This article from the San Diego Union Tribune (with hat tip to the Crime & Consequences Blog) presents a criminal justice perspective in looking at the increase in homelessness in California.
I largely agree with this analysis, adding to the other expressed causes.
If we have any hope to “solve” the homeless problem, we must give some thought to its causes. It is deceptively easy to see the problem as one of access to resources, with job loss, the cost of housing or a death in the family being the most likely circumstances leading to homelessness. Homelessness, however, has a darker side to it; drug and alcohol abuse and an actual desire to stay homeless is at the core of it.
The idea of homelessness being a lifestyle choice is difficult for most of us to understand, but understanding the truth of this concept will help us all make decisions about the kinds of solutions that will result in meaningful change. It is also important to understand that the California Legislature has pushed an ideology that does little to moderate homelessness and much to propagate it. The explosion of homelessness that we as a region have experienced over the past two years can be directly linked to out-of-control substance abuse and a legislative agenda in Sacramento that is heavy with unintended consequences, making the homeless problem much worse.
It all started with Assembly Bill 109, passed in 2011. The idea of “realignment” was to ease prison overcrowding in California by simply deciding that many crimes were no longer punishable by incarceration. More than 70 crimes were redefined as “less serious” or “nonviolent.” This began in 2015, and since then my city of El Cajon, has seen a 35 percent increase in homelessness. Many beach communities have seen well over 100 percent increases. Sacramento will say that there is no correlation, but that defies logic. In San Diego County alone, 7,619 probationers were released into the county, with 1,077 being homeless upon release. Approximately 10 percent of the homeless in our region were prisoners on an early release program.
Next, Proposition 47 was approved in 2014. This law converted a series of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Again, this is designed to keep people out of prison, but it has many unintended consequences. Proposition 47 also makes shoplifting of items less than $950 a misdemeanor. Recently I had a group of 7-Eleven owners in my office complaining that the homeless stole from them with impunity, and no fear of the police. Proposition 47 also makes personal use of most drugs a minor offense; subject to a ticket or more likely no enforcement. Honest assessments conclude that over 90 percent of homeless people are using drugs or alcohol. Over the past two years there has been a flood of powerful but cheap drugs, mostly methamphetamines, which have been thrust into our culture causing mass addiction, disability and dropping out of society.
In 2017, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 180, which limits the ability of law enforcement to send chronic drug abusers back to prison. A recent court case limited law enforcement’s ability to stop people from living in their cars.
In 2015, a Supreme Court case limited a city’s ability to criminalize panhandling. Cities cannot enforce vagrancy laws unless they have cooperation from the District Attorney’s Office, which that office is loath to provide. Cities are constantly under pressure from the ACLU and local grand juries to open the parks for the homeless, allow tent cities and refrain from “harassing the homeless.” So enforcement is difficult at best. If the police do arrest a homeless person and that person has a shopping cart of possessions, the police are obligated to catalog and store these possessions regardless of worth.
Sacramento’s approach to this problem is one of normalizing homelessness. The idea is to accept mass homelessness as just a part of any society. The thrust of the fight has been one of permissiveness and rejection of value judgments that might shame the homeless, or pressure them out of the homeless lifestyle.
In parallel, the Legislature has made the same arguments toward drug and alcohol addiction and criminality. It is up to the public to accept or reject this approach. It seems clear to me that to accept this, however, is to accept the recent increase in homelessness as a reality that is here to stay and likely to grow.
Retrieved November 7 2017 from http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sd-utbg-homelessness-california-legislature-20171102-story.html