Harmeet Dhillon: California Democrats can’t end homeless crisis – they keep pushing failed policies

Democrats have no real solution for California’s homeless crisis, which finds an estimated 150,000 people living on the streets on any given night – enough people to create the 39th largest city in the state if they all gathered in one place.                 

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom focused on a series of costly proposals to end homelessness in California. These include using state and federal funds from the state’s version of the Medicaid program (called Medi-Cal) to pay for housing as well as health care for low-income people.

“Health care and housing can no longer be divorced,” Newsom said in his State of the State address. “Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin or antibiotics.”


Think about that for a minute. Providing free or heavily subsidized housing for someone – perhaps for many years – is a lot more expensive than providing medication. Where would the money come from? In addition, this benefit could discourage people from taking jobs that would make them ineligible for the housing benefit.

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When he ran successfully for mayor of San Francisco nearly 20 years ago, Newsom promised to end the city’s homeless crisis. At the time, he was the handsome young Democratic establishment poster boy – a business-friendly face of the Democratic political machine that has run San Francisco and to some extent California for decades, with disastrous results.

I’ve lived and worked in San Francisco for the better part of 20 years. It’s a beautiful city, with iconic views, unique architecture, great weather and natural beauty all around. But the city has been tragically afflicted by misguided (or worse) leadership for several decades.


San Francisco has become the utopian petri dish for America – a place where harmful liberal ideas are cultured, incubated and then distributed to other cities around the country. As a result, its bad ideas and failures are that much more dangerous and even deadly. San Francisco’s failures on homelessness are a prime example of this phenomenon.

Newsom’s highly controversial “care not cash” initiative was central to his campaign and is widely credited for his election. It was a complete disaster.

Any reasonable observer walking carefully down San Francisco’s streets today – forced to avoid the human excrement, garbage and drug paraphernalia that litter our sidewalks – can see that the city’s homeless problem has grown more serious.

This troubling development has come even though the city and state have dramatically increased spending to reduce homelessness.

It’s fair to say that today California’s homeless policy has come full circle from Newsom’s days as mayor of San Francisco – now more like “cash not care” than Gavin’s original formula of “care not cash.”

Newsom didn’t solve the problem of homelessness as lieutenant governor either. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data, in 2011 California had more than 125,000 homeless residents. By 2018, the homeless population increased to more than 128,000 people.

And during his first year as governor, Newsom’s policies made California’s homeless crisis even worse. In one year, the homeless population increased by 16.4 percent, according to a 2019, HUD report. That’s about 21,000 more people without a home last year than in 2018.

In his speech Wednesday, Newsom described California’s homeless crisis as a “disgrace” explaining that “the richest state in the richest nation, succeeding across so many sectors, is falling so far behind to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people.”

The real disgrace is the response of Newsom and his party to the crisis. He has proposed spending $750 million to create a California Access to Housing and Services Fund that would develop affordable housing and increase rental subsidies, along with a multibillion-dollar expansion of Medi-Cal. But this is just a taxpayer-funded Band-Aid that can only increase dependence on state programs.

Newsom’s grand plan won’t lift anyone out of poverty. Providing taxpayer-funded services to the homeless without incentivizing pathways to self-sufficiency is just socialism. The goal of government must be to help poor people become financially independent – not to increase the number of poor people dependent on government assistance.

California’s homeless crisis has devolved into a massive public health crisis to such a degree that the federal government has looked at intervening to prevent the spread of typhus, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and other diseases, with concerns rising in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.

On a moral and spiritual level, the spectacle of a relatively wealthy city allowing fellow Americans to lie in their own waste and drug-induced stupors on public sidewalks represents a degradation of the social compact and the commitment we have in a civilized society to maintain order and take care of fellow citizens in dire straits.

Like the denizens of Third World cities, San Franciscans are becoming inured to tragedies at their feet. It’s easier to look away, than to confront the ugly reality that California’s liberal elected officials have only made the situation worse for our most needy neighbors.

The Pew Research Center estimates that California has more than 2 million foreign nationals living in the state illegally. Some estimates put the number even higher. Their impact on the availability of affordable housing, jobs and health care is undeniable.


However, the same leaders who now bemoan the homeless crisis in California are the ones who proudly championed California’s unprecedented status as a “sanctuary state,” where law enforcement officials and government workers are actually forbidden from contacting federal authorities about illegal immigrant criminals evading justice in California.

California’s Democratic elected officials have compassion and open arms for foreign nationals enjoying public resources and even shelter from law enforcement. But at the same time, they fail to acknowledge that this makes it harder for Californians to get housing, jobs, health care and temporary public assistance when they need it.

But the illegal immigrant population is a potential voting bloc for Democrats if the migrants ever gain citizenship. So Democrats want them to stay in the state.


Fixing California’s homeless epidemic has to be more than a campaign promise. Californians deserve real solutions that acknowledge that over-taxation, runaway pension costs, electricity failures, and rising crime all contribute to the homeless crisis.

California’s homeless people living on the streets today need opportunities and jobs to help them escape poverty and become self-supporting. They don’t need endless virtue-signaling from a party that leverages their plight for political gain, while keeping the policy choices that led to this tragedy in a moral blind spot.