California Governor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to dedicate $750 million of the state’s 2023-2024 budget to sweeps of homeless camps is only the latest example of the extravagant waste of taxpayer dollars on futile tactics aimed at reducing homelessness. In all, the new budget will devote $15.3 billion to homelessness, even though the state has already spent billions more, only to see a continual rise in numbers of people experiencing homelessness.
Most of the state’s sweeps are conducted by Caltrans along the state’s highways. By now, anyone even vaguely familiar with sweeps knows two things about them: (1) The people from the swept camps move into nearby cities and towns where they are chased around by local authorities and (2) After a few days, weeks, or months, the homeless camps are back again.
Sweeps fail because authorities have yet to learn that the most fundamental — and obvious — fact about homelessness is that homeless people have nowhere to go other than another location where they’re not wanted. Governor Newsom, rather than acknowledge this reality, prefers throwing good money after bad.
Gavin Newsom is not alone in choosing to waste money on futile tactics for reducing homelessness. With a few exceptions, every city and county in the state follows his example: The default strategy for homelessness most everywhere is chasing people with nowhere to go from place to place and back again.
When the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury found in 2022 that local efforts to address homelessness failed despite the expenditure of millions of dollars, it decided not to delve into the specific tactics and deficiencies that led to failure. For anyone on the ground, one of the most obvious of those deficiencies results from using law enforcement as the preferred tool for managing homelessness.
Though authorities everywhere know homelessness is not a crime, they persist in criminalizing it because they prefer not to acknowledge that we lack sufficient housing for the destitute and disabled, we lack sufficient structure and staff for the mentally ill, we lack affordable housing for the working poor, and we lack transitional shelter for the elderly retirees whose fixed incomes aren’t enough to pay for today’s rental costs.
The City of Modesto offers a classic example. With a severe shortage of police officers and one of the worst records for traffic control in the state, Modesto spends a disproportionate share of its law enforcement dollars on homelessness.
If, for example, a mentally ill homeless person tosses a rock through a storefront window, the resulting chase and apprehension might involve three squad cars and officers, as well as a Community Service Officer and pickup truck. That’s a wasteful diversion of resources for a case that likely wouldn’t have happened had the homeless person had a place to stay. When the city permitted camping at the Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter in 2019, such quality of life crimes dropped dramatically.
In mid-December, 2022, a woman in a wheelchair so severely disabled she couldn’t sit up spent at least two days and three nights on a busy Modesto thoroughfare in cold weather, easily visible to passing motorists and police officers. People who inquired for help were told that the “CHAT” and “HEART” teams that deal with homeless people don’t work on weekends.
The first Monday morning after being notified of the woman’s plight, three squad cars, the CHAT cruiser, an ambulance, and a pickup truck showed up to remove the woman and her belongings from Modesto’s mean streets, where sights of disabled homeless people have become more and more common. Sweeps and citations for loitering, vagrancy, and “refusal to leave” private property continue to be default options for getting homeless people out of sight, often even in cases of extreme mental or physical disability when such people should be in appropriate facilities for care and recovery.
In both instances, significant portions of Modesto’s meager law enforcement resources were spent on cases that never should have come under the purview of law enforcement in the first place. When Judge Marsha Berzon of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that denying homeless people the right to sleep in public places without other options amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment,” she added:
“The distressing homelessness problem…has grown into a crisis for many reasons, among them the cost of housing, the drying up of affordable care for people with mental illness, and the failure to provide adequate treatment for drug addiction. The crisis continued to burgeon while ordinances forbidding sleeping in public were on the books and sometimes enforced.”
Sweeps and law enforcement tactics do nothing to reduce the driving factors in rising homeless numbers nor do they get homeless people off the streets for any more than a few days or weeks. In fact, using police officers to fill the gaps in broken systems of care through repetitive acts of futility isn’t just an extravagant waste of resources, it’s demoralizing to everyone, most especially law enforcement officers who find themselves fulfilling the roles of social and health workers when they should be monitoring traffic and stopping crime. Nonetheless, state and local authorities, from the governor on down, continue to perpetuate failure after failure, year after year.
Gloria Gonzales says
What I think is to do what Tulare county did was found a place to put tents out for a site the bought for homeless people in Person for each tent and obey the laws no drugs no visitors no animals they allow animals but I rather not have pets if they can’t afford to live or eat why even have a pet cause who’s gonna clean up the poop or urine be smelling up the tents and other tenants wouldn’t want that but Like they say you break the rules one strike your out completely don’t come back cause why tolerate with people don’t except the rules ..I’m just suggesting for my opinion thanks .. sincerely Gloria Gonzales from parlier ca
On your comment regarding pets…
Pets are not that hard to take care On the streets. They give a individule a sense of responsibility and s reason to wake up day knowing that the animal is dependant on them for their servival. The quality of life is usuly also better for the pets. They are less confined and more often than not are extremely happy
I agree it’s bad there alone as it is let them have their pets
Jane Robb says
Amen. Pets are a great source of comfort to a person in distress
Homelessness is a very scary time, in any persons life.
