Gary Horton | Time to Fix Entrenched Homelessness

Gary Horton

What tarnishes the Golden State more than anything else? What remains infuriating, year after year?  

Plainly, homelessness is our biggest vexation.  

California’s homeless population, including tent-dwellers and illegal RV- and car-dwellers, is estimated at 170,000 souls. It’s the equivalent of two-thirds of the city of Santa Clarita living in streets, parks, freeways, scattered in squalor, up and down our otherwise fair state. The problem grows year after year, despite all the Proposition HHH money and other funds we allocate, (then waste) toward it. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom gleefully boasts California is sitting atop the largest budget surplus in state history. Finally, with this, and all the Measure H and HHH taxes we pay, we’ve got all necessary funds to fix this, once and for all — if only we can muster public will to proactively change our disparaging dynamic of public acceptance of homelessness itself. 

Los Angeles has gotten so bad, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter stepped in to mandate a 100% cleanup of L.A.’s infamous Skid Row homeless encampments by October 2021. L.A. must find semi-permanent shelter for some 2,500 homeless, fully clearing the area and putting these folks into hotels, apartments, tiny-house villages – anything clean and humane. The City Council is pushing back, but a precedent is being set — and David Carter may end up as a Homeless Czar — dictating and mandating action with full force of law. 

Carter’s Skid Row initiative is a start. But it’s only a start, and the problem requires something far more global and permanent to cure homelessness now and forever into the future. 

Here’s liberal progressive Gary Horton’s pragmatic take on eliminating homelessness – now that we have Newsom’s tax windfall firepower. First, we must accept and adopt basic norms in our society and infrastructure. We must agree: 

Sidewalks are expressly for walking. 

Parks are expressly for recreation and relaxation. 

Streets are for cars and motorcycles and bicycles. 

Freeway overpasses are built expressly to allow vehicular movement. Shopping centers are for shoppers. 

Public landscaping is built for beauty and quality of life. 

None of these features are designed for housing people or public “camping.” None were built to support tent cities. We must retake our infrastructure and reclaim it for the purpose for which it is all built. We must come to our collective senses and say, “Enough!” We want our infrastructure to be used for the purpose for which it was designed. That means no camping or loitering in parks, streets, sidewalks, shopping centers, or overpasses. Not allowed! Our parks, streets and sidewalks were never intended for “camping” and we’re going to stop allowing it. 

Is this mean or harsh? No, it is practical, pragmatic and humane. To maintain the quality of life for all of us, (including our homeless) we must preserve and maintain our public spaces for the original purposes for which they were designed and built.  

And what of the up to 170,000 homeless people we just displaced? We must accept that we, our state, our society, our system, has somehow let these 170,000 brothers and sisters through our societal cracks… via broken homes, drug addiction, disease, mental health problems, job losses and crime. All kinds of things lead to homelessness, and we’ve failed to stop it — in fact, our system heretofore accepts it. 

One option is to blame the homeless themselves. But preaching “personal responsibility” won’t clear our streets. These folks’ problems have become our problems — and thank God, we now have the money to help them, and get our infrastructure, and California’s reputation, back. 

This is a moon shot. This is like housing all the GI’s when they returned from World War II. It’s a mammoth effort. Still, we know we can quickly find/build purposeful emergency housing – and importantly, also supply mental and physical health assistance and human service assistance. 

We can humanely break the homeless cycle, quickly building practical, affordable small home villages. We can build entire transitional communities, not unlike Army barracks. We can employ shuttered military sites. We can move people as necessary. But using full force of social will, we can build housing sites with full services, humanely caring to restore the homeless to secure lives. 

This seals the deal into the future: We hold fast to laws prohibiting public camping and loitering on public spaces designed for other uses. We challenge anything in our way. Our parks shall remain parks and streets remain streets, and sidewalks, sidewalks. Anyone “camping” on public infrastructure gets a trip to one of our many new humane and beneficial homeless-intervention facilities. Zero tolerance for homeless camping.  

Our new facilities shall supply all medical, drug counseling, family counseling and job assistance that homeless and transitional folks require. And, when people are stable and on their feet, they are free to leave. Those unable to care for themselves remain under care until they are better, or until family takes them back, or until they can move in with friends, because public “camping” is simply no longer allowed by our newly adopted norms. If you are so poor or mentally ill that you “camp” for housing, California will step in to assist and remediate. 

This seems a harsh line from a liberal guy. But the pragmatist in me knows that homelessness won’t stop until it is made illegal. And when we make it illegal, we have also have the moral responsibility to provide massive housing and social support to assist homeless folks in stabilizing their lives. 

That such a rich society as California currently looks the other way while our brothers and sisters live in squalor is an offense against civility. We can provide humane services and take back our public spaces at the same time. We all can win with enough willpower and with the money we now have.  

Our politicians must steel their backbones for this challenge. The once-in-a-lifetime chance to save California from permanent, socially normalized homeless squalor is exactly now. Eliminating homelessness must become California’s most urgent priority. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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