Gov. Gavin Newsom will not after all appoint a homelessness czar, as he had promised he would during the 2018 campaign. Now, if he would just disband the homelessness task force that was formed in the spring.
While running for governor last year as the state’s homeless crisis became a national embarrassment, Newsom promised if elected he would hire a “cabinet-level secretary committed to solving the issue, not just managing it.” But recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Newsom told reporters that he was instead consulting with a homelessness task force that he announced in February, led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.”
“To me it’s a distinction that is insignificant. They’re profoundly influential to me, de facto cabinet members,” Newsom told the media. “They have complete, universal access to me — more than, I would argue, even cabinet members.”
A homelessness czar would be the California executive branch’s equivalent of a chief diversity officer at a major university, who is handed a regular generous paycheck while doing meaningless and too often counterproductive “work.”
Similarly, Newsom’s task force will be like a team of full-time diversity officers at a major university, burning through resources while doing meaningless work.
As colleague Tim Anaya has noted, take a look at the roster of “task force members and you’ll see the commissioners have one thing in common — they all represent a government-only approach to addressing California’s homeless crisis.”
It’s not cynical to have zero faith in Newsom’s task force. History has shown government has had no success in wiping out poverty and ending homelessness, two problems elected officials and bureaucrats have never been able to solve through centuries and across an untold number of local, state, provincial, and national governments. It’s self-evident: Government is ill equipped to handle California’s growing homeless problem.
Other people’s money tends to be government’s tool of choice when dealing with any problem, and homelessness is no exception. It is invariably a weak tool, though. Public funds, no matter how deep, always fail to achieve stated goals.
The most-recent count indicates there are about 36,000 homeless in Los Angeles, an increase of 16% over last year. The growth has come “despite the fact that the city spent $619 million on homelessness — including $442 million in Prop HHH dollars — in 2018,” the same year it also raked in $85 million in state aid, Reason’s Christian Britschgi reports.
Meanwhile, private charities and nonprofit organizations have been moving the homeless off the streets and into productive lives. They could do more, but government often acts as an adversary rather than a partner. One wonders when officials will ever learn from their repeated mistakes.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.