We’ve all seen the pictures and stories about homeless people in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Here is a sobering statistic behind the pictures: nearly half the homeless popuation of the U.S. lives in California.
All told, 47% of all unsheltered homeless people nationwide — meaning those who sleep in areas not meant for habitation, such as sidewalks, parks, cars and abandoned buildings, rather than in shelters — live in the Golden State, according to a new report on homelessness from the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Unsheltered homeless people represent just over a third (35%) of the overall homeless population nationwide.
At the city level, four of the five cities with the highest rate of unsheltered homelessness are in California: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa and San Jose. Seattle joins the California municipalities in the top five.
As for state homelessness rates, the District of Columbia has the highest in the country, at 5.8 times the U.S. rate. New York is next, followed by Hawaii, Oregon and California. These five states together comprise 20% of the overall U.S. population but 45% of the country’s homeless population.
One thing you might notice right away: these are all blue places, long governed by Democratic Party elected officials.
Passy says that “one driver” of homelessness trend is likely to be the high cost of housing in these areas with lots of affluent residents.
Of course, the corollary to that would be that we need government to build more “affordable housing.”
The Trump administration report does, according to Passy, address the issue of affordable housing, though through deregulation of zoning rules which might make it more feasible for builders to get new apartments on the market.
But if you observe the homeless population, you realize that dysfunction, possibly mental illness or chemical dependency, not the housing market, is the most significant driver of homelessness.
How many of the poor souls we see talking to themselves on the streets are there because of the housing market?
The administration also proposed something that progressives tend to oppose: better policing. Passy writes:
But the Trump administration has gone a step further in suggesting that law enforcement play a role in curbing homelessness. “Of course, policies intended solely to arrest or jail homeless people simply because they are homeless are inhumane and wrong,” the report stated. “At the same time, when paired with effective services, policing may be an important tool to help move people off the street and into shelter or housing.”
The report went on to say that homelessness is worsened by “the tolerability of sleeping on the street, which among other factors may be affected through policing of street activities.” The report did not outline specific policies that law enforcement should adopt but did argue that more research to this end was needed.
Treating homelessness as a sympton of a flaw in the housing market ignores the very real problems the homeless face.
And it is unlikely to get more people off the streets.