Author Jared Klickstein was once one of the thousands of homeless drug addicts living on the streets in Los Angeles. Sick, a criminal and likely heading for overdose and death, Klickstein realized that the only way he could get sober was to be forcibly separated from heroin -- in jail!
In big cities across America, homelessness has been so bad for so long that many have given up on ever ending it entirely. Last year, federal agencies counted a staggering 582,462 homeless people nationwide – up nearly 20% since 2015.
It’s not the same everywhere. Homeless figures in California, for instance, increased more than any other state – from 162,000 just before the pandemic to 172,000 last year.
And those figures continue to rise, fueling a vicious cycle of homelessness and lawlessness that seemingly leaves no community unscathed. Activists like to blame the homeless crisis on a lack of affordable housing. Los Angeles’ recently initiated “Mansion Tax,” for instance, specifically raises funds to combat homelessness.
But those funds cannot be used for immediate solutions like emergency shelters or the treatment programs needed to help folks who are both homeless and addicted to drugs. And as I can personally attest, there are many, many such folks.
So the money must be spent on longer-term efforts, such as the homeless apartment units known as permanent supportive housing (PSHs). Advocates are keen on PSHs, pointing to Houston, for instance, which reduced its homeless population by 60% between 2012 and 2021 by more than doubling the number of PSHs.
But San Francisco has increased PSH availability by 40% – and all the city has seen in return is a simultaneous 20% rise in its homeless population. In fact, San Francisco has 50% more units than Houston even though Greater Houston has nine times more people. Los Angeles can report similarly depressing statistics – rising homeless housing and a parallel spike in homeless numbers.
The author, at the height of his addiction in 2015 — homeless and in the hospital for various lifestyle-related maladies.
Why is California failing so dismally at solving its intractable homeless problem? There are historical causes and policy causes, but in my case – and in the case of so many – the cause is clear: drug addiction.
Which is how, seven years ago, I found myself living on Los Angeles’ Skid Row stripped down to my underwear, crying, bleeding and trying to find a vein in which to punch a needle full of heroin.
The story begins when I was 9 years old and my parents started smoking crack. They would go for days without sleep and violent cocaine-induced hallucinations became the norm. My parents were already addicted to heroin and for years there had been little love in my home. But once the cocaine took over, disinterest descended into complete neglect.
Jared Klickstein’s writing can be found at jaredklickstein.substack.com; he’s currently working on the memoir, Crooked Smile, which will be published next year.