As California’s homelessness crisis continues, politicians argue over who should be held responsible for solving the problem.
Many policy promises have been made, many billions of taxpayer dollars spent and many programs launched, but the state’s homelessness crisis continues to worsen and Californians’ tolerance has waned.
A few months ago, the Public Policy Institute of California surveyed public sentiment on the issue and found that an overwhelming majority of adults in the state want something done immediately. It is one of the few major issues bridging the state’s otherwise wide partisan divide.
“Things have changed and everyone’s jobs are at stake, as they should be,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Dreamforce conference in San Francisco last week. “We are only interested in real results and that is our commitment to all of you.”
Underscoring the tense political situation, Newsom denounced a federal judge who blocked San Francisco’s plans to clean up run-down camps. He promised that the state would intervene in the case and expressed hope that a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the ban.
“That’s a hell of a statement from a progressive Democrat from California saying we need help from the Supreme Court,” Newsom said during his Dreamforce interview.
Newsom said that during an unannounced visit to San Francisco – a city he once led as mayor – he saw disgusting levels of drug abuse near a city police station.
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“People don’t give a damn that any of us are there,” he said. “They were trafficking, using, abusing, and there was a police substation and all of this was happening across the street. I just thought how damn demoralized everyone must be. All of our tax money is gone and who the hell runs this place?”
The social and political fears in San Francisco about how to effectively address homelessness are not limited to that city. In California, at least 170,000 people live on the streets and every major city faces its own version of the syndrome.
Karen Bass was elected mayor of Los Angeles on her promise to clean up the streets, but was only able to tinker on the sidelines as the homeless population continued to rise.
Sacramento’s sidewalks near the Capitol are filled with encampments of homeless men and women, prompting a violent clash between the city’s mayor, former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, and newly elected Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho has.
For weeks, Ho publicly condemned city officials for what he said were their failure to enforce anti-camping laws, at one point even threatening to file criminal charges against them.
Last week, Ho filed a civil lawsuit against the city, claiming its inaction was causing a public nuisance. A coalition of city residents and business owners filed a companion lawsuit.
“Enough is enough,” Ho told The Sacramento Bee. “We must address this public safety crisis for both those housed and unhoused.”
The 36-page lawsuit describes Sacramento as a once-thriving city facing a “descent into decline and this utter collapse into chaos,” threatening both inhabited and uninhabited residents.
“The frustration that members of our community are feeling is absolutely justified,” Steinberg said in a statement defending the steps the city has taken to address the problem and criticizing Ho’s intervention.
“Frankly,” Steinberg said, “we have no time for the district attorney’s performative distraction from the hard work we all need to do together to solve this complex social problem plaguing urban centers across the state and across the country .”
The whining among politicians – all from the same party – tells us that they know that the public will retaliate if the crisis continues to deepen.