Been there, done that. Many years ago
may God intervene for those HANS in their time of need🙏❤️.
Karin James says
You are so right! Pets are often all these people have for family. They put their pets needs before their own. I promise you that a dog gets fed before the homeless owner. Dogs give them a sense of their lives have meaning and purpose. They absolutely need to be able to keep a dog if that’s what they want and there are organizations that help with food, vaccinations, and basic medical care. So there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to have a dog.
Very well put. It’s bad enough being homeless. To be homeless and alone is so much worse.
Cynthia Secrest says
The response to homeless should be medical care for those that need it. Treatment for alcoholics and drug addicts and governing the amount landlords raise rents. Not treating the homeless as criminals.
Hello ValleyCitizen.com… I see your article describes the homeless problem as most people undetstand it. Some very good points made, but I see very few if any solutions provided in your place. Yes we know CA houses 1/3 the homeless of the entire U S. Are you able to talk about why this is, and offer solutions to keep homeless flooding into our cities. Homlessness for some folks unfortunately is a choice. Looking forward to hearing your solutions.
Eric Caine says
Gerardo: As implied in the story, the solution is permitted camping and transitional housing. As for homeless people flooding into our cities, at least in Modesto, most homeless people are from the city or nearby.
Bobby Mcentire says
I Believe it is a respectable that we all must share and have the feeling that if it was our son our daughter our father our mother would you not help them giving them a hand up not a hand out
Maile Torrez says
The bottom line is the state or city should lower rents and give these people a chance to be able to get a place and have tha program where people go out and check on the ones that need help on having to cope with the transition. The only way this is going to work if someone really wants to make a difference then put the money on something that works. Not on all this guessing and throwing the money away accomplishing nothing.
Finland has the solution. Housingfirst is the right answer in everyway and they have the data to prove it. They offer their services in training ones to perform the jobs to work it. They offer to assist in presenting it to ones community and in the start up of the program and even provide statistics in the overall change in their whole nation after they changed other minds on how to approach and look at the challenges of someone who’s homeless. I wish someone of any power with the ability to choose how this goes in the end would actually research this program and we all do a lot less talking and a lot more doing on this subject.
We’re only as good as our weakest link and we’re no better than the person standing next to us, or to them or to them.
Let’s go from today. Not yesterday nor a reason why they’re who is in the hardship. Who cares. Whatever it is and if you can’t even understand how it even happened doesn’t change that it happened. It’s about how do we get them back out of it. How do we help them get back on their own feet. Then we can worry about what is was or what it wasn’t and what it to be and what doesn’t. What are we worried about to do nothing but complain about how it won’t work instead of seeing why it would
Carmen Maldonado says
Housing with Treatment Center on the grounds…not everyone will be rescued however the help is available, and in time,it will make a huge different.
I helped a girl from Idaho,she was homeless here years ago…she still pays zero rent…working on herself and able to have her kids with her,off the streets, getting beat and prostituted…”Treat People with Respect”….( what girls go through in the streets is pure hell)….I’m a community volunteer..Save the Children…..
Beardbrook resident says
No pets and no visitors?? Why bother with tents for homeless persons then if we’re going to treat them like criminals who are serving time we might as well put them in jail cells? At beardbrook park we were beginning to make progress. We became family and support system for each other. We had at least a small space to try to stay warm, to rest with a little bit of feeling safe since we had neighbors to look out for us. Especially for a female I felt so much safer with the men in the tents next to mine knowing they weren’t going to let anyone hurt me. We could leave our belongings for an extended period of time knowing our neighbors were looking out for that too. How can a homeless person really go out to find employment or go to work if they can’t leave their belongings anywhere and know they will still be there when they return? With nobody around to protect you it’s very hard to sleep at night. You won’t likely fall asleep till the sun comes up and without a place to rest then your going to become exhausted, weak and irritable. This may be a reason for using drugs when your unhoused. When we were forced to move to Moes (human trafficking) we were all given a nice tent but not able to choose our neighbors and this was terrifying and really unfair. A great deal of funds were wanted on a security company who received a big chunk of the funds for homeless and provided absolutely no security whatsoever. When I was assaulted in my tent there was no way to contact security. No call button or alarm. If my tent was still next to my old neighbor he would of heard me yelling for help and come running. Whenever a fight broke out the security stood back and asked us to help break it up. When the tents caught on fire we had to rescue each other. It was scary having to have an assigned spot for your tent knowing your neighbor could be keeping their tent full of explosive items. The set up at beardbrook was so much better and just needed better landscaping and trash and restroom facilities. After Moes closed down unfortunately so many of our beardbrook family members have passed away who would still be here if we weren’t ripped away from each other.