Public policy intended to be compassionate to adults is increasingly coming at the expense of children — and that has California’s priorities reversed.
Since Gavin Newsom was elected governor, this state has spent $17 billion on the homeless problem and succeeded only in making it worse. Of the fifty states, California had the largest increase in homeless individuals between 2020 and 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 145,000 people are now homeless in the Golden State on any given night. A large percentage of this population is addicted and mentally ill, yet policies encourage dangerous and unpredictable people to live and do drugs on the sidewalks and in the parks in our children’s communities.
Surprisingly, even Newsom has had enough. In a sudden about-face, the governor asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in a case that hinders cities from “imposing commonsense time and place restrictions to keep streets safe” in an amicus curiae brief his administration filed on September 24. It stated that lower courts preventing cities from criminalizing people sleeping in public places amounts to “an insurmountable roadblock.”
Up to now, the real insurmountable roadblock to solving the homelessness crisis has been the public’s willingness to tolerate it. A spring Quinnipiac poll concluded that 69 percent of California registered voters “think California is doing too little to help homeless people.” If the $17 billion the state has already spent in four years resulted in a 10 percent increase in the homeless population, how much more of an increase are those voters trying to buy?
Past experience or common sense seems to hold little sway over the majority of California voters. Otherwise, we would heed a former California governor and 40th president of the United States who said, “If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it.” In other words, stop incentivizing homelessness, and it will cease to be a major problem. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good for the poor is not making them easy in poverty.”
If voters aren’t going to listen to the wise words of Franklin or Reagan, how can we ever hope to get through to them? True, even Newsom is taking a step in the right direction, but he is properly incentivized now that the 2024 presidential election is a year away.
Incentivization is the key. What compels seven out of ten Californians to want to throw more money at a population of adults beset by drugs and criminality and expect there to be fewer of them at the end of the day? Obviously, it’s not common sense or wisdom or a desire for fiscal responsibility or learned experience.
They want a continuation and even expansion of the failed policies because it makes people feel good to want it. The incentive is a sense of moral superiority, whether or not the policies even work to help the adults for whom they are intended. A well-intentioned motorist may roll down the window to give cash to the panhandler, even when it is clear the recipient will buy drugs with it. But effectively paying for him to get high isn’t a concern to the motorist because he gets his own high from feeling compassionate, regardless of whether the panhandler was truly helped or if the aggregate of those acts creates a dangerous community for our kids. Feeling great about having compassion for someone without really helping them is not a virtue. At best, it’s a form of selfishness.
How much worse it is when compassion for adults ends up hurting children. Where is the compassion when kids have to share a community with addicted and dangerous adults? A healthy and thriving state creates public policies that put children’s interests first before that of any adults. Any laws violating that principle — such as California’s failed homeless programs — produce the undesirable and unnatural effects we see daily.
Until our public policies subsidize and incentivize kids’ safety over “compassion” for addicted and dangerous adults, chaos will reign. The answer is simple: In every policy we create, put kids first.
Eric Ingemunson is the author of hundreds of articles on Ventura County public policy, and his work has appeared in the Ventura County Star, CNN, and Fox News. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and served as a board member for youth sports and Boy Scouts. He resides in Moorpark with his wife and four children and is active in the homeschooling community.