Homeless Issue Tops in CA, Political Price for Inaction?

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

Two recently issued polls reveal that homelessness is the top issue in California. Disagreement abounds on how to confront the problem but the truth is if the homeless crisis is not ameliorated there will be a political price to pay and wise politicians should understand that.

The Public Policy Institute of California statewide poll revealed that homelessness was considered the number one issue in the state among both likely voters and all adults. A Los Angeles Times/Los Angeles Business Council Institute poll on homelessness in Los Angeles County showed people are frustrated and want something done about the situation.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president stated in a release accompanying the PPIC poll, “Homelessness and housing costs are now being mentioned as much as the economy and immigration when asking about the most important problems facing the people of California today.”

A combined 87% of poll respondents are either very concerned or somewhat concerned with the presence of homeless people in their communities according to the PPIC poll. The poll also found that 61% of respondents thought that homelessness increased in the last 12 months while only 2% said it decreased.

The Los Angeles Times/Los Angeles Business Council Institute poll found that 63% said that homeless people “shouldn’t be allowed to degrade residential neighborhoods or block access to offices and commercial buildings.”

As to solutions for the homeless crisis, PPIC asked about a state policy requiring local governments to construct enough shelter beds for any homeless to enter upon request. 70% of likely voters supported the idea while 25% opposed.

But, the question would have been more complete if the “Right to Shelter” argument was tested. That scenario would oblige government to provide housing for homeless and in turn, the homeless would be required to accept the shelter beds provided.

The Times/Business poll indicated that residents want to see some kind of similar response. As a Times report on the poll noted, “65% of respondents agreed that police should be more involved in cleaning up the streets “in order to address the health crisis that is mounting due to unsanitary conditions caused by homeless encampments.”

While the political class considers what to do, it awaits a United States Supreme Court decision on whether it will hear an appeal of a lower court decision that limits local governments taking firmer actions to move the homeless off the streets. 

The case out of Boise, Idaho decided by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last year that the U.S. Constitution prevents homeless people from sleeping on sidewalks when housing facilities are not available. A loosening of this decision by the high court would open more options for local governments to deal with the homeless situation.

Meanwhile, politicians are scrambling to come up with ideas to reduce the problem. They had better before the homelessness situation reaches a boiling point for voters.

Already, a recall petition is circulating in Los Angeles against Mayor Eric Garcetti complaining about his failure to deal with the homeless problem. To be fair, there are other motivations by the supporters of the recall effort to go after Garcetti, but the fact that they use the homelessness issue as the chief complaint is telling about the current political landscape.

Other elected officials have felt the heat when issues snap at the patience of voters and those officials are often punished at the ballot. 

The two polls revealed this week indicate voters are getting closer to a breaking point on the homeless issue.

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