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Can California Ever Reduce Homelessness?

Can California Ever Reduce Homelessness?

A homeless individual in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan 27, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Seiler

John Seiler

7/11/2023

Updated: 7/12/2023

Commentary
It’s discouraging. No matter what solutions are advanced, homelessness just keeps getting worse in California. The recently released point-in-time count found the number jumped 10 percent in the City of Los Angeles and 9 percent in Los Angeles County since 2022. For three days in January, more than 7,000 volunteers covered every inch of the city and county, tallying the homeless population. The final number was 75,518 without homes.
An incredible amount of data is available on the count’s website, part of the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority. The site’s summary wrote:
“While this year’s increases are slightly lower than previous year-over-year increases in the homeless count, they continue a steady growth trend of people experiencing homelessness in the annual Point-in-Time Count (PIT Count).
“The rise in L.A. County’s homeless population coincides with increases in major cities across the United States. Chicago and Portland saw double-digit increases (+57% and +20% respectively), while several Southern California counties experienced increases larger than Los Angeles, including San Bernadino (+26%), San Diego (+22%), Kern (+22%), and Riverside (+12%).”
So, what solutions are there? There are two main problems: mental health and housing costs. Both are critical.

Mental Health Solutions

People of sound mind, even if poor, usually can get a job, find a place, and get government assistance—or leave the state for someplace cheaper.
After I went to work as the press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach six years ago, homelessness was one of his top priorities. In January 2018, although I didn’t go, he and some of the staff flew to San Antonio to visit its innovative Haven for Hope, which calls itself, “More than a shelter, it is a transformational campus.” It explains, “Ending homelessness by empowering individuals and families to transform their lives.” Our staff was among 41 Orange County officials who took the tour, including councilmembers, nonprofit providers, health care officials, and business leaders.
At the time, the Costa Mesa City Hall Snapshot website described the visit by city officials and Moorlach:
“Haven for Hope is a sprawling and bustling campus that offers housing and transformational, life-saving services for homeless men, women and children.
“Haven for Hope is a public/private partnership that started with a $10.5 million donation by Texas philanthropist Bill Greehey, the CEO of Valero Energy. Nearly every nonprofit in San Antonio that serves the homeless is a part of Haven for Hope. That adds up to 142 partners providing over 300 services. The success rate is impressive.
“In January of 2010, the point-in-time count found 738 homeless on the streets of downtown San Antonio. By January of 2017, that number dropped to 148, an 80 percent decrease.
“Since it opened, more than 3,835 people have exited the transformational campus and moved to permanent housing, with 90 percent of those not returning to homelessness.”
Why hasn’t this successful model been simply copied in L.A. County, Orange County, and other counties in California? Part of the problem was COVID hit in early 2020. That also was a major reason Mr. Moorlach lost his reelection bid in November that year, as well as, later, for OC supervisor and Costa Mesa mayor. Reformers who buck the system often meet that fate.
American health and welfare systems suffer labyrinthine complexity involving: government at all levels, the private parts of the medical system, the Veterans Administration, and numerous NGOs—non-governmental organizations. Texas today is much more of a reformist, can-do state than sclerotic California. And San Antonio obviously is better run than Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other California cities.
The message here is reform can be done but is not being done.

Housing Problems

I’m not sure solving the housing part of the problem is easier, but it is more clear-cut: stop messing around with such gimmicks as raising taxes for housing bonds, as with Los Angeles Measure HHH in 2016. Then start reducing housing costs by reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which makes it easy for unions and environmentalists to sue to stop housing construction. And end Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which sharply increase the cost of labor to build low-income housing by mandating high union wages even for non-union contractors.
High orders indeed for both reforms, given the unions’ lock-grip on the state’s politics. A related problem is the state’s dominance by one party, the Democrats. A democracy needs what sociologist Vilfredo Pareto called the “circulation of elite.” If one group of officials stays on top too long, it becomes ossified, and essential reforms are postponed, sometimes until the whole system cracks.
Republicans in California are at best an afterthought, at worst simply ignored. The blame for their inability to rise even above one-third super-minority status often is given to their support of Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have restricted public services to illegal immigrants. It later was thrown out in federal court. But that was almost 30 years ago.
Much of the problem is the post-Cold War division of the country into Blue States and Red States. That includes “sorting,” with Republicans likely to move to the Red States and Democrats likely to move to Blue states, deepening the ideological divide. California has become more ideologically Blue because so many Red voters have moved to Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and other Red states.
Which means the union shock troops of the Blue party, the Democrats, have gained clout in recent years. Thus actually reducing the chances of reforming CEQA and PLAs.
There have been some reforms of the housing problem, such as allowing more “granny flats,” or casitas, behind homes, with Assembly Bill 670 from 2019. Anything helps. Just not enough.

Conclusion

I hate to say it, but there doesn’t seem to be much will for major reforms of either the mental health or housing components of the homelessness problem. Every day in Orange County, when I drive to-and-fro, I see the homeless under bridges and standing at free onramps, begging for money. It’s even worse in Los Angeles County, as the numbers cited above attest.
The scandal will be brought up should President Biden drop out of the 2024 race and Gov. Gavin Newsom run for president next year. Mr. Newsom’s primary rivals in the Democratic Party would be sure to bring it up. As would the eventual Republican nominee. Powerful attack ads will be made.
It’s too bad some Democratic politician in California doesn’t take the lead and solve this problem.
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John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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