Progressives Oppose Homeless Shelter Plans, In Favor of…Doing Nothing?

Approximately 40% of the homeless Nationally are on the West Coast, with 20% in California alone. A high proportion are in San Francisco and Los Angeles, to the consternation of businesses and residents, due to the high percentage of drug-use, public-health and harassment issues (since up to 50% of homeless are mentally-ill). Moderately Liberal Mayors London Breed and Eric Garcetti have proposed relocations to homeless treatment centers, but are outflanked by Conservatives (who want to roust homeless with no follow-up “get-tough” policies) and Progressives (who believe that homeless treatment centers are cruel and essentially want to do nothing).

Homelessness has become rampant in West Coast cities. Statistics show that a large percentage are drug-dependent and/or mentally-ill, yet largely opposed to homeless shelters/treatment facilities

It may be safe to say that when it comes to the homeless, almost no one agrees on a solution. The problem may be the final accounting for the “liberalization” of mental health in the 60s (related to “maybe the treatment is worse than the disease” opinions stated in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and actually a cost-cutting move), increased housing costs, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol, and a kind of slothfulness ushered in by the Hippie generation. But before I go full George Will on you, let me describe the dilemma faced by Liberal-Moderate West Coast Mayors, who wish to address a public health crisis while appeased irate business and residential constituents. They are typically hamstrung by right-wing police-state advocates (who milk the situation for “get-tough” votes and want to jail or relocate offending homeless using vagrancy laws) and Progressives, who curiously hate on the homeless centers, claiming that they are cruel and ineffective. What is a Moderate to do?

Some background is in order here. The reason that the West Coast is a Valhalla for the homeless is, of course, the more moderate weather and a more progressive Blue State attitude. Statistics estimate that as of 2017, there were over 500,000 homeless in our Nation, with 1/3 of them unsheltered. Nationally, about 25% of the homeless are unsheltered, while in California the number is 68%. A study conducted by the LA Times estimates that up to 50% of homeless have metal-illness issues. Another study estimates that 38% of the homeless are alcohol-dependent, while another 26% are dependent on other drugs. Though this number is hard to estimate, one wonders if most of the unsheltered homeless are mentally-ill, alcohol, or drug-dependent, since sheltering oneself in a lockable shelter (ie vehicle, as in the movie “Homelander”) might be a sign of a rational person that simply can’t afford a home. The “sheltered” homeless might be couch-surfing or living in vehicles generally permitted to be in parks, parking lots, or other public areas. They may have occasional jobs and be generally compliant citizens. The “unsheltered” homeless then (about 170,000 nationally and perhaps over 40,000 in California alone) would seem to be the problem. (theconverstation.com, 2018), (addictioncenter.com,2021), (Novasky,Rosales,2020)

Estimates vary, but there is high overlap between substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness

SF Mayor London Breed has already established over 700 “Permanent Supportive Housing” units (PSH Units), on the way to her ultimate goal of 1,500 units. Her latest plan is to add 237 more units and “get tough on homelessness” (by giving offenders the choice between treatment and incarceration) and has been opposed by Progressives (those of the ill-advised “Defund the Police” stripes), who argue that drugs should be decriminalized. Decriminalized, perhaps, but isn’t Mayor Breed trying to provide the drug-treatment that’s supposed to go with that decriminalization? Recently recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin and public defender Mano Raju had denounced Breed’s plan, saying that drug crackdowns don’t work, and addiction is not the fault of the offenders. A related program for LA, proposed by State Assemblyman Mike Gatto, has been similarly criticized. Though Breed has many Liberal credentials, her latest move has been praised by the more conservative business and residential organizations. Boudin is one of her political opponents, and perhaps trying to create political separation, but what possible sense does “doing nothing” make here? (sfmayor.org,2021),(Har, 2021), (LATime.com,2020)

Those of us with long San Francisco memories know that often a good, progressive thing in our beloved city is followed by a bad one. The Summer of Love in 1967 (which espoused Peace, Love, and Recreational Drugs) was soon overtaken by the hedonistic slobs that only wanted the free-love and free-drugs (after which a public-health crisis ensued). Similarly, many other movements (Gay Pride comes to mind) were led by well-meaning, responsible people who quickly moved onto bigger and better things, leaving the dregs. A recent trip to the SF Opera House during “Pride Weekend” (a scheduling mistake on my part) revealed the aftermath of a rather senseless bacchanal of drugs, indiscriminate sexual behavior, filth, and crime (All of which would’ve made Harvey Milk blush?) This wake of Progressive permissiveness has ushered in the drug-ridden homeless epidemic, rather unsurprisingly.

Homeless people have been known to not stay at homeless shelters for very long…why? A few stated reasons are that said shelters often don’t allow pets (important to the homeless) and cohabitation by sexual partners. There is probably the other obvious reason that the homeless want the freedom that goes with being homeless, most likely doing drugs and alcohol. They may view homeless shelters as a kind of prison. One’s first answer to all this is “why not allow pets and sexual partners at homeless shelters?” I guess the answer to the loss of freedom issue may be that forced drug treatment does make the shelters a kind of prison, but so what? Since the homeless are violating the law in the first place, do they have a right to freedoms from such a place? Mayor Breed would seem to have hit upon the “happy medium” of addressing the homelessness problem, and to heck with Boudin and Raju!

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Vern Scott

Scott lives in the SF Bay Area and writes confidently about Engineering, History, Politics, and Health