According to California Governor (and former San Francisco Mayor) Gavin Newsom, the “vast majority” of San Francisco’s homeless people “also come in from… Texas.”
To him, that’s “just an interesting fact;” to PolitiFact, it’s “Pants on Fire” inaccurate. PolitiFact goes as far as calling it “ridiculous.”
The tiniest factual nugget for Newsom’s fib was contained in data from a city program that hands out bus tickets to the homeless so they can travel to family or friends who have agreed to care for them. Of 12,268 tickets issued over 14 years through last year, 827 were to Texas—that’s 6.7% of the total—though the highest for any destination not in California.
It makes sense that Texas would be the most popular state other than California—as the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual interstate migration report shows that Texas has been the No. 1 state for people moving out of California for more than a decade.
That Newsom, San Francisco’s mayor from 2004 to 2011, would want to blame a state 1,200 miles away for the growing ranks of homeless in the state’s fourth-largest city—and every other urban area in California—is both understandable and troubling.
Understandable, because Newsom, first elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at the age of 29, has been in public office for 22 consecutive years with direct responsibility for the myriad of policies that bear on the homeless population.
Troubling, because laying false blame for a problem on something that has nothing to do with that issue makes solving that problem far more difficult—if not impossible.
What’s worse, in addition to the deplorable plight faced by California’s growing homeless population, estimated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to number almost 130,000 last year, the unsanitary conditions they foster are now becoming a public health risk at large.
The trash, used needles, and human waste littering California’s cities have led to increased numbers of rats and—along with them—fleas and deadly diseases. There were 13 reported cases of typhus in California in 2008, spiking to 167 in 2018, while hepatitis A, tuberculosis, and staph has been spreading aggressively in San Francisco and other California cities.
A new public health threat may be on the verge of making a deadly appearance: bubonic plague—known in the Middle Ages as the “Black Death”—it was responsible killing about 60% of the population of Eurasia in the mid-1300s.
The mix of conditions that have caused alarm is, so far, unique to California, though progressive environmental philosophy may extend its reach. The reason is the state’s growing discomfort with modern chemistry paired with the California trial bar’s love of industrial chemical dollars, in this case, second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs). For the past five years, L.A.’s Department of Recreation and Parks has forgone the use of SGARs, acting on proposed restrictions from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Lawmakers in Sacramento have proposed banning SGARs entirely, making it even more difficult to cull California’s burgeoning disease-borne rodent population.
Returning to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the federal government estimates that California—with 12% of the nation’s population—accounts for 30% of the nation’s homeless and 49% of all unsheltered individuals. California’s homeless rate is 2-1/2 times the national rate. HUD defines “unsheltered individuals” as “people whose primary nighttime location is a public or private place not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for people (for example, the streets, vehicles, or parks).”
It’s not just the unhealthy living conditions among the drug-addicted and frequently mentally ill homeless. Law enforcement personnel also spend a significant share of time interacting with the homeless. One Los Angeles area police officer noted that “About 60% of our calls every day are about transients and problems that they cause.” While in jails across the nation, large shares of inmates are homeless or may also be suffering from a mental health crisis.
The growing homeless population has caused policymakers at the epicenter of the problem to go back to the future in rediscovering a disused policy tool: involuntary commitment. John Hirschauer writes in National Review that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors—the same body that Gov. Newsom got his start on 22 years ago—voted in June to expand the city’s involuntary-commitment policies for the most severely mentally ill. With city residents dealing with poop on the streets (there’s an app for that now, called “SnapCrap”) and used needles from the some 10,000 people who sleep on the sidewalks, elected officials finally decided to act.
Hirschauer calls out California’s own deep public policy inconsistency, at the same time willing to extend the meddlesome arm of the nanny state into all aspects of private and business life while paradoxically “…look(ing) on helplessly as the gravely ill deteriorated to the point of criminality.” He summarizes:
Every non-vulnerable citizen in the state of California is subject to the bureaucratic creep of Governor Newsom’s Brave New World, but the seriously mentally ill sit around in their own filth because the state has discovered Millian objections to involuntarily treating the schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur. It is utterly lunatic.”
San Francisco policymakers have taken the first difficult step in what may lead to a decline in the city’s homeless population. A second step may have to rely on the legislature and the state’s voters: Revitalizing California’s drug courts to once again encourage treatment for drug addiction.