Los Angeles is infamous for its homeless crisis, and it is getting worse, up another 16% this year to about 36,000 people. That’s because rather than implementing common-sense solutions to address the problem, LA’s politicians have chosen to use it to implement a progressive agenda, such as providing free, permanent government housing.
The cost of this housing? More than $500,000 per unit, and, in some cases, as much as $700,000, according to an LA Controller audit released last week.
Many are not aware that LA’s homeless problem was greatly exacerbated by a bizarre and disastrous decision by the progressive Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals two years ago.
In the case of Martin v. City of Boise, the court ruled that a city may not enforce simple camping, vagrancy or loitering laws to remove people from sleeping on public property, such as sidewalks, beaches and parks – unless the city can demonstrate it provides sufficient homeless shelters. Otherwise, enforcement of such a law, the court ruled, would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”
With its ruling, the Ninth Circuit invented two radically new interpretations of the U.S. Constitution.
First, that the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment applies not just to sentences imposed for crimes but can be applied to the criminal law itself. Second, by requiring cities to provide housing for the homeless before it may enforce laws to protect the safety, security and cleanliness of its public spaces, the court effectively created a constitutional right to housing, a progressive’s dream previously thought achievable only via a constitutional amendment.
Boise sought to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, an effort supported by Los Angeles. However, LA did not oppose the ruling on the grounds that it misinterprets the Constitution, but rather simply because it was unclear as to the guidelines for shelters that must be met (not surprising since courts are not supposed to be making new laws).
“The city agrees with a central tenet of Boise, that no individual should be susceptible to punishment for sleeping on the sidewalk at night, if no alternative shelter is available,” LA City Attorney Mike Feuer said in explaining LA’s support of the appeal.
Without a strong constitutional objection to the ruling (as should have been put forward), the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and thus the ruling continued to apply to all states within the Ninth Circuit, including California.
Since the ruling, LA police have been essentially “hands-off” when it comes to enforcing any laws that would normally prevent homeless encampments on city sidewalks, beaches and parks.
LA could have controlled the problem by enforcing the laws during the day only, which is permitted under the ruling, thus disrupting encampments, but instead took the police off the job entirely. And now the police face significant budget cuts due to the Black Lives Matter “defund the police” campaign.
With no enforcement, the encampments have exploded, as have, not surprisingly, the number of homeless.
LA also could have addressed the problem by quickly putting up inexpensive temporary shelters to enable it to enforce laws against the encampments. It has not.
With no enforcement, the encampments have exploded, as have, not surprisingly, the number of homeless. The progressives would have you believe the increase is due to housing costs and “income inequality,” but the truth is, if you allow it, it will happen. And the progressives know this. They create the problem by allowing it, and then use the problem to impose progressive solutions. In this case, it is government-provided housing, rent control and eviction protections.
Venice Beach, along with downtown LA, is home to the bulk of LA’s homeless encampments. Most of them are on or within a few blocks of the beach, among million-dollar homes, shops and restaurants that rely on tourist dollars and beachgoers seeking to enjoy California’s natural beauty.
As anyone who lives there knows, the vast majority of the homeless are addicts and/or mentally disturbed. Because they are allowed to live there, they have no incentive to seek the help they need or to try to reconnect with family or friends.
The truth is, in their compromised condition, they are content there. And the law-abiding, taxpaying citizens of Los Angeles who live in these areas are forced to literally walk through the encampments with their children to shop, eat or go to the beach.
Rather than implementing common-sense solutions, LA has embarked on a $1.2 billion plan, funded by a sales tax increase, to build 10,000 brand new, permanent apartments to house this ever-growing homeless population. Not surprisingly, it is not going according to plan.
Rather than costing $120,000 per unit, the average price is $531,000, according to the audit, over four times original projections. Two projects, according to the audit, are running at a cost of well over $700,000 per unit. That is three times the average price of a home in the United States
Why so much? Well, one of those projects was planned to go up next to a landmark restaurant and shopping market. The market, not surprisingly, sued. Another project is planned for a parcel commonly referred to as “the cliffs” due to its 80-foot-high hillside, thus requiring extensive grading and expensive retaining walls.
It’s no wonder LA’s homeless problem gets worse and worse. Those occupying beach encampments have no fear of arrest or disturbance. And they might just be offered a new apartment valued at $700,000 or more.
It truly does pay to be homeless in LA.