California’s Homeless Industrial Complex was delivered a minor jolt last month, when Governor Newsom “issued a blanket rejection of local California governments’ plans to curb homelessness, putting on hold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.”
The panic was short-lived, however, when in a November 18 conference in Sacramento the governor relented and released yet another billion dollars to California’s cities and counties after their representatives all pledged that “in the next round, they commit to more aggressive plans to reduce street homelessness.”
Oh please. “We’re going to plan to make more ‘aggressive’ plans. Ok? Now give us the money.”
This is theatre, but it doesn’t have to be. Newsom is one of the few individuals in California with the power to completely upend the corrupt, phony compassion-spewing army of opportunistic bureaucrats, nonprofits, and politically connected developers who have squandered billions in order to make California’s homeless crisis worse than ever.
Newsom was right to reject funding requests that, on balance, claimed they would only reduce homelessness in California by two percent. But he is wrong to expect that “more aggressive policies” will ever be effective unless the fundamental model to combat homelessness is completely scrapped and replaced.
Homeless policy in California rests on premises that guarantee ongoing failure. The so-called “Housing First” doctrine, which requires the homeless to be given free housing without any behavioral conditions before they can be treated for mental illness or substance addiction, much less trained to develop marketable skills, is a failure.
The decriminalization of sociopathic behavior including public use of hard drugs and repetitive petty theft, along with court rulings that prevent police from removing people from public places unless they can offer them free shelter, is a failure.
And the conflation of the obligation to provide “supportive housing” with the prevailing scam whereby a few thousand units of housing are built at a cost of a few billion dollars, is an abject, scandalous failure.
Finally, California’s neglected water, energy, and transportation infrastructure, its decimated timber industry, its offshoring of the sources for every necessary building material, its punitive policies of urban containment, its protracted, capricious, and extortionate process to obtain building permits, and its ridiculously overwrought building codes – all of this defined by fanatics and orchestrated by oligopolists – is the real reason housing is unaffordable.
If Governor Newsom wants to help the homeless, he will reject all of these premises. He will denounce the Housing First policy as unbalanced and ineffective, he will demand legislative and legal actions to reform laws that prevent police from arresting criminals and institutionalizing psychotics, and he will set a cap on how much a shelter bed will cost and challenge cities and counties to come up with solutions within that constraint.
All Newsom has to do to ensure cities and counties adhere to these new and radical revisions to homeless policy in California is withhold the money. All of it. It’s a lot of money. According to the LAO, last year the State of California “provided $10.7 billion to 50 housing and homelessness-related programs across 15 state entities.”
That probably isn’t all the money being spent. Deciphering state budget allocations, taking into account the many ways “housing” and “homeless” are categorized, perusing the general fund, capital accounts, bond financings, federal pass-throughs, special funds, and who knows what else, is a fool’s errand. There are infinite routes through the labyrinth, all of them yielding different results. Expect $10.7 billion to be the low number. That’s a pretty big Minotaur, but that’s only the state’s share.
Then there is the money California’s cities and counties are also pouring into the maw of the Homeless Industrial Complex. Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles agreed to commit another $3 billion to house “some” of its homeless. In this current fiscal year, Los Angeles County has budgeted $532 million to “fight homelessness.” These totals don’t include additional spending on low income housing and rent subsidies. They don’t include spending on homeless and housing programs by the other 87 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County. They don’t include the rest of California’s cities and counties.
It isn’t necessary to wade through over 500 local budgets to know tens of billions of dollars have been squandered, because of political choices that created the homeless crisis, the housing shortage, and then made the problem worse instead of better.
Consider the KTLA report from February 2022, exposing a homeless housing project where each unit under development was going to cost $837,000 per unit. Consider what outraged residents in LA’s Venice neighborhood have dubbed the Monster on the Median, projected to cost over $100 million to construct, on land that’s worth at least another $50 million, in order to offer 140 units of subsidized housing.
This is blatant, deplorable corruption. It’s everywhere. And it’s all perfectly legal. Newsom, it’s time to go beyond words. Take this to the next level. End this. Now.
Estimates of California’s homeless population range in excess of 150,000 individuals. How much would it cost in an honest, functional society to get them off the streets? First, one must understand – and this is based on evidence gathered from people with extensive and direct experience working with the homeless – if California’s laws were revised to make laws against vagrancy, intoxication and theft enforceable again, half of the homeless (or more) would vanish overnight. They would return to domiciles they had previously spurned in favor of the freedom and unaccountability of the street.
The homeless that remained after changing the legal environment could be managed by reserving existing shelter space and supportive housing for those unsheltered homeless who can remain sober and accept counseling and job training. There is already enough capacity built to handle those homeless who are willing and able to work towards regaining their independence.
The rest – and this would be most of them – could be sorted according to their afflictions into cohorts of criminals, addicts, and psychotics. The addicts and the criminals could be removed to regional camps set up in inexpensive parts of the California’s urban counties. These camps could be set up for millions of dollars, not billions, using expertise on loan from U.N. personnel who have done similar work, overnight and on a budget, in conflict zones all over the world. To help earn their keep, they could participate in conservation projects and other character building work, and recover their sobriety, their dignity, and eventually their freedom. The truly mentally ill would have to be placed, involuntarily, in psychiatric hospitals.
Taking this approach to the homeless crisis would not be cheap. Expanding the capacity of psychiatric hospitals, in particular, will cost hundreds of millions. But overall, this approach would work, and it would cost far less than what is being spent today to execute policies that have merely turned California into a magnet for the indigent of the nation. Incremental shifts in homeless policy in California will never solve the problem. And Gavin Newsom knows it.
Do more, governor.
This article originally appeared in the California Globe.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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