Inside the Alpha Project bridge shelter in downtown San Diego / Photo by Megan Wood

Homelessness is staking out a case as the issue that will define 2020 in California.

Addressing homelessness was central to the budget proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled last week, and this week, a group of stakeholders that included San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher delivered a set of recommendations to Newsom about how to move forward.

“Homelessness is a monumental crisis in California, but any action on it taken by the government is voluntary. This isn’t the case in so many other areas of policy important to the public: Schools, ADA and Clean Water Act for example,” Fletcher wrote in an email to VOSD. “It is time that we apply the same urgency to homelessness, because governments do what they have to do first while on everything else, they try.”

The task force included one recommendation that will sound familiar to San Diego: a plea to create a comprehensive statewide strategy to address the crisis. San Diego recently approved its own plan after leaders complained the city was spending money on scattershot efforts without an overarching strategy in place, though it’s still not clear whether the plan will dictate a new mayor’s approach to homelessness.

San Diego’s plan also addressed an issue that appears certain to be an ongoing point of contention at the state level. It urged the city to reconsider its reliance on policing and criminal enforcement as a tool to combat homelessness.

The state task force’s recommendations, likewise, say “Sweeps and criminalization have been shown not to work in this effort. Strategies that explicitly or implicitly encourage these actions will be unacceptable.”

But Republican leaders are ready to, well, implicitly encourage those actions.

State Sen. Brian Jones, who was part of a group of Republican senators who this week requested an audit of state spending on homelessness efforts, said two voter-approved state measures – Prop. 47, which changed certain nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and Prop. 57, which granted early parole consideration to certain offenders – are to blame and police should have more authority to arrest and jail some people living on the streets.

“Law enforcement officers are somewhat hampered by current state law in that a lot of drug offenses used to be felonies and no longer are,” Jones said. “They know that they can run around the streets free of any kind of prosecution.”

It was a popular sentiment among Republicans this week. Mayor Kevin Faulconer similarly alluded to Props. 47 and 57 as factors that worsened homelessness in his State of the City address this week.

“What I’m talking about tonight is obvious to almost anyone walking our streets but considered politically incorrect by many insiders. These are ideas that most people in power actually believe in, but are afraid to say, let alone do,” Faulconer said.

Faulconer led the unsuccessful No on Prop. 57 effort in 2016. He announced this week he’d be pursuing another statewide ballot measure in 2022 aimed at reducing homeless encampments.

A day after Faulconer’s State of the City speech, a spokesman for Republican Carl DeMaio, who’s running for Congress in the 50th District, wrote in a statement that “DeMaio blames a ‘culture of coddling’ homeless for the crisis and says law enforcement must be given back powers to force homeless into mental health and substance abuse programs.”

Fletcher, the county supervisor who’s on the governor’s task force, had harsh words for Republicans’ reliance on law enforcement as a solution to homelessness.

What is criminal is criminalizing poverty. It’s a cheap and counterproductive way to divide people and score political points at the expense of what we know works. It is counterproductive. Criminalizing homelessness does not solve the issue, it just hides the problem from people who don’t want to see it,” he said.

Meanwhile, an effort by Republican Sen. Pat Bates to undo parts of Prop. 57 was rejected this week by the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Atkins Sends a Message on SB 50

On Friday, state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins announced that SB 50, the controversial measure to allow far more home-building near transit and job centers, was moving back to the Senate Rules Committee – essentially allowing it to bypass to Appropriations Committee where it got held up last year.

“While many communities still have clear concerns about SB 50, our affordable housing crisis demands we make every attempt to reach agreement on potential solutions. I hope the additional time afforded by this action contributes to the ongoing efforts being made by Senator Wiener, housing advocates, and community leaders,” Atkins wrote in a statement.

Despite the change, SB 50 still must clear the full state Senate by Jan. 31.

  • Annie Lowery makes a case for SB 50 in The Atlantic: “California would become denser, cheaper, greener, and more affordable—a state less centered on car culture, and more centered on walkable neighborhoods; less responsive to the aesthetic complaints of longtime property owners, more responsive to the needs of young families.”

Golden State News

Finally …

Check out the Good Samaritan who popped up in my Nextdoor feed.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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