A Holmes and Watson Approach to the Homeless Crisis

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

I’m not sure who plays which role but Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas are attacking the California crisis of homelessness like the team of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson using what Steinberg called a “deductive” approach to the problem. The co-chairs of the Governor’s Homelessness Task Force want to achieve the goal of removing many of the homeless from the street by respecting the homeless while using the best ideas to help, but also most importantly and controversially, to have government directly involved in housing the homeless. 

Ridley-Thomas’ and Steinberg’s deductive approach is mission oriented—fix the problem by focusing resources on the end result. Now the focus appears to be on the many remedies offered with no coordinated effort focused on the mission. 

The homelessness issue is a failure of public policy, Steinberg told a housing and homelessness town hall meeting Tuesday coordinated by the Milken Institute, Los Angeles Times and CalMatters.  There is so much good work on homelessness, he said, but we have a tacit public policy that it is okay for people to live outside.

Steinberg called for a legal imperative from government to provide a roof over the head of the homeless so that services can be provided. 

An aspect of the solution that is mired in controversy has been termed the “Right to Shelter,” a term Steinberg rejects, that would require government to provide housing for the homeless while at the same time require homeless individuals to use the housing. By being inside the housing the homeless would have access to the services they need.

Ridley-Thomas pushed back against the charge that asking the homeless to move inside if housing is available criminalizes a homeless individual who refuses the housing. The LA County Supervisor said that those who reject the mission oriented solution to the homeless crisis “refuse to accept the urgency of the hour and are not doing the job.”

Both Ridley-Thomas and Steinberg see the so-called criminalization argument as a distraction. They believe that once government provides some form of housing from permanent to temporary to small housing units, 85% of the homeless will come inside. Quarreling over how to handle the 15% is a debate ahead of its time. Ridley-Thomas argued that we should focus on what can be done now to get people into shelters.

The Task Force co-chairs agreed that the current price for government subsidized affordable housing running between $300,000 and $800,000 a unit is not the answer to reduce homelessness.

The Sacramento mayor did praise the legislature and the governor for creating the new rent stabilization law capping rent increases and stiffening eviction laws. He said the law was a preventative measure to keep even more individuals from becoming homeless.

Ridley-Thomas was looking for the business community to be part of the solution, not to approach the problem as one of philanthropy, but with a bottom line perspective as an incentive to engage.

Steinberg said the homelessness solution is not a money problem. He noted the tax increases voters approved to confront homelessness and said homelessness is a problem of the system that needs to be meet with the deductive approach to bring the best practices many groups have devised to confront the crisis on a larger scale.

Or as Sherlock Holmes explained in A Study in Scarlet, “Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result.”

Ridley-Thomas and Steinberg intend to focus on the result and create the best way to get there.

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