Does anyone recall that one year ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted his entire State of the State address to solving homelessness, declaring that “we must do everything we can to ensure no Californian is homeless,” pledging to “reduce street homelessness quickly and humanely through emergency actions,” and promising to “be laser-focused on getting the mentally ill out of tents and into treatment”?
Or that while running for governor he said he had a plan to “get deeply involved at a granular level where most governors haven’t in the past” and swore he had “an ambitious agenda for tackling the problem”?
Or that in 2004, during his first year as mayor of San Francisco, he was sure that within a decade the city would have put its homeless crisis behind it?
Has anyone seen, after all the pledges, promises, and pronouncements, any progress?
Of course not, because there’s really none to see.
This isn’t an attempt to take a shot at Newsom, though one would be richly deserved, but simply an opportunity to point out again that government has not and cannot solve the homelessness problem. While most policymakers haven’t caught up with this fact, some in state government have.
“In general, we determined that the state continues to struggle to coordinate its efforts to address homelessness,” California State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote earlier this month after her office audited “five local governments who play a key role in a continuum of care (CoC).”
The review found “the state’s approach to addressing homelessness is disjointed,” and is critical of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, set up in 2017, because it “cannot coordinate existing state and federal funding because it lacks expenditure data from state agencies.” It also noted that a statewide data system is failing because it lacks “information about some service providers.”
“Given the magnitude of the homelessness crisis in California and the amount of funding the state and federal governments are committing to combat this crisis, the state needs to ensure that its system for addressing problems at both the CoC and the state level is coherent, consistent, and effective.
An analysis from the Legislative Analyst’s Office not a week before reached a similar conclusion: Government is failing to improve the state’s homelessness problem.
The solutions are primarily found in the private sector. Government has a role, but it needs to be limited and properly directed. This is laid out in “No Way Home,” PRI’s upcoming book that details the history of homelessness and suggests ways to overcome the crisis “with intelligence and humanity.” Even lawmakers who believe that homelessness is expanding because not enough public funds are being spent should give it a look. If they read with an open mind, they’ll find that there’s a far better way.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.