Latest Op-Ed on Housing First

My latest op-ed on FoxNews discusses California’s Housing First program and its unintended consequences on the homeless problem. While the program works for some individuals, it fails to address the issue at its core. For the majority of the homeless population, alternative solutions are needed.

Yesterday, The Regional Task Force on Homelessness announced a 22% increase in homelessness in the past year alone. It’s time we address the underlying issue of mental health, which lies at the root of this crisis.

Please read the op-ed and let me know what you think.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there are many politicians on the verge of insanity in California. For years, we have witnessed billions of dollars spent trying to “House the Homeless,” yet the problem continues to worsen. One of the biggest reasons is the State’s only approach, Housing First.

California embarked on its Housing First journey by implementing “Care not Cash,” a policy rooted in Housing First principles, in San Francisco. The driving force behind this initiative was then-County Supervisor Gavin Newsom.

The State then doubled down on this policy by adopting Housing First in 2016. Governor Newsom further intensified these efforts in 2020 by introducing Project Homekey, a program to convert existing structures into permanent housing first housing units.

Housing First prioritizes immediate, “low barrier” access to housing for those living on the streets. While this may sound like an admirable mission, the requirements for living in housing is… nothing! There aren’t any requirements, conditions, or milestones such as sobriety or compliance with treatment, or self-improvement. All state-funded homeless programs must align with the core principles of Housing First, which include providing housing to tenants irrespective of their substance use. If the County or a nonprofit wants to add requirements that residents must be in treatment, or cannot use drugs or alcohol, then they are not eligible for State funding.

Housing First works for some. People who suddenly lose their income sources, a mom fleeing domestic violence, and other circumstances occur in people’s lives where they need a place to stay to get back on their feet. The problem is housing first does not work for many people chronically on the street, but the State mandates it’s the only approach allowed.

Free housing with no accountability or requirement for treatment of core issues and behavior perpetuates homelessness for many people addicted to drugs or alcohol and with severe mental health issues. These people need rules, support, and accountability to incorporate back into society.

Last week, the State of California and the City & County of San Diego agreed to spend $157 million on purchasing hotels. This breaks down to an astronomical $478,000 per unit. Again, without requiring any accountability or drug treatment.

If this approach truly worked, we would be witnessing declining homelessness rates. However, the reality is that homelessness continues to rise, despite the State of California already squandering over $10 billion on “homeless solutions” in just the past three years. Housing First is a failed formula, burdening our communities with disastrous results.

Between 2005 and 2016, chronic homelessness in California decreased by 51%. However, this positive trend took a sharp reversal after the implementation of Housing First in 2016. Between 2016 and 2022, chronic homelessness increased by a staggering 93%, reaching levels not seen since 2005. Today, nearly one in three homeless individuals in the country resides in California. The rest of the nation has seen a decrease in homelessness, with the homeless count dropping from 622,000 in 2012 to 582,000 in 2022.

Enabling addicts to continue using is not compassionate. We wouldn’t allow our friends or family members to spiral into addiction without intervening, so why should we allow members of our community to do so?

The focus should be on providing a hand-up, not a perpetual handout. We must address the root causes of homelessness, tackling issues such as mental health and addiction. Taxpayers deserve accountability for the exorbitant amount of money being spent, and they are rightfully tired of witnessing the problem persist and worsen.

It’s time to reclaim our parks, freeway onramps, sidewalks, open nature, homes, and businesses from the grips of homelessness. We cannot continue to burden our hardworking taxpayers with a problem that stems from failed government policies.

It is time for this insanity to stop.

San Diego County District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond