Suffering the impacts of drug addiction, mental illness and violence as a result of governmental and societal neglect, the unhoused population in California wakes up each morning hoping to survive another day.
Despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent efforts to decrease homelessness with his $12 billion plan presented in May 2021, all of his programs have only continued California’s history of failures in combating this problem. Hundreds of thousands of people remain unhoused with COVID-19 only worsening the situation, creating an elevated death rate, higher unemployment rates and increased housing costs.
The main problem with many of the implemented policies is that they’ve been directed towards finding short-term solutions for a long-term problem. For instance, in 2016, California passed a $1.2 billion program that intended to provide housing for the unhoused in Los Angeles, costing about $837,000 per unit.
Because of these high costs, the city has only built 1,200 units in the last six years–an inadequate amount for the sheer number of people that are currently unhoused, not to mention the projected increases in the unhoused population as a result of rising costs.
This was furthered by the development and implementation of hostile architecture in areas like Los Angeles, San Diego and Echo Park Lake, where the city would design amenities to limit their use; sloped benches, spikes in areas protected from weather and armrests in the middle of benches are some examples of this integration. However, this effort failed as well, sprouting protests between housing advocates and the police that left the unhoused with additional burdens.
While it may be true that the state wants to solve the issue of homelessness, the responses thus far have been insufficient. Rather, the solution to this extensive problem may lie in the development of housing in abandoned or unused buildings, which provides a place for many to stay while promoting sustainability.
One project that focuses on such establishments is the Homekey project, which has put $836 million into transforming hotels, motels and other properties into homeless shelters. By including provisions that would exempt projects from permits, zoning rules and state environmental review requirements, these projects have been built at a faster and cheaper rate than ever before. Although the Homekey projects are still being funded on a rolling basis and have yet to complete any, they look much more promising than any previous measures.
Governor Newsom has historically failed in his handling of the homelessness problem, funding useless projects that haven’t been successful at all. However, through more cost-effective solutions that focus on establishing permanent residence for the unhoused, the state might find more success in this area.