The most convincing lie California politicians have managed to sell to the public is the notion THAT homelessness is inevitable, exists everywhere, has no known origins and can be alleviated only by spending lots and lots of money.
None of that is true, and in fact those lies have turned the reality inside-out. A homeless population is instead developed, carefully nurtured and brought to fruition only by spending lots and lots of money. And telling lots and lots of lies.
An example of a robust, thriving homeless community? Take Ukiah. Please.
Thirty years ago Ukiah had approximately zero locals without places to live. There were a few cheerful, sunburnt fellows who manned the 101 on-ramps with “Will Work for Food” signs, and there were a few drunks and druggies who were sometimes in a fog, rarely dangerous, and capably managed by law enforcement.
Many other communities, though not all, had similar experiences at the time. Back then everyone’s fear was that a single missed paycheck would result in you, me or anybody else being out on the street or living in a car, along with your few remaining possessions and maybe a family. (Best to invest in a big Plymouth Voyager van, just in case.)
It was hardly a nationwide problem, but the media, always hungry for a maudlin three-part series about one crisis or another, kept the lies alive with semi-honest stories of the quasi-homeless, with dust bowl-style photos.
Places like Plowshares sprung up, welfare agencies coughed out a few more checks, and you and I flipped extra quarters into coffee cans held by sunburnt gents holding “Will Work for Food” signs.
A new industry erupted, based on the faulty premise (or lie if you’d prefer) that giving money to bums and beggars was counterproductive. Handouts don’t work, we were told. Stand aside, and let highly trained, college educated mental health professionals deal with this crisis using proven strategies and targeted services.
Above all, don’t give bums money. They’ll just get drunk. (Well, if I was homeless and sleeping under a bridge I’d get hella drunk too.)
Today we have more homeless drifters than ever, more money is shoveled at them than citizens are able to comprehend, and the Governor, state and local politicians are vowing to win the War on Homelessness by outspending the Pentagon. And like other wars America has waged against domestic problems (on Poverty, on Crime, on Drugs) this one is already a failure.
In 2021 I spent about six months in a good-sized North Carolina city and never saw a shopping cart that wasn’t within 200 feet of a grocery store. I never saw a single homeless person, nor tents, sleeping bags or campfires near the (many) railroad tracks at the north side of town. I saw zero graffiti, and no broken windows in abandoned buildings.
And understand, please, that the part of North Carolina I was living in was not Beverly Hills or Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a semi-scrubby place where per capita income is lower than in Ukiah, and housing prices a fraction.
California politicians created their homeless disaster using weak and vulnerable citizens as human fodder. In a huge state with zillions of square miles of land, California refuses to allow average citizens to build homes of their own.
Restrictions are sprinkled throughout construction projects like land mines in a war zone, designed to prevent citizens from putting modest homes on modest lots. It takes many years and lots of money to get a building permit, given that rules, regulations, hoops, environmental reports, zoning restrictions and NIMBYism are deployed as tactical weapons.
In Ukiah we’ve seen only government subsidized “affordable” housing projects, some of them huge, built in the last 30 years. Drive down Brush Street, or check out what’s going on behind the North State truck stop.
With the goal of eliminating single family homes having already been accomplished, the state will next announce a bold billion dollar spending plan to solve homelessness: Free public housing.
You know exactly what public housing looks like, and if you think the next generation of government housing projects will have shops, malls, swimming pools, baseball diamonds, vegetable gardens and weekly potlucks, you better think again. Public housing is always crowded, cramped, ugly, dangerous and depressing.
Proof? Detroit, Caracas, Hunters Point, Chicago, Watts, Havana, Cleveland, Mexico City, Jersey City, Oakland, Moscow, St. Louis.
But wait. There’s more. Who doubts California will ban cars with gasoline engines within a few years? And who thinks California is currently working hard to update its electric grid to accommodate all those millions of battery-powered vehicles needing to be recharged daily, and nightly?
Which explains the push, right now, to build hi-rise public housing ghettoes adjacent to mass transit stations. (Because you won’t have a car, that’s why.)
Time to pack up your old Plymouth Voyager van and head for Texas.
(TWK would like to hitch a ride with the next van heading east. Will share expenses. Tom Hine, who writes this column, lives both in Ukiah and not.)