million registered voters) that voted in the 2018 Governor’s race that Newsom won.
But when issues hit them in their everyday life, people pay attention. When there is a homeless person hanging around their gas station or supermarket visible to them, they vote. When their car or neighbor’s house is broken into, they vote. When a drunk driver who should not be on the streets plows into a person or phone pole in their neighborhood, they vote. When assaults, rapes, shoplifting and violence reach their community, they vote. Crime in California is amplified by the homeless problem and is now touching everyone. If they haven’t been the victim of a crime they feel threatened by it just by the presence of desperate people on the street who have nowhere to go and are desperate. And Gavin has made the problem worse.
Gov. Newsom doesn’t reply
Sigh…of course we asked the governor’s team and, of course, they didn’t bother to answer. Most assuredly, every Californian would have been quite interested in hearing his response to the following two questions:
Q1 – While you have been governor, more than $13 billion has been spent in California on the issue of homelessness. Despite that figure, which works out to be about $2,000 per person per month (the figure is much higher in municipalities like San Francisco and Los Angeles), the homeless population has grown exponentially. Do you believe your approach to the issue has been successful or unsuccessful?
Q2 – What new strategies and policies to alleviate the problem would you implement after September 14th if you remain in office?
This is the second-to-last chapter in our candidate issue round-up series. We’ll be back next Sunday with the final installment focusing on, ummmm, let’s see, what have we missed so far, well, hmmmm, it’s rattling around in their somewhere, couldn’t have been that big a deal…. oh yeah! COVID.
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