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Homeless camp, F St. and 30th, Sacramento. (Photo: Katy Grimes for California Globe)

Will Law Enforcement Unions Use Their Power to Change Homeless Policy?

Progressive ideology has created the problem and is only making the problem worse

By Edward Ring, February 10, 2022 2:10 am

Over the past week two local elected officials in Los Angeles have made public statements on the homeless crisis that grips the region. They represent two completely different perspectives on how to resolve the crisis.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

The first comes in the form of a thank you letter from retiring Los Angeles city council member Mike Bonin, sent to those of his constituents who wish him well in whatever he does next. With respect to his legacy, Bonin writes:

“By providing housing and services, we are changing lives and providing a pathway out of homelessness. Since the launch of the Venice Beach Encampments to Homes initiative, 76 people have been permanently housed.” Seventy six people. Remember that number.

Bonin’s philosophy is consistent with what remains the prevailing progressive doctrine regarding homelessness, known as “Housing First.” It is defined on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development website as “an approach to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements.”

This approach has made Bonin infamous even among the mostly progressive residents of Venice Beach, where an estimated 2,000 homeless have taken over this tiny beachfront suburb of Los Angeles. Only a small fraction of them have been given “supportive housing” or temporary shelter, and only a small fraction held accountable for using and selling hard drugs, public intoxication, theft, vandalism, or worse.

The other public official who has recently weighed in on these challenges facing Los Angeles is their county sheriff, the outspoken Alex Villanueva. In an interview with California Insider, Villanueva describes how progressive policies have combined to “defund, defame and defang” his department.

In a must-watch video, Villanueva claims that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is the only major local government in the U.S. that has not begun to pull back from the defund the police movement. He claims the worst impact of defunding is the hiring freeze, which has prevented the department’s veterans from mentoring new hires before they retire. But it is the county’s response to the homeless crisis that draws Villanueva’s most withering remarks.

“The problem with city government and county government is that they [woke ideologues] occupy every seat at the table,” according to Villanueva, “That’s why every single plan the city has, or the county has, with regard to homelessness is destined to fail. No other opinion gets in.”

“They think that if we build enough supportive housing we will end homelessness in Los Angeles. But the more you build, the more people will come. Right now we have 25 percent of the nation’s homeless in Los Angeles County. What’s going to prevent more homeless people from coming to Los Angeles if they see someone living in a $500,000 condo with a beach view? They’ll say, ‘hey, I want one too.’ We cannot create the magnet that brings other people here.”

California’s Subsidized Housing – The Boondoggle Archipelago

Villianueva is not exaggerating, and this problem has been known for some time. In a 2019 report by the California Policy Center entitled “The Boondoggle Archipelago,” several representative examples of staggering costs for “supportive housing” were revealed. San Francisco’s Proposition A funding housing at an estimated cost of $500,000 per unit. Alameda County’s Measure A1 funds for housing costing $736,000 per unit. San Jose’s Measure A funds for housing coming in at between $406,000 and $706,000 per unit. Los Angeles’s plan to repurpose an existing structure on the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles to create supportive housing at a cost of $926,000 per unit. Also in Los Angeles, $1.2 billion in bonds to construct supportive housing at an estimated cost of $550,000 per unit.

And back in Venice Beach, Mike Bonin’s back yard, the plan to create 140 new apartment units on a city owned property that is currently the only significant beach parking available to the public. Dubbed “The Monster on the Median” by outraged residents, the estimated total project cost comes up to at least $1.1 million per unit.

These costs are not coming down. But for the 2021-22 fiscal year Los Angeles County has budgeted $527 million to address homelessness. Also for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the City of Los Angeles has allocated $1.0 billion, nearly 10 percent of all spending, “for the homeless crisis.” Add to that the spending on homeless by many other cities in Los Angeles County, plus direct state and federal spending, plus the ongoing disbursements from bonds approved for homeless housing. Will it work?

The most recent homeless count for Los Angeles County was in 2020, with the 2021 count cancelled because of COVID and, for that same reason, the 2022 count postponed at this time. But in 2020 there were an estimated 66,000 homeless in Los Angeles County. It is unlikely that housing has kept up with the influx, since, as Sheriff Villanueva accurately proclaims, Los Angeles is a national magnet for homeless migration. At $500,000 per unit, it would cost $33 billion to house every homeless person in Los Angeles, assuming no more arrived. That doesn’t include the bureaucracy swollen and perpetual costs to manage homeless housing, nor any spending to actually treat them and get them on a path to independence.

As noted in a lengthy 2019 study published by the California Policy Center entitled “The Homeless Industrial Complex,” and as expressed more recently in a provocative and compelling book, “San Fransicko,” by the writer and activist Michael Shellenberger, homelessness is not just a housing issue, to be solved by more housing. It is primarily a mental illness, drug addiction, and crime issue. At the very least, some of the billions in taxpayer sourced funds that are mandated to be spent on “housing first” need to be redirected, with equal amounts spent immediately on treatment, and for some, incarceration. In many cases, involuntary treatment, i.e., incarceration, is the only way to rescue people from addiction.

