California has had it with homelessness. Whether you believe it is far past time to address the housing shortage or just want to see people off the streets, there is a growing consensus that something must change. Governor Newsom and several members of the California Legislature want to address the crisis partially by way of a proposal called CARE Court. But is it the right approach?
The appalling growth of people experiencing homelessness is matched only by the complete inability of government, policymakers, or industry to fix it. As Winston Churchill once observed, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” When it comes to solutions to the homelessness crisis, California has deployed many failed techniques, including poorly planned shelters and police harassment toward people on the street. One thing we know works — giving people enough money to afford rent, is repeatedly derided as “too expensive” (keep in mind, California is in its second year of much higher than anticipated budget surplus).
Solutions to homelessness are not as complex as we are often led to believe. We need to increase grants to adults who are disabled so they can afford rent, like what’s proposed in AB 1941 (Salas). We need to provide increased tax credits to families experiencing poverty, as proposed by AB 2589 (Santiago). We need to provide housing and support services to people coming out of incarceration, as proposed in AB 1816 (Bryan). And importantly, we need to provide permanent and ongoing rental assistance to low-income families and individuals so they can stay housed, as proposed by AB 2817 (Reyes). Those are the kind of policies that will make a visible difference on our streets and in people’s lives.
Governor Newsom’s new proposal is called “Care Court,” but it’s not about care, it’s about control – or at least the illusion of it. The proposal will make it easier for the state, cities, and counties to force people into treatment, and if they don’t go willingly, subject them to involuntary confinement. Here’s another way to think about it: the proposal presents a shiny new political solution that in practice blames and targets the victims of California’s economic, policy, and social failures without implementing proven solutions state resources should flow to – like permanent housing, support services, and more money for rent via programs like SSI, Guaranteed Income, and General Relief. Sure, those are expensive investments, but nowhere near the cost of the crisis playing out on California streets.
The legislative journey for the CARE Court proposal is about to start and it may very well pass through both houses, but in practice, it is likely to fail. Involuntary treatment does not work, especially without housing and services to follow it up. Western Center, ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, and over 40 more organizations across California submitted an opposition letter to the legislative CARE Court proposal to highlight its fundamental flaws and to provide proven alternatives.
It’s not too late to do the right thing. California can provide large scale and ongoing rental assistance. Government can build thousands of units of affordable housing where the private market has failed. We can allow real rent control rather than the nod, nod, wink, wink version we have now. The one thing we can’t have is a system where the victims of policy incompetence are punished in such a potentially destructive way.