In breaking news, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and City Councilman Joe Buscaino have asked the governor of California to declare a state of emergency – not over earthquakes, wildfires or mudslides but to address the deepening social crisis of homeless camps that dot urban landscapes throughout the West Coast.
Of the more than 500,000 homeless people living in the U.S., almost half of them inhabit California cities, according to a new report released by the federal Council of Economic Advisers. This document begins by blaming “decades of misguided and faulty policies” for the plight of national homelessness today and informs:
“Approximately 65 percent are found in homeless shelters, and the other 35 percent—just under 200,000—are found unsheltered on our streets (in places not intended for human habitation, such as sidewalks, parks, cars, or abandoned buildings).”
A staggering 47 percent – almost half – of all unsheltered homeless people live in California, a rate about four times higher than the state’s share of the overall U.S. population. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, and San Jose share this dubious distinction with Seattle, Washington.
On June 25, 2019, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that created a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing. The thinking behind this new rule is that current regulations stand in the way of new home construction, thereby reducing the supply of homes which increases homelessness. The Council will identify regulatory barriers to building housing and propose actions to address these obstacles.
Not surprisingly, getting homeless people employed with an income large enough for affordable housing is the goal of federal, state, and local governments. Self-sufficiency is key to resolving national homelessness.
One downside of being a Sanctuary State like California is that an open invitation to destitute people results in rising homeless populations. Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom has assigned $1 billion for local homeless programs. He is pushing for additional legislative aid.
Just last week, Newsom signed into law a suite of new regulations that exempt Los Angeles shelter projects and housing from environmental review, including Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion bond measure that funds the city’s Supportive Housing Loan Program which voters passed in 2016.
Retired law professor Gary Blasi opposed the idea of accessing off-limits federal and state emergency funds to deal with California’s homeless situation:
“The governor should not sign a declaration of emergency until the proponents identify the specific laws and regulations they want to get around, and the resources they believe the declaration would free up. The state statutes regarding emergencies were not designed to respond to long-standing political, leadership and moral disasters.”
In Los Angeles County, an estimated 44,000 people, of whom 27,000 reside in the city, camp out in tents, lean-to structures, and automobiles. Over the past 2-1/2 years, a mere 477 emergency shelter facility beds have been added for childless households which constitute the majority of those with no permanent place to live.
Diseases associated with third-world conditions are on the rise in California slums. As this writer noted previously:
“As of November 2018, L.A. health officials have pegged the number of epidemic typhus cases at 107.”
California’s filthy conditions are nothing new and have been well-documented for years. A traveler commented in a July 2015 online review just how much things have changed in the once-bejeweled and much-beloved City by the Bay:
“Having visited San Francisco a lot during the 90s and loved the place, it has been a big disappointment to return in 2015 to find the city area very dirty. As well, aggressive homeless people putting on pressure for money and being abusive when none (or too little!) is forthcoming make a visit unenjoyable. We were also subject to abuse from a large African American man selling his music: when we didn’t meet his needs he abused my wife using foul language and threatened to put on her. No police in sight anywhere – no locals intervened.”
Los Angeles is mulling over a new law that would prohibit its 15,000 unsheltered homeless people from sleeping on public streets within 500 feet of schools, parks, and other public spaces. That would effectively ban almost one-quarter of the cityscape from temporary sheltering.
The Trump administration is considering “moving homeless people into facilities administered by the federal government and razing encampments.” Alex Comisar, deputy communications director for Los Angeles’ Mayor Garcetti, approved of federal assistance in an email he wrote:
“Our office learned very recently of the Administration’s plans to visit L.A., to learn more about our strategies for responding to the homelessness crisis. We welcome them and look forward to showing them our work to confront this humanitarian emergency.”
Never before in U.S. history have mass round-ups of homeless people destined for federal temporary housing occurred.
Steve Berg, Vice President for the non-profit Programs and Policy with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, stated that federal intervention to round up homeless people and institutionalize them against their will is not a viable solution:
“If you’re not doing anything illegal, authorities can’t just pick you up to tell you where to go.”
One effective solution for the nation’s homeless, according to experts, would be to focus on investing in homelessness services and strengthening affordable housing resources under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).