California is experiencing the worst affordable housing shortage in the nation—and, not coincidentally, the country’s largest and most visible homelessness crisis as well. But rather than address the root of this crisis, the landed gentry and other special interest groups who largely run state politics have demanded aggressive action to sweep aside its most conspicuous symptoms. Some conservative-leaning elected officials have responded by proposing acts of outright cruelty, like shipping the unhoused out of town entirely.
But two of the state’s most powerful Democrats—Gov. Gavin Newsom and newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass—have gone to greater lengths to disguise their homeless removal efforts as “caring” and “compassionate,” rather than favors for the local real estate and business owners who control state and local politics.
Over the past year, Newsom and Bass have each launched their own programs designed to get people off the streets—humanely, of course. Under legislation championed by Newsom and passed by the state legislature last year, local officials will soon be empowered to force certain unhoused individuals into psychiatric treatment, a plan that numerous mental health advocates and civil rights groups oppose. And, in the last month, Bass has begun pressuring unhoused Angelenos to move into city-provided motels. While the measure is intended to be temporary, it carries only a vague promise of a permanent home, tied to yet-to-be-constructed affordable housing units.
Both plans carry significant risks: Advocates for the unhoused fear that Newsom’s will further traumatize vulnerable people by using police and the courts to force them into medication regimens or therapy. Bass’s program, meanwhile, hinges on pushing developers to build thousands of as-yet-unannounced affordable housing units, a process historically mired in construction delays, angry homeowner’s groups, and red tape.
Despite these major shortcomings, Newsom and Bass have succeeded in convincing large swaths of the media and public that their proposals are acts of care for the unhoused.
Newsom’s measure—called “CARE Court”—paves the way for family members, state officials, and first responders to force more unhoused people into court-ordered treatment programs for a period of up to two years.
The proposal passed through the state legislature last year, despite pushback from mental health professionals who argue that court-ordered treatment programs are actively harmful. In June, as Newsom was pushing lawmakers to adopt his proposal, the ACLU of California’s lobbying group begged legislators to spike the idea, stating that it would “unravel decades of hard-won progress by the disability rights movement to secure self-determination, equality, and dignity for people with disabilities.” …