Supervisor Desmond: Politicians Prey on Your Compassion

Op-Ed by San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond

All Americans, want to help the homeless, it’s in our DNA to help. We are the most giving nation in the world.  Thousands if not millions of Americans volunteer their time at food banks, homeless shelters, and other worthy efforts. But what if I told you that your compassion is being taken advantage of? That bureaucrats across this country have made homelessness a business and it’s growing rapidly.

In 2017, Los Angeles County pledged $180 million concerning homelessness. In 2018, Los Angeles approved $430 million to support the homeless efforts and in 2019, Los Angeles pledged $619 million towards the issue. All while Los Angeles County saw an increase of 51% in the homeless population in 2019, with nearly 83,000 people living on the streets.

In 2011, San Francisco counted more than 6,000 homeless individuals living on the street, with about $157 million budgeted towards homeless services. By 2019, the San Francisco Department of Health has estimated there are more than 17,600 people suffering homelessness, while the budget had grown to $364 million.

You can look at other cities around the country, from Portland to New York City where the spending has increased, and homeless population had grown dramatically. As of February 2021, there was a devastating 55,501 homeless people in New York City. The formula remains the same in these cities, spend more money.

Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue, but one of the major factors is California’s extreme housing shortage. Instead of reducing regulations and dropping fees to allow more homes to be built, in 2016, Los Angeles voters approved proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond measure to build housing for the homeless. The bond measure was pitched to the voters with a goal of building 10,000 new permanent housing units. According to data analysis released by the LA city controller a third of the apartment units built thus far through Prop HHH have a unit cost of $546,000  That $1.2 billion bond is drying while the 10,000-unit goal looks bleak.

According to the Los Angeles daily, “Nearly $1 billion of Prop. HHH’s total spending will go to “soft costs,” a type of expense that covers non-construction activities such as development fees, financing, consultants and public outreach. That figure is likely to increase as 39 projects had not reported those costs when the city controller audited Prop. HHH in October.”

Think about it for a second, the more money that is spent, the more government grows. More departments are created, for more bureaucrats to collect their checks, while those actually needing the help see a small percentage of the money. With nearly a $1 billion of Prop HHH’s spending going towards fees, consultants and other bureaucratic positions, one must wonder, do they really want to see homelessness solved?

There are outstanding groups in San Diego County that are truly trying to make a difference in homelessness. Solutions for Change, Interfaith Community Services, Operation Hope and many others have spent years working on practical solutions that address the root of the problem from mental health issues to addiction. They are truly doing God’s work. Many of these groups offer the ‘hand-up, not a hand-out’ approach that gives those suffering from homelessness the tools to re-enter the workforce.

Now you might be saying, great you’ve identified the problem, what’s the answer? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for homelessness. In North County, I’ve tried to take a multifaceted approach that will be sustainable over the long run.

To address homelessness and addiction in North County San Diego, in addition to funding 16 psychiatric hospital beds at Tri-City hospital, we established three mental health Crisis Stabilization Units in Vista, Escondido and Oceanside. These are places where homeless individuals going through a mental health crisis can be brought in immediately and receive help. CSU’s can hold someone for up to 24 hours while they assist them with medication, program resources and potential housing.

Families can also bring family members into crisis to the mental health Crisis Stabilization Units as most ER’s are not always staffed with mental health professionals.

A few months ago, I lead the effort on a Board letter that works with our North County cities, by providing outreach teams, that are equipped to provide the long-term resources, which includes social workers and housing specialists. At least 10 highly-trained specialists will be able to transport clients and have access to flexible discretionary funds to provide clothing, food, help obtaining identification and short-term motel vouchers.

I admit that these efforts won’t completely eliminate homelessness, but they try to address the multi-dimensional problem of homelessness.

Homelessness, mental health issues and drug addiction were major concerns before the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be a major problem as we move forward. With more people coping by using drugs, homelessness and mental health issues will only grow. We must be prepared to assist those who need our help. But, the next time you hear a politician make a whimsical promise about solving homelessness, hold them accountable.

Governor Newsom’s latest budget for 2021-22 includes the largest amount of money towards homeless services. $1.75 billion which will help get those off the streets. Californians should be asking the Governor; how will more money solve the problem and where is it going?

As I said earlier, we are all extremely compassionate people who want to help those in need. But before we pass another tax, or fall for another bond, let’s make sure that money goes to helping those in need and not to growing government. Don’t let politicians prey on your compassion.

Categories: California News, Local San Diego News, Politics