California Gonna Battering-Ram Homelessness! Wait, No, That Was The Squat Oakland Families Were Living In
The homelessness task force appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom has put forward a list of proposals aimed at tackling the state's homelessness crisis. The most important item calls for a mandate that state and local governments provide adequate shelter for people who don't have a place to live. If those jurisdictions don't provide shelter, they could be sued so a judge can order them to do so. California would have to amend its constitution to impose such a mandate; it could go to voters in this November's election.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who co-chairs the task force, told Politico that local governments need a better incentive than good intentions, saying California is "long past the time that everything we do around homelessness should be optional." He also explained to nonprofit journalism collective CalMatters that the goal is to
give the courts a legal "last resort" to address pleas to supersede political gridlock, just as federal laws have in the past armed judges to combat other social crises. "It's analogous to desegregation," Steinberg said.
Damn straight. We knew we liked this guy when he warned against letting Donald Trump pursue roundups of people who don't have homes.
In its letter to Newsom, the task force noted the state already mandates public education, subsidized health insurance, and services for people with developmental disabilities, so yeah, it's time to stop merely hoping the kindness of strangers will do the job for housing homeless people.
That policy would be consistent with a recent Supreme Court decision to let stand a lower court ruling that overturned a Boise, Idaho, law making sleeping or camping in public a crime. The Ninth Circuit held that arresting people for having nowhere to sleep constitutes cruel and unusual punishment when municipalities don't also provide enough shelter for everyone who needs it.
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness are cautiously optimistic about the proposal, although some emphasize that a statewide mandate would need to be accompanied by state money for housing units and support programs. The key is that getting people off the streets should not be a punitive action, like many fear Donald Trump may be planning. But not just Trump: Bakersfield's considering a bright idea to solve homelessness by cracking down on minor drug possession offenses.
In addition to calling for the mandate for shelter, the panel's other recommendations include some items already proposed by Newsom and being tried by California cities, like grants to make sure people don't lose their housing due to a short-term financial disaster, and providing legal aid to families facing arbitrary eviction. Newsom and the task force also agree Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid, should request a federal waiver to allow it to provide homelessness prevention services. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf made the case simply enough with the slogan "Housing is health."
Crazy idea: If there were enough affordable housing, groups like Moms 4 Housing wouldn't be occupying vacant homes owned by investment companies. Yesterday, police in Oakland arrested two homeless women who'd been living with their children in an empty house for two months. Alameda County Sheriff's deputies in full SWAT battle gear used a battering ram to break down the door, and arrested the two as if they were terrorists. Which they were, since they violated the sacred right of investors to make huge profits flipping houses bought at foreclosure auctions.
The women promised they're not done fighting to call attention to the obscenity of investors raking in money by snapping up housing people have been priced out of and then renovating them to sell to whatever we're calling yuppies now. And of course, it's also all tied up with structural racism, since a century of Jim Crow housing discrimination resulted in black people having lower home ownership and consequently less wealth. In Oakland, African-Americans make up a quarter of the total population, but 70 percent of the city's homeless are black.
But don't worry, everything will work out -- the investment group that owns the property, Wedgewood Inc., knows just how to fix homelessness, or at least the terrible publicity it's been getting for its fight to evict two homeless families in the name of gentrification. The company announced that instead of selling this particular house at an obscene profit,
it plans to work with the nonprofit group Shelter 37 to renovate the property with help from at-risk youth and will split profits from the home's sale with Shelter 37.
Hooray for private-public partnerships and using the proceeds from one notorious property for good. Guess the 150,000 Californians without housing will all salute the effort.
Assuming the proposed housing mandate makes it on the November ballot, it will have to pass in the face of what's sure to be a well-funded effort by NIMBYs and real-estate interests to stop it. If it does, it might just give governments and housing advocates the tools they need to thwart NIMBYs in the long run.
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