If you’ve been seeing more homeless individuals in your neighborhood, you’re not alone — and you’re not imagining things. In recent years, California’s homeless population has skyrocketed.
Now a leading government accountability group says California politicians are to blame for pursuing a politically-motivated flawed approach to the homelessness problem that is intentionally making things worse.
From 2007 to 2022, homelessness nationally has fallen 10%, but it has increased in California by a staggering 31.6% according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In fact, California represents roughly 12% of the US population – but has a third of the homeless population.
However, California continues to increase its spending on homeless prevention programs; from 2018 to 2022 alone, California increased this budget by over $24 billion.
So where is this money going — and why is homelessness is increasing in California despite falling elsewhere?
Carl DeMaio, chairman of Reform California, says California has wasted all of its homelessness funds on a fatally-flawed policy experiment called “Housing First.”
The Housing First experiment began in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles in 2008 - but in 2016 Senate Bill 1380 made it the law of the entire state by requiring all homeless housing programs to adopt the Housing First model.
“Housing First is a policy that says we should should not enforce rules on homeless people that prohibit panhandling, public intoxication, defecation, theft, illegal encampments, or trespassing - and that we should never expect a homeless person to follow rules like no drug use or required mental health therapy,” DeMaio explains.
“Even worse, Housing First proposes to cut funding for shelter beds and transitory housing units in favor of ‘permanent supportive housing’ - which says we should build every homeless person a full condo unit with amenities and hand over the keys with an expectation that taxpayers will continue to fund that unit permanently,” DeMaio explained.
California state regulations now ban funding from being given to homeless programs if they dare try to enforce rules like no drug use or required mental health treatment. To get state funding, homeless shelters must agree to not enforce any rules that require a homeless person seek or accept treatment.
But according to a study by the American Journal of Community Psychology, 75% of chronically homeless individuals have substance abuse or severe mental illness.
Proponents of Housing First claim that if you provide a homeless person with a free permanent housing unit, they will then have the ability to get off drugs and reclaim their mental health.
But numerous studies have shown this lofty claim by Housing First advocates is false. In fact, studies by the Archives of General Psychiatry and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Housing First had no effect on treating or improving substance abuse and mental health issues among the chronically homeless.
“Simply handing over keys to an expensive housing unit will not change the dysfunction and disease inside a person that made them homeless in the first place,” DeMaio warns.
“Housing First has failed on every level - wasting taxpayer funds and spiking homelessness across our state,” DeMaio concludes.
“Despite the failure of Housing First and its extremely high cost, California politicians continue to double down and spend more and more of your money on it - so we there must be another reason why they are doing it,” explains DeMaio.
DeMaio says liberal California Democrat politicians are forcing implementation of Housing First because of a larger political agenda.
“Liberal Democrats believe that housing should be provided by the government and they have a goal of implementing socialized housing for all - just the same way they are seeking to impose a government-run health care system for all,” DeMaio explains.
“More centrist Democrats are also going along with Housing First because they receive campaign contributions from the developers who build all of these government-subsidized permanent supportive housing units,” DeMaio adds.
According to various audits, these Housing First units end up costing taxpayers $750,000 to upwards of $1 million per unit according to Pacific Research and the New York Times.
“You wonder how a developer charges $1 million per unit? Well, they have a lot of politicians to contribute to in exchange for them voting to fund these boondoggles,” DeMaio warns.
DeMaio says a better policy must be implemented that takes into account different drivers of homelessness and strategically positions an array of programs to deal with those drivers.
DeMaio explains that there are different classes of homeless individuals: economically displaced and dysfunctional or chronically homeless.
“Economically displaced homeless individuals are those that are down on their luck — they couldn’t meet rent, they lost their job — and they just need a small helping hand to get on their feet,” explains DeMaio.
“But dysfunctional and chronically homeless individuals are those that can’t hold down a job, can never meet their bills, and can’t function in society for a prolonged period of time — and that’s overwhelmingly due to addiction and mental health disorders,” he continued.
DeMaio proposes an alternative plan to Housing First that he labels the “People First” plan. Here’s what it requires:
“We need tough-love to solve the homeless crisis in California, and we cannot build our way out of this problem – we must instead focus on transforming the lives of each homeless person,” said DeMaio. “Our philosophy must not be ‘Housing First’ it must be ‘People First.’”