Mike Bonin, along with countless other intransigent progressives, refuse to accept this reality. But ideological idiocy alone does not explain why common sense reforms aren’t sweeping away these failed policies.

The homelessness and crime afflicting California’s cities, especially Los Angeles, has not been solved because there is an identity of interests between public bureaucrats, powerful nonprofits, and politically connected housing developers, who prefer that policies remain unchanged. The billions pour in, and as the problem only gets worse, additional billions pour in, enabling a Homeless Industrial Complex that thrives on failure.

Members of law enforcement in Los Angeles County, from the elected sheriff to the officers on the streets to the unions that represent them, and to their immense credit, have recognized that progressive ideology – as epitomized by retiring local politician Mike Bonin – has created the problem and is only making the problem worse. It is up to the remaining players that influence policy in Los Angeles and elsewhere to come to the same conclusion, despite whatever detriment a new approach might inflict on their budgets and their prerogatives.

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9 thoughts on “Will Law Enforcement Unions Use Their Power to Change Homeless Policy?

  1. The city of L.A. owns acres and acres of unused property in the Mojave Desert, east of L.A. County. How about building a military style camp there, staffed to provide technical and job training, mental health treatment, medical screening and treatment, temporary sleeping quarters, and other assistance so that homeless people can be triaged and treated accordingly. They can be trained on job skills, receive needed mental and health treatment, and will then be placed in jobs throughout the county with a temporary housing chit for motels or hotels until they can rent their own place (Wherever it’s affordable, even out of state. There is no constitutional right to live on the beach in CA). Then city and county governments need to pass ordinances outlawing sleeping and lodging on public streets and public property, or in vehicles parked on public property. Then give homeless in encampments all over the city a voucher for free transportation to the camp to be used within 72 hours. Anyone caught lodging or sleeping on public property after the 72 hours will be arrested and all accumulated personal property will be discarded or stored for 30 days, and then discarded. Once you remove the incentive, and provide an alternative for the homeless to transition out of the camping with no rules mindset the problem will begin to dissipate. And once RULES are set, the attraction for thousands of out of state transients to come to L.A. County and live on the public beaches will disappear. My experience with the homeless population says that they don’t like rules, which is why a good number of them don’t like to go to shelters. Shelters have rules. The woke city and county elected officials removed the rules years ago, and the homeless problem exploded. Once rules and laws are brought back to address the issue, the influx into the county will subside.

    1. Thank you, Abe, for your fine commentary. If these suggestions cannot be exactly carried out because of existing law and restrictions (or whatever), I’m sure that many many many people support the spirit of what you have outlined here and I hope we will see the basics of what you suggest come to pass soon.

  2. I have always wondered – what about that plan you funded x years ago? Is that program from the Regan era still up and running receiving government money?
    Is it still going, if so, why?
    Seems like the ‘homeless’ issue is one of those that will never go away and is prime for graft and corruption.

  3. Appreciate so much that Edward Ring has weighed in once more on this seemingly-intractable problem. Of course what he has rightly named the Homeless Industrial Complex has caused this once-possibly-manageable situation to build into a tsunami of inhumane conditions. And to think that in 2019 it appeared to hit a critical mass! Thanks, political leadership! Good job! How do you sleep at night?

    Okay, now it’s 2022, we’ve had plenty of time to observe that the unthinkable and soon-to-be-impossible budget expenditures of cities and counties and state have only made the problem worse, and anyone with common sense who is paying attention can clearly see why. We now have all the evidence we need to conclude that these expenditures are nothing more than SLUSH FUNDS for developer donors, non-profit “friends,” government bureaucrats, and others connected to our politicians to profit from. Edward Ring and others have repeatedly pointed this out. This is why we see only worsening conditions. They descend into “homeless gangs” of drug-runners, bicycle chop shops, gun sales and the resulting often-violent enforcement of territories and interests. Plop that new layer on top of the usual addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, often randomly violent for those reasons, otherwise walking around like scenes from Night of the Living Dead.

    What can we hope for or do except to speak up, vigorously support L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (God bless him), recall D.A. George Gascon, work to replace corrupt city, county, and state leadership, pray and patiently wait to see what comes of it?

  4. I love Abe’s idea’s. He is so right on with rules. But also these homeless addicts if paid attention to correctly (with true compassion) really do want rehabilitation. The other convienient reason Dems want to incentivise the homeless coming to our state is their votes can be collected by harvesters to support the Democrats as evil plans.

  5. Well written article with practical and proven solutions. We have been experiencing worsening conditions here in Downtown
    Santa Monica caused by our ‘woke’ City Council and City Manager not allowing the Police to enforce the laws already on the books. My team and I have been documenting the grave situation in Downtown Santa Monica and on our 3rd Street Promenade for 33 months.
    The situation is dire. Within our Downtown and along our 3rd Street Promenade we are seeing increased violence, sale and use of $2 to $10 fentanyl on our streets, and City Garages, sex workers, regular ‘enter and grab’ robberies and an average of 3 to 4 smashed storefronts a month. We are losing about 4 people a month to death in the alleyways and streets of Downtown Santa Monica. We will soon be publishing our documented and most recent homeless tally and damage figures. Please feel free to contact me.
    johnallecompany@gmail.com

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