Seeing California Gov. Gavin Newsom say he took responsibility for the homelessness problem in California and calling it “disgraceful” while being interviewed by Sean Hannity this week was unexpected.
Newsom cited housing costs as being too high and regulatory thickets being too problematic, and he acknowledged the disparity of over 170,000 homeless in California compared with 26,000 in Florida, states with comparable good weather, as Hannity pointed out. “I own it,” the governor said boldly.
But one central issue he didn’t “own” but should have acknowledged is the associated mental health crisis. Dr. Maria Raven, chief of Emergency Medicine at University of California, San Francisco, pointed out to me on Doctor Radio Reports on SiriusXM this week that there is frequently nowhere for the mentally ill to go from the emergency room after a brief hold except back out on the streets.
“The severe lack of affordable and supportive housing, high rates of mental illness among people experiencing homelessness and a dearth of community based mental health services means that many people experiencing homelessness end up in the emergency department,” she also said to me.
California’s dysfunctional approach towards mental health goes back decades and is only getting worse. There has been a long focus on de-institutionalizing those with severe mental health problems, which sounds humane in theory, but not without the community-based services or housing to support it.
A study from San Jose State determined that of the nearly 19,000 seriously mentally ill in prison in 2015, almost 14,000 were there because of state hospital closures.
The homeless population of California is already filled with mentally ill people, some chronic, some suffering from reactive depression, few receiving treatment. It goes without saying that living on the streets of San Francisco or Los Angeles or San Diego in a homeless encampment is not the way to treat mental illness.
I guarantee that SF residents’ plan to install big planters to interfere with encampments will be useless. The government throws money at the problem, but that is merely cosmetic, a tough word to apply amid the stench of human waste and sewage.
The shelter system is extensive in New York City, and while it is far from perfect, and is also riddled with crime and mental illness, it is still an improvement over California, where the vast majority of the homeless population has no shelter.