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Bruce Bialosky

Helpless, Hapless Homelessness Leadership

The single biggest issue facing Californians is the homeless that has exploded in major cities. There are plenty of reasons for this, but most of it comes from a lack of focus on the underlying causes. That was particularly brought to light when I was exposed to two recent studies done in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It never fails to amaze how government officials can get so misdirected.

The first is a study by Applied Survey Research named San Francisco Homeless Count and Survey 2019. The study has been embraced by participating city and county departments along with 600 volunteer participants.

The count states there were 8,011 homeless people in San Francisco which is just short of a 1,200 person increase from the previous count two years ago. That in itself seems quite a revelation. Most people would think that there are that many homeless on Market Street or in Union Square. The count includes sheltered and unsheltered. There are 5,000 unsheltered.
If the number is relatively so small, why can’t they seem to get the population under control? Maybe that is partly to do with the findings.

Only 18% were reported as having a drug or alcohol problem. 8% reported mental health issues. Yet 26% reported a loss of a job and 13% reported being evicted. The fact that a far greater number of people reported economic circumstances as opposed to the two driving problems of homelessness — drugs and mental illness — baffles the mind.

I discussed this with a spokesperson for the survey; I asked if that made sense to him. If they could not find affordable housing in San Francisco (which is not surprising when it is said they are building units for the homeless at $750,000 each), why would they not look elsewhere? He said that was what the people told them was why their reason for being homeless. I again asked if that made sense to him. He told me for some people it is difficult to relocate. I asked him if he could not find affordable housing would he not go somewhere where he could find something reasonable? I stated there has been seven million job openings in the country; would he not go get one of them rather than live on the street? It made no sense that these were the plurality of people living in the conditions by choice. Thirty percent of the people were from outside San Francisco. Maybe the culture of tolerance might be the cause along with the two predominant reasons – drugs and mental health.

Then there is the report created by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). This is an operation made up of people from the city and county of Los Angeles. They created the Report and Recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness. The report thanked a laundry list of elected officials, foundations and other organizations that helped in creating the report.

The study found that only 9% of the population is black yet composed 40% of the homeless population. These numbers parallel the numbers in San Francisco. To be accurate, there are few blacks left in San Francisco versus a more substantial black population in Los Angeles.

Their 115-page report concluded that the reason there was a disproportionate number of homeless blacks is because of racism. They call it “structural racism” versus “systemic racism,” but anyway you cut it the cause is racism. And it is not just racism in Los Angeles; it is caused by racism across America.

The report recommends a laundry list of government wonk things to do to improve awareness of the problem. They did state that there is an effect on homelessness for cost of living and joblessness though the report did not address the fact that black unemployment is at an all-time low.

When I had a conversation with a spokesperson, I asked if I could speak to someone who could answer some of questions I had. For example, was there even consideration of environmental factors? I asked if there was any consideration given to whether these people came from single-parent homes, had graduated high school, had used drugs or had a history of mental illness? No one seemed to want to answer why those factors were not addressed. No — the answer is the rest of us are racists. I asked the spokesperson if he understood the report was calling everyone in the county who is not black a racist. It was calling him a racist. No response. Then I invoked Eldridge Cleaver. “You either have to be part of the solution or you’re going to be part of the problem.” No response.

These are the kind of misdirected attitudes that continue to perpetuate the problem. Whether people are using drugs when they become homeless or start when they do, there is still a preponderance of drug use. How about this – Why are there no homeless in Beverly Hills or Pasadena or Nashville. Because the people there don’t tolerate it.

Here are some fun facts from a real study on homelessness in California. California homeownership is plummeting. From 2006 to 2019, the home ownership rate fell 4.2% to 56% which is 9% lower than the national average. The cost of a home is 250 percent above the national average and rental costs are 50% above the national average. Only 30% of the residents can afford a median-priced home versus a national average of 54%.

Even if we can get the homeless off drugs and provide proper mental treatment, it would be very hard for many to find an affordable place to live. That is, unless they relocate into the eastern part of the state instead of congregating in the large cities where they are tolerated and provided some services that continue their homeless plight.

Procrastinating on this issue has now funneled into the current pandemic. Can you think how the coronavirus will explode when thrown into the cauldron of the disease and plight in homeless areas. The virus could be particularly dangerous for the homeless themselves and could potentially accelerate the spread through the surrounding communities. Neglecting a problem often leads to further dangers.

Once again, these governments create a problem, then enlarge the problem, by creating more government to handle the problem rather than solving the problem. Stop the ridiculous rules that cause outrageous housing costs. Stop driving up energy costs by demanding unaffordable energy sources. Confront the drug problems in the subject population and also confront the mental illness problems. And most importantly stop allowing homeless to create dangerous squalor for them and us on the streets. These ideas would be a good start.