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Californians’ Last Hope to Solve Homeless Crisis Is the US Supreme Court


California has, by far, the worst homeless crisis in the country. No doubt recognizing the extent of the problem, the U.S. Supreme Court has finally agreed to hear a case this year regarding the ability of the state, and eight other western states, to enforce no-camping laws.

This has given hope to everyday Californians who simply wish to again enjoy their parks and beaches, and to safely walk down a sidewalk without stepping on or over people and their belongings, trash, needles, and feces. But will California’s big cities comply with the Court’s ruling?

The cause of California’s homeless crisis is simple, though some would like you to think otherwise. Leftists blame it on a capitalist system they allege has resulted in a lack of affordable housing or shelters for the homeless, landlords unfairly evicting tenants, unfair rent increases, inadequate welfare, and, for good measure, racism. They use the homeless crisis as an excuse to implement their socialist dream policies, like government housing, rent control, eviction moratoriums and protections, and reparations.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that the homeless crisis was created because cities began allowing sleeping on sidewalks, beaches, and parks, as well as setting up sleeping bags, tents, and full-fledged encampments containing all of their possessions. If you allow it, they will come.

The U.S. has been welcoming all migrants into the country through the southern border since President Biden took office—and surprise—over eight million have come. By not enforcing their laws, these cities have invited people from all over the country to pitch a tent with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.

If these cities simply enforced their laws prohibiting sleeping on the sidewalk or beach or park, these persons would not have come. For the minority of folks who actually live there, they would have found somewhere else to sleep. This may mean getting a job and finding an apartment. Or it may mean staying at a friend’s or family member’s house. Or finding a public shelter or a rehab clinic. It may mean going to a local church for help. If they choose none of the above and slept on the sidewalk, then they may wind up in jail—but they would at least have a roof over their head and three meals a day. If they had an alcohol or drug problem, jail serves as a good place to get sober.

By allowing people to sleep outside rather than choosing one of these options, the problem is exacerbated. People’s minor issues become major ones. They fall deeper into addiction and drop further out of society. Their mental and physical health further deteriorates. When you allow it, people come from all the places which do not allow it. San Francisco provides such a hospitable environment that the vast majority of their “homeless” come from other places. The city provides free needles and pipes, easy access to drugs, and promises not to disrupt their sleep or drug taking.

Thus, it is no wonder California has half of the country’s homeless, at least 170,000 people by a recent count. Because the state’s politicians refuse to acknowledge the real cause of the problem, they spend billions in an alleged attempt to fix it, which naturally delivers zero results.

The state spent $17.5 billion on homelessness between 2018 and 2022, and the problem only got worse, reported CNN. It could have paid the rent for each homeless person during the entire period and still had money left over. Instead, it blew it on expensive, union built, permanent housing projects which take forever and cost way in excess of private construction.

Until now, the state and big cities have had a convenient excuse for allowing camping. In 2018, the notoriously leftist Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of Martin v. City of Boise, ruled that a city may not enforce simple camping, vagrancy, or loitering laws to remove people from sleeping on public property unless the city can demonstrate that it provides sufficient shelter for all of them. Otherwise, enforcement of such a law, the court ruled, would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

With its ruling, the Ninth Circuit invented two radically new interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. First, that the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment applies not just to sentences imposed for crimes but can be applied to the criminal law itself. It relied upon a Supreme Court decision wherein the Court ruled that individuals may not be punished simply because of the person’s status of being a drug addict where the person had not engaged in any otherwise illegal acts within the state.

The Ninth Circuit’s application of this limited principle to all people breaking the law by camping in public spaces is a radical expansion that the Supreme Court will no doubt soon reverse. It refused to take up the Boise case years ago, but last week it agreed to hear a second Ninth Circuit case from Oregon holding similarly, Johnson v. City of Grants Pass. There are two major problems with this expansion which the Court will likely cite.

First, unlike the simple addict, in the case of a person camping on the sidewalk, the person is in fact actively violating a criminal law. When arrested they are not being arrested because they do not have a home, they are being arrested for violating a criminal law which was put in place for good reason, i.e. to allow people to safely traverse a sidewalk rather than walk in the street, or to safely enjoy a public park. As noted above, the homeless person has a myriad of legal options for places to sleep.

Second, it cannot and should not be applied broadly to all such people, because many simply chose to set up tents in the park or on the beach rather than pay rent, or move to a more affordable area, or seek help. Indeed, most moved to these cities from some other place with the intent of living outside.

The other radical expansion of the Constitution invented by the Ninth Circuit is the requirement that cities provide housing for all homeless before enforcing its laws to protect the safety, security, and cleanliness of its public spaces. This effectively creates a constitutional right to housing, a progressive’s dream previously thought achievable only through a constitutional amendment. This sounds more like the Soviet Union than America. And how could it possibly be a city’s obligation to provide housing for anyone who moves there?

There is a real concern, however, that even if the Supreme Court overturns these rulings, the west coast’s big liberal cities like in L.A., San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, will not change. They have already demonstrated that they approve of the Ninth Circuit rulings.

Fortunately, there were easy, inexpensive ways of complying with the rulings, which some cities chose to do. For instance, the rulings applied only to nighttime. If you do not allow camping during the day, this prevents people from setting up tents, etc. Additionally, the decision simply required “shelter,” not permanent housing, so cities could simply set up temporary beds in a parking lot to comply.

In Los Angeles County, it was easy to see which cities chose these simple solutions, versus those which decided to use the rulings as an excuse to allow homeless camping. In the city of Manhattan Beach, there are virtually no homeless. Head a few miles north to Venice Beach in the city of L.A. and they are everywhere.

Los Angeles and other big cities chose instead to use the homeless problem to implement their housing for all, rent control, and eviction protection policies. L.A. passed a homeless sales tax increase of a quarter cent designed to raise $3.55 billion for homeless housing. Studies show the city is often paying more than $700,000 for a single unit.

L.A. voters also passed what was termed a “mansion” tax on the sale of all properties over $5 million to provide even more homeless and low-income housing. Despite being called a mansion tax, in fact it applies to all real estate, and applies to the gross proceeds regardless of any profit. It has frozen new development in L.A., with developers naturally choosing to develop outside the city.

If the rulings are reversed, these cities will likely just use another justification. They will no doubt call the decision an extreme, “MAGA” court ruling and remain insensitive to the problem. In L.A., the district attorney is the George Soros-backed George Gascón, the mayor is Karen Bass who visited Cuba multiple times as a member of the communist Venceremos Brigade, and its city council does not include a single Republican. Sorry Angeleno families, they are unlikely to be bothered by a little Supreme Court ruling.

James Breslo


Updated: 1/17/2024


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