Aside from high-speed rail, which future generations will see as just a few mysterious Stonehenge-like ruins in the Central Valley, the state’s homelessness crisis is the most visible example of why money alone can’t fix California’s problems.
People living in tents under freeways, in parks, in doorways, and spilling over sidewalks is hard to miss. According to a recent survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, 70% of Californians now find homelessness a big problem, coming in second only to concerns over economic conditions (jobs, the economy and inflation).
Legislators and the governor know it’s a problem the people want solved, but over the last five years the state has spent an astounding $20 billion on the crisis with no success.
A recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that from 2007 to 2022 our homeless population soared by 23.4%. From 2020 to 2022 the number of homeless increased by 9,973 people, giving California the dubious distinction of having the nation’s largest increase in homelessness during those two years.
We’re clearly doing something wrong.
Also revealed in that HUD report is this staggering fact: There are currently 171,521 people experiencing homelessness in California.
Put another way, that’s more than double the number of people that can fit inside SoFi Stadium. That number also makes up a whopping 30% of the nation’s entire homeless population, despite California making up less than 12% of the nation’s population.
Obviously, we’re not getting the biggest bang for our buck.
So, where did that $20 billion go?
Was it spent effectively?
It’s hard to tell. Layers of bureaucracy, multiple government agencies and a shotgun approach to spending with minimal accountability mean we really don’t know what works and what does not.
I have been calling for accountability and results-based legislation for years.
Just last year my Senate Republican colleagues and I introduced a comprehensive package of 14 bills aimed at solving the homelessness crisis with “Accountability, Compassion, and Treatment” (ACT).
Included in the ACT package was my Senate Bill 1353, an accountability measure inspired by the findings and recommendations of two state auditor reports. Those reports revealed that California does not track funding data on federal and state-funded homelessness programs and does not report if state-funded measures taken to reduce homelessness were effective.
SB 1353 would have required local governments to report all of that information to the Legislature and post it to a public online dashboard.
That bill died in committee, but those shocking federal numbers mentioned earlier reinforce the dire need for accountability and transparency.
Wasting $20 billion isn’t just a failure for taxpayers; it’s a failure for those on the streets who truly need help.
How is it compassionate to allow those suffering from mental illness or drug addiction to languish on the streets?
While my efforts were not successful last year, it’s refreshing to see members on both sides of the aisle trying to tackle this problem today.
One bill I’m proud to coauthor this year with Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, is SB 31, which will prohibit homeless encampments near sensitive areas like schools, parks, libraries and day care centers while at the same time connecting homeless individuals who need help with resources and services.
It’s the compassionate jumpstart we need to help break the cycle of homelessness and improve public safety on our streets.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, and California has certainly done that with your money on homelessness.
Before spending another cent on homelessness, there has to be a clear understanding of where our tax dollars are going and if they are going to programs and services that actually work.
It’s not a crazy thing to ask for, but sadly in Sacramento today it might be considered such.
Sen. Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District, which includes the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.