Jonathan Kraut | High Court Faces Test on Homelessness

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There is what is called a “homeless crisis” nationwide. We feel this more in Los Angeles County than most other places with about 60,000 on our streets. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is about decide if it should hear arguments.  

The U.S. 9th Circuit already ruled that preventing the homeless from camping out on our streets, parks and sidewalks is “cruel and unusual.” The Supreme Court may also do nothing and let stand the 9th’s decision. 

A federal judge in Orange County ruled a couple years back that until local government is able to provide shelter to every homeless person, those choosing to live outside cannot be removed or cited. 

I believe letting these decisions stand will perpetuate chaos, lawlessness and disease. Ignoring this crisis would be shameful.

Can local ordinances be enforced that forbid vagrants, drug addicts and the mentally ill from maintaining unsanitary conditions by living anywhere they desire? Can a person addicted to illegal drugs have the constitutional right to continue drug use unabated? Can the mentally ill and less competent decide for themselves to ignore treatment and care? 

I hate the term “homeless” as this label does not describe the problem. 

Putting a roof over one’s head does not “cure” the real issues of mental illness and drug addiction. The challenge is determining how government is to address this when we know long-term treatment for these folks will accomplish little and the status quo is unacceptable. 

The fundamental questions are whether taxpayers are responsible for the welfare of this group, and can government compel those, who would otherwise choose to live in vehicles and temporary shelters, to “follow the rules.” 

Currently we attend to this crisis with billions of dollars and yet must abandon ordinance enforcement and ignore sanitation and safety considerations.

For the last several weeks I have had the honor of volunteering with our local homeless shelter called Bridge To Home. Grateful that the “winter shelter” does not throw out clients early each morning and then invite them back only for the night, Bridge To Home is now Santa Clarita’s 24-hour, year-long haven for some of our most needy.

In reality, there may be described four distinct “homeless” populations, not one. While Bridge To Home cares for members of each group, solutions for each are not the same.

Those who are facing emergency or temporary financial challenges usually can find ample aid and resolve their conditions fairly quickly with government and private support. 

Segment two are in some way experiencing emotional or chemical recovery, but free counseling, housing and other support is available and can help re-establish a more normalized living situation over several months.

Of the 20 or so clients I have had contact with at Bridge to Home, each client without question is thoughtful, aware, considerate of others, and sincerely attempting to transition. Some comprise this third segment, frequently homeless but cooperative and open to support. 

For the first three segments we should be proud that our tax dollars and nonprofits are effective in supporting a transition to a safer life in a meaningful way. The Supreme Court ruling would not address these first three populations, however.

It is the last group, the chronically homeless “uncooperative group,” for which the Supreme Court is I hope willing to consider. 

These folks do not wish help nor respond well to counseling, treatment, or other remedies. 

Statistics reveal that about 75% of “the chronically homeless” are drug addicted and 75% are mentally ill, to include those who cooperate and those who do not. 

I must also inform you that it to me appears that most clients in care at the shelter have various degrees of cognitive issues, from drug use, trauma, a mental condition, or a combination.

Many it would appear are essentially beyond treatment in the short term. My belief is that we will have great difficulty moving these clients toward a self-sufficient lifestyle, but offering to them care is noble and humane since they are willing to transition.

The uncooperative also live in our community. 

They include persons strung out on drugs, serial criminals, those who pose a danger to themselves and others, and the significantly mentally ill. 

They refuse shelter and to “follow the rules,” i.e., abstain from drug use.

Let’s hope the Supreme Court will choose to examine how our society can move forward. The Court, I believe, needs to decide if the law trumps the personal freedom to endanger one’s self and others or if free will can supersede the law.

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CFO private security firm, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.     

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