As the controversy over the homeless encampment along the Venice walkway takes a major spot on each evening's TV news in Los Angeles, it's time for a rational voice to call for a halt to spending tens of billions over the next decade on an apparently unsolvable problem. That's no misprint. "Tens of billions" of dollars are now either allocated, or about to be if Governor Gavin Newsom's budget is approved.
Yes, tens of billions! Newsom wants $12 billion set aside over the next decade to pay for various needs of the homeless: rentals, temporary shelters, housing construction, drug addiction, mental health, medical care, and other needs. Add to that the nearly billion dollars a year Los Angeles city and county will be spending on the homeless.
By 2030 taxpayers in this state will have ponied up nearly $30 billion for a problem that can't be solved by throwing money at it.
The state's other 57 counties, while spending less than L. A., will contribute over a billion a year as well. San Francisco spends over $600 million annually, Santa Clara county $500 million, and San Diego "$300 million. Thus, by 2030 taxpayers in this state will have ponied up nearly $30 billion for a problem that can't be solved by throwing money at it.
But the governor has some strong allies in his rush to spend your tax dollars on the homeless.
Conservatives have traditionally condemned "throwing money" at a problem that reformers want to eliminate. But when L A county's sales tax for the homeless was on the ballot a few years ago, the chamber of commerce endorsed it, as did many businesses in the county. Conservative business leaders were joined by organized labor, who saw jobs in the billions that the city and county would be spending on the homeless. Both the right-leaning L. A. Daily News and the leftist L. A. Times supported the tax increase, each refusing to run op-eds in opposition, It barely passed.
When capital and labor unite, beware! That's how we got the bullet train. "Homelessness" is the bullet train of this decade!
Where will these billions go?
Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency, the umbrella for about 100 non-profits, and for the contractors, landlords and others milking taxpayers for every penny of the approximately FIVE BILLION DOLLARS in bonds and taxes city and county voters have approved, manages and coordinates about $800 million in homeless funds annually. If Newsom's $12 billion request is approved, that number will undoubtedly rise to a billion dollars a year. Does LAHSA really want the homeless to disappear? It had already ballooned from $400 million annually to $800 million in just two years.
The homeless problem easily divides into two issues:
- finding shelter for those who really want it, and
- dealing with the Free Spirits, whose lifestyle is such that they reject the discipline and bureaucracy of public housing in any manner.
LAHSA isn't going to solve that second problem. The Free Spirits encamped at Venice beach, in the Sepulveda Basin, the L. A. River bed near Frog town, or their Santa Ana River cousins aren't about to move into "bridge housing" unless it's under a bridge on one of the rivers or an underpass beneath a freeway. These souls relish the freedom that comes from pitching their tents, or crawling under a tarp. Let them pitch that tent on San Miguel island!
Let LAHSA help the father who can't pay the rent and whose family has been forced onto the street or into their car for shelter, or the single mother whose income is too low to pay rent, no matter how low the rent. LAHSA can also be right at home providing services for the alcoholics or mentally ill on Skid Row, but others living there are more akin to their counterparts living in the riverbed but who like the hustle and bustle of the city rather than the call of nature primeval.
LAHSA doesn't have to worry about working itself out of the job of managing all that taxpayer money. As the annual census of the unhoused reveals, no matter how many LHASA finds shelter for, another homeless person takes his or her place. As the Great Book says, "The homeless you have with you always." Or something like that.
One is tempted at this point to paraphrase a line from the social Darwinists of the late nineteenth century, offered in their argument in defense of wealth and as an explanation for poverty. "If it rains twenty dollar gold pieces from dawn till noon, at sundown the homeless will be setting up their camp under a 110 overpass."
Ralph E. Shaffer