By Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh
Homelessness is a tragic scene that we used to see mostly in the largest cities of California. Now it has become an epidemic that afflicts almost every community in our state, leading to a crisis in health and public safety. Every day more people sleep on our streets, every day we hear of another petty crime or another assault and every day our children grow up seeing adults pass by the unemployed, the addict, the mentally ill as they lie on the sidewalk.
As Californians we owe our families and communities safety and peace; we owe our fellow citizens care and support; we owe our children the example of a brighter future. We must do better—and we can.
Once the best state in the country to buy a house and make a home, California now leads the nation in homelessness: our state is home to 53% of America’s unsheltered homeless individuals, with 108,432 people sleeping on our streets. This is nine times as many as the next highest state, Florida, with 12,476.
Homelessness didn’t get this bad by accident. Democratic one-party policies have caused the cost of housing to skyrocket, undermined the rule of law, and deprived the most vulnerable of our citizens of access to adequate mental health care.
Now the Democratic supermajorities in Sacramento are refusing even to address the crisis they’ve created: they want to just throw money at the problem. Governor Newsom’s last budget included almost $1 billion dollars in new state spending—for the exact same subsidies and other programs that have been in place while the crisis has only gotten worse. Now he is proposing another $1.4 billion dollars in this year’s budget. This is the very definition of throwing good money after bad.
To solve the crisis of homelessness, we need to do more than write a big check: we need to correct the policy failures that caused the crisis and fix the damage that has followed from them.
Let’s start with housing. Restraints on the private sector have stifled the supply of single- and multiple-family housing all across the state, and regulations that increase the cost of building have led to rising home prices and skyrocketing rent. Now the average home in California costs more than double the national average, and renters in California pay an average of $12,600 more per year than the rest of the country. The rise in housing costs has hit the inland Empire especially hard.
To solve our housing problem, legislators must ease unnecessary restrictions on development to increase the housing supply and relax regulations on building to reduce the cost of buying a house or renting an apartment. While we’re at it, we should reduce taxes on gas and transportation to lower Californians’ sky-high cost of living: too many families live just a flat tire or a failed transmission away from missing their rent or failing to make a payment on their mortgage.
Next comes criminal justice and mental health.
In 2011, the legislature passed AB 109, which transferred thousands of inmates from the state prison system to county jails unprepared to handle their serious struggles with mental illness and substance abuse. In 2014, the legislature passed Prop. 47, reclassifying most drug and property crimes as misdemeanors. In 2016, they passed Prop 57, granting early release to thousands of serious criminals unprepared to re-enter society. While Sacramento pats itself on the back for this so-called ‘criminal justice reform’, prematurely released criminals commit crimes. Those inmates who really do want a fresh start are literally left on the side of the road, without the mental health resources they need to break the cycle of drug addiction, mental illness, crime, and jail.
To fix this crisis of despair, we must repeal AB 109, Prop. 47, and Prop 57. We must give power back to local police to fully enforce the law and clean up homeless encampments. We must put criminals back in jail where they belong, while funding robust programs for mental health, shelter, and anti-recidivism to give those who have paid their debt to society a better home than the sidewalk.
It took decades for the homelessness crisis to get this bad, but it doesn’t have to take that long to fix it. If I have the honor of being elected as your State Senator, I will start fighting on day one to reduce the cost of living, to put hardened criminals back behind bars, to let our police enforce our laws, and to give homeless Californians the mental health care they need to get back off the street.
Together, we can confront the crisis of homelessness and create a better future for all Californians.