Bonfire of the Pathologies

J. S. ScifoUndesignated 1 Comment

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Efforts to end homelessness in California are gearing up.  Earlier in the month, hundreds of city officials rallied at the Capitol calling on the State to commit $3 billion a year to address the homelessness crisis.  According to a release from the League of California cities, the money would be used to “provide additional supportive services, increase shelter space, accelerate affordable housing development, invest in homeless outreach teams, and expand rent subsidy programs.”

And just this week Todd Gloria set aside $82 million in the city’s budget to address homelessness.  This on top of a proposal to prohibit homeless encampments on public land.

Good luck with that.

Homelessness is another of those issues— like poverty, substance abuse, suicide, and mass shootings—that I’ve come to recognize as yet another social problem with no real solution, at least none that can be offered by the government.  Just add them to the bonfire of pathologies that have become a permanent feature of American society.

One must always tread lightly when opining on complex social issues.  But given the utter failure of almost every prescription—from affordable housing to outreach services—offered by advocate and expert alike, it seems that the causes of homelessness are open to debate.

Despite what has now become the stock response, homelessness is not caused by mental illness or drug abuse.  Those are just the symptoms.

Neither is “the system” to blame. California was a capitalist system 40 years ago.  Homelessness, as we have come to know it, did not exist. This is not the Great Depression. We have a labor shortage.  If anything, the State has more social programs designed to help people in need than ever.

No, homelessness is caused by a deep rootlessness that has left people completely untethered from any semblance of normal, structured living, particularly the nuclear family.  Combine that with decades of bad personal decisions and—no doubt—bad luck, and the result is a level of despair that leads to drugs and mental breakdown.

I can’t help but think that the explosion of homelessness is perfectly timed to coincide with the generational experiment in alternative lifestyles and self-exploration beginning in the 1990s that has led so many astray.

And no state has been more open to alternative lifestyles and self-expression than California.  Where once these factors only afflicted a few hippie rejects who never woke up from the ‘60s, they now envelope a sizable sliver of society.

Don’t get me wrong. There are approaches that would reduce homelessness, but none that any body of elected officials would ever employ in this day and age.  Ordinances against loitering, camping—or even sleeping—in parks, urinating and defecating in public, public nuisance, destruction of public property, and vagary are all tools that American society used to rely on to maintain public order. Add to those tools a healthy intolerance for aberrant, anti-social behavior and you have the kind of sanity that the Americans of my grandparent’s generation took for granted.

But Mayor Gloria has just proposed a ban on camping in public places, you say?  Great.  Will it be any more effective than they law against camping on the sidewalk?  I know, I know, no amount of law enforcement could curb a problem of such magnitude. Perhaps. But you get what you tolerate.

Like so many other issues of our time, homelessness is a social problem without at policy solution.  But don’t worry, that won’t prevent elected officials, and the public generally, from demanding billions of dollars to “fix” it.

On second thought, maybe homelessness is caused by mental illness after all.

J.S. Scifo is a North County resident who has worked in national and state politics.

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Comments 1

  1. WHY must one always tread lightly on complex social issues? When they are completely destroying our quality of life. Perhaps we need to address them head on?
    Not only is our government incapable of fixing anything they are the cause. Doesn’t unsecure/open boarders send up red flags, since when is being in debt honorable?
    Leadership starts at the top, we don’t have a one. Einsteins insanity, “insanity is doing the same things over and over expecting different results”
    Enjoyed the article.

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