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When it comes to homelessness, how many more ways can California fail?

Neighborhoods from Imperial to Del Norte Counties resemble third world war zones — What is it going to take?

It was supposed to be different this time. This time, California’s political class was finally going to get it right. In the spring and summer of 2020, as 40 million people were hunkered down at home due to COVID lockdowns, tens of billions of federal emergency relief funds roared down the sluice and started sloshing around state, county, and city coffers. Aided by emergency powers that cut through the Shasta Forest of red tape that is the California state bureaucracy, they were going to spend and build their way out of the homeless crisis once and for all. Grand promises were made, solemn speeches were delivered.

Three years later, Project Homekey is another piece of smoldering wreckage on one of the saddest battlefields in human history. It’s a battlefield that covers the length and breadth of what was once the greatest place to live on Planet Earth. There are no set piece battles, but every day there are ten thousand skirmishes: Murders, rapes, overdoses, shootings, stabbings, violent assaults, fist fights, threats, armed robberies, flash mob robberies, property destruction, vandalism, desecration of public spaces and parks, public disturbances, traumatized neighbors, polluted watersheds and wildlife sanctuaries, and veritable Himalayan mountains of garbage, rotting foodstuffs, splintered furniture, soiled tents and rancid bedding, indeterminate noxious liquids, and human and animal waste. The political class’s obsession with so-called “permanent supportive housing” has produced mayhem, destruction, and death.

The situation in the world’s fifth largest economy is as exhausting as it is dangerous. It’s exhausting to walk down even the quietest neighborhood streets with your head constantly on a swivel. It’s exhausting to worry about break-ins and your neighbors’ safety. It’s exhausting to worry about who’s around the corner on your morning jog or evening hike. It’s exhausting to tune into local news and learn about the latest atrocity.

The fears are justified. Off the top of my head I can think of more than a dozen people I know personally who have been attacked by vagrants. Several were left with severe injuries and lifelong emotional trauma. I’ve been attacked multiple times myself, including an incident in 2004 that sent me to the emergency room with a cracked eye socket, concussion, and bruised ribs.

These experiences grind normal people’s psyches into dust. Which may be the point. After all, a desensitized population is far less likely to push back. They’re too busy being emotionally and psychologically drained.

Violent attacks have become downright quotidian, like the young woman who was assaulted and dragged toward a public bathroom by a vagrant in Santa Monica this morning. It’s just another day in Paradise. Speaking of which, the word “vagrant” is used intentionally and advisedly. Ignore what the hopelessly mendacious political class says, a man who attacks and intends to rape a woman is not our “unhoused neighbor.” He is a dangerous lunatic vagrant who needs to be behind bars either in prison or involuntary civil confinement. Anyone who argues otherwise no longer deserves a seat at the table.

The situation is exhausting because at this point everyone with an even marginally functional frontal cortex grasps reality. I’ve written posts and articles like this one dozens of times (whenever I start one the delusional optimist that still somehow lives inside my mind says, “Yeah, yeah — this will be the one that finally does it!”)

Somehow, the political class is getting worse, not better

The political class prattles and lectures about “justice” and “equity” and “diversity” while allowing – nay, enabling, virtually guaranteeing – human suffering at a scale that was incomprehensible in this country a few short years ago. The horrifying has become humdrum, the unthinkable is now unremarkable. And the fentanyl crisis is still getting warmed up. This is the political class’s handiwork, even as they lord their moral narcissism over normal people.

In Los Angeles, as I wrote with my investigative partner Jamie Paige earlier this week in the Westside Current, more than 1,200 units of homeless housing have been vacant for years, despite an $800 million City spending spree enabled by federal Homekey dollars.

Oh, they have their excuses. Regulations and sich, doncha know. We are supposed to forget the various declarations of emergency that were supposed to cut through the red tape and Get Things Done. Meanwhile they’re sticking their hands ever deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets, demanding, “Gimme.” They prey on goodwill and better angels, safe in the knowledge that voters will go along with the latest noxious, failed-on-arrival policy or initiative as long as it has a seductively salubrious name like “United to House LA,” “A Bridge Home,” “Inside Safe,” “Project Homekey,” “LA4LA,” on and on, far into the night.

What do you expect for a lousy $50 million? Purchased by the City for homeless housing in May 2022, this brand-new 101-unit luxury building in South L.A. remains empty two years later. Picture by Christopher LeGras

In just the last three months Governor Gavin Newsom expended copious political capital to persuade voters to approve another $6 billion in mental health and addiction funding for the homeless via Proposition 1, which squeaked through by a third of a percent. Never mind that a recent audit discovered cities left as much as $1 billion in unspent mental health and addiction funds over the last two years. Not to be outdone, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, fresh off spending $2.5 billion on homelessness in just the last two years, launched an initiative called “LA4LA,” through which she expects corporations, philanthropies, and high net worth individuals to donate another $1 billion.

In just the last four years California has spent more than $20 billion on homelessness. For all that money, for all those new state, county, and city bureaucrats who have been added to the hydra-headed beuracracies, no one in California even knows how many homeless people actually reside in the state. The official annual counts are innaccurate to the point of hilarity. The political class with all their billions in other people’s money don’t even know how many homeless people die every year. The number is almost certainly in the tens of thousands.

They don’t even know where the money is going. Last week Californians were treated to the spectacle of the political class devouring its own tail during a state Senate budget hearing. According to a report in (what’s left of) the Los Angeles Times, Senator Phil Ting asked, “How many people have we helped? How many people are off the street? … Because that’s what the public wants to know. What’s the money been spent on?”

Apparently with a straight face, the head of the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, Meghan Marshall, replied that the state reporting system is undergoing a “transformation.” She said that bureaucrats are still working to implement reporting requirements mandated by a law that passed in 2021 and took effect January 1, 2022. For the mathematically uninclined, that was almost two and a half years ago. Around the same amount of time those 1,200+ homeless units have stood empty in L.A. Coincidence?

Again, how much more failure are Californians going to tolerate? Collectively the state’s political and bureaucratic class have made every conceivable mistake, multiple times. At this point they seem to be concocting entirely new mistakes just in order to make them. Got to keep up the appearance of novelty and fresh thinking. They’ve failed in so many ways, we need a thesaurus to look up synonyms for the word.

So, fellow Californians: When are we going to hold these failures to account?

May 16, 2024 ~ Christopher LeGras


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