I had seen homeless people struggling to survive on Michigan streets, but not like what I witnessed when I arrived in Santa Barbara 49 years ago. Homelessness is a disturbing situation that has only gotten worse since then — not only here in Santa Barbara but all over California.
Parks, plazas and libraries have become homeless hangouts, making them far less appealing to the general public, especially as the behavior of some of the homeless has become increasingly strident and aggressive.
Homeless encampments clutter sidewalks and freeway underpasses. Tucked away in areas overgrown with brush, they have become frequent fire hazards.
The streets of cities, most notoriously San Francisco, have become open sewers from their daily use as latrines by hordes of homeless.
California has 12 percent of the nation’s population and 27 percent of the nation’s homeless. There are 382 homeless people for every 100,000 of population in California. While that is the nation’s third highest after New York with 477 and Hawaii with 456, no state has a larger number of homeless than does California.
The national average is 168 homeless per 100,000. By contrast, Santa Barbara County has 490 homeless per 100,000 — 28 percent higher than the state average, and a whopping 192 percent higher than the national average.
So, homelessness is indeed a big problem here.
There seems to be as much blame as there is constructive analysis concerning the causes of California’s homeless problem.
Some blame then-Gov. Ronald Reagan for underfunding mental institutions, resulting in the raving mentally ill wandering the streets.
The California bashers blame the state’s liberal politics, particularly the contention that living on the streets is a civil right — which then rationalizes lax law enforcement against public disturbance, sanitation infractions, aggressive panhandling and trespassing.
Meanwhile, many of the state’s liberals blame selfish NIMBYism for the problem — there is just not enough “affordable” housing being built because residents want to preserve the ambience of their neighborhoods and communities and “selfishly” resist changes to zoning and density ordinances that would permit more housing.
There is nothing selfish about wanting to preserve your home, your neighborhood and your community. Doing so is not confiscating or diminishing what others have.
NIMBYism is not immoral, but forcing people to give up what they have in order to accommodate the desires of others may be.
California doesn’t have a housing crisis; it has a population crisis. Has there ever been enough housing for all the people who want to live here? No one is entitled to a home in California.
The state’s recent housing mandates that bludgeon local communities into increasing housing stock by overriding local zoning and building ordinances is not only tyrannical, it is destructively contrary to policies attempting to address the greatest threat to the state: burgeoning human population.
Human activity is the primary cause of environmental degradation, wildfires, shortages of essential resources and declining living standards. Policies that encourage more population are directly contradictory to mitigating those threats, and are as idiotic as taking on more ballast when the ship is sinking.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the people-packers in Sacramento are egregiously errant in attempting to shoehorn ever more people into a state already struggling under the weight of too much population.
And, that might be the best reason for voters to recall this governor.
All the finger pointing aside, what explains the sheer volume of homelessness in California?
Notwithstanding the sour-grapes critics of the state, California remains one of the most desirable places on earth with its delightful climate, spectacular natural beauty, and the world’s fifth largest economy. That’s why, with nearly 40 million residents, it is far and away the most popular state in the union.
If you are homeless would you rather be in Michigan or California? And, if you are hoping to avoid homelessness, don’t you want to be where the economy is vibrant and the social safety net is relatively robust?
Surveys of the local homeless population report that the majority of them say they became homeless in Santa Barbara County, which implies that they had been established residents here. But, if the surveys dug a bit deeper to determine where people lived and for how long before becoming homeless, would we find that most of the local homeless population is indigenous?
A person who arrives in Santa Barbara and wears out his welcome couch-surfing or camping in a friend’s backyard technically becomes homeless here, but was he ever really an established resident?
It is reflexive to blame local government for the worsening chronic homeless problem here, but there is only so much that local government can do about a persistent problem widely stretching outside its jurisdiction.
During my nearly half-century here, I have witnessed local government and community charitable organizations continue a quixotic quest to solve the homeless problem. Some efforts were more aggressive than others, some more compassionately accommodating, but the best any of them accomplished was a temporary mitigation of the problem.
No approach has solved it.
Increasing local efforts to accommodate the homeless eventually backfire. It is reported that Santa Barbara County government along with nonprofit organizations spent more than $42 million last year to address homelessness here. That is about $21,000 per homeless individual.
And, now elected officials in the City of Santa Barbara are proposing an increased sales tax or bed tax to augment that funding. That would likely be as effective as putting more sugar on the counter to deter ants.
Homelessness is a statewide and national problem and should be approached as such. Rather than expect local communities to shoulder what is an unequal burden ultimately beyond their control, let’s consider alternatives that alleviate that burden and address the scope of the problem.
Imagine something like regional complexes, state and federally funded, organized for the homeless to provide basic amenities — shelter, food, health care and sanitation. By at least relocating the chronic homeless, i.e., those unemployed, mentally disturbed, addicted or voluntary vagrants, to regional locations they would be off city streets, and efforts to assist them would be consolidated and centrally focused.
Is such a proposal NIMBYism? Yeah.
But, if your idea of morality includes tolerating the open squalor, stench, public health risks, fire danger and disturbing behavior imposed on the community by chronic homelessness, you will need to convince the majority of your neighbors to surrender their backyards to such repellent conditions.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.