The Hypocrisy of Homeless Advocates Is Deadly

Seated from left are Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito and Elena Kagan.
Standing from left are Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States


Most of my columns focus on the numbers and costs of homelessness policy. I believe if you present facts and figures in their proper context, most reasonable people will draw the appropriate conclusions.

But we must remember there is an equally unescapable moral dimension to the homelessness response, a dimension in which our leaders have failed just as badly as they have in the arena of costs and results. Perhaps nothing highlights this moral dilemma more than last week’s hearing of the Grant’s Pass case before the Supreme Court.

Moral leaders from Jesus to Ghandi taught the measure of a society is how it treats the least among us. There is an imperative to treat the unhoused, mentally ill, and those afflicted by substance use disorders with compassion, understanding, and above all, actual help. In his epistle, St. James reminds us that faith without works is dead.

Moral leaders universally condemn the hypocrisy of appearing virtuous while doing nothing to help those in need. Jesus denounced the self-righteous leaders of His day as “whitewashed tombs,” people who value the appearance of morality while ignoring the plight of the needy.

Lindsey Horvath
Photo: Rich Schmitt/CTN

The day after the Supreme Court’s hearing, pundits from the LA Times and LAist, joined by Supervisor Lindsey Horvath and others, chimed in with the usual hand-wringing tropes, condemning “criminalizing poverty” and comparing the right to build a makeshift home to the “right to breathe.”

They say cities already have the authority to exclude some areas from camping, so there is no need to modify the Boise decision.  However, as I wrote  in CityWatch click here, the reality is quite different. Rather than benighted people down on their luck, many of the unhoused are deeply troubled souls, who habitually hoard items from clothes to trash.

Because of the Boise decision and its related cases, cities must go through a tortuous process to clear an encampment of each person’s “property” even if it’s clearly junk.

Rather than being ruthless sweeps of people and property, most encampment clearings involve months of outreach and preparation. Contrary to the theoretical musings of pundits and legal experts, the real-world effect of the Boise decision has been proliferating encampments, and people in dire need of assistance being left on the street to wither, and quite often, die. The hypocrisy of so-called advocates within and outside government is monstrous—and deadly.

In the context of moral teachings that stretch back thousands of years and transcend cultural divides, local government’s leadership on homelessness must be considered an abominable failure.

While repeating the same platitudes about helping our “unhoused neighbors,” they doggedly adhere to a policy they know has failed the homeless.

When confronted with the reality of that failure, they fall back on personal attacks empty of objective value and moral meaning; they use words like “NIMBY” or “criminalizing poverty” to describe those of differing views, just as the Pharisees used words like blasphemy to label those who dared to disagree with them.

All the while, they continue defending a system responsible for more than 53,000 unsheltered homeless on the streets and at least six deaths per night.

Time and again, objective reports, studies, and audits have proven Housing First simply does not work.

Despite billions of dollars and nearly three decades of practice, homelessness continues to increase, deaths from exposure and overdose climb, and more people than ever have fallen into chronic and unsheltered homelessness.

In the face of these inescapable facts, our leaders continue to insist the infusion of a few more million dollars, or the creation of new “game changing” departments, or the establishment of more poorly managed shelters are the answers.

Housing First is a one-size-fits-all approach that leaves little room for alternative solutions. Because it has attained almost religious status among its supporters, Housing First diverts funds from other forms of shelter and treatment.

Housing First’s results can be seen under freeway bridges, in tent encampments, and in block-long lines of derelict RV’s leaking waste into the storm drain system. And yet our leaders continue their steadfast support.   In her April 9 State of the City speech, Mayor Bass insisted LA is making progress on homelessness, claiming thousands of people have been housed under her trademark Inside Safe program.

The numbers from LAHSA and the City’s own website show that is not the case: no agency can say with any kind of accuracy how many individuals have been housed.

Transfers from interim to permanent housing are as low as four percent in some facilities, while returns to homelessness typically exceed 20 percent. In the face of these brutal numbers, the Mayor cajoled wealthy philanthropists to build more housing, as if the systemic breakdown of the service structure simply doesn’t exist.

Denialism of Housing First’s failure is not limited to Los Angeles.  In response to a scathing State Audit on the widespread failure of current homelessness policies; Governor Newsom said we need to improve the system . . .to build more housing.

He ignored the report’s findings on a lack of reliable data on the efficacy of current programs, findings that show five years of effort and $24 billion in expenditures have had no measurable effect on homelessness. Neither he nor Mayor Bass have called for fundamental reform in the way homeless services are provided.

Despite their feigned concern for the plight of the unsheltered homeless, they showed no desire to challenge the dogma of Housing First. They have failed in their peremptory moral duty to speak truth in the face of failure.

Their attitude is reflected in the advocacy community’s approach to homelessness, which apparently is that it is better to leave people on the street, exposed to weather, crime, and disease, than it is to get them into transitional housing.

If you doubt the veracity of that statement, you have only to read a manifesto published by Knock LA click here. In it, encampment dwellers (or the Knock LA advocates who wrote the letter for them), insist they have the right to stay on the street, living in tents or vehicles until suitable housing to their liking can be provided, and then only if they agree to move.

The same beliefs surround homelessness and mental health.  As LAist reports.  there are legitimate concerns among some advocacy groups that California is heading back to the pre-1960’s when people were committed and treated against their will, often by family members wanting access to an elder family member’s assets.

However, advocates have become so intolerant of anything affecting the right to “personal agency” that thousands of deeply disturbed people have been left on the streets, unable to make decisions in their own interests.

Advocates vehemently opposed the CARE court act, even though, at its core, it is a voluntary program.

Like the Pharisees of old, advocates’ beliefs are absolute, and any deviation from their dogma is met with ferocious resistance, in the form of lawsuits, protests, and disruption of public meetings.

And like their predecessors, they often take conflicting and hypocritical positions. The same advocate groups that insist people with serious mental illnesses or drug addictions have the right to choose where and how they live, also dictate the only “just” housing solution is high density development regardless of what housing people may actually want.  As a trio of LAist articles describe,  there is a critical shortage of homes for young families with children.  Despite the continuing demand for affordable single-family homes, advocates will accept nothing other than massive development.

Although civic leaders and advocates use the language of compassion, the practical effect of their policies is a manufactured humanitarian crisis of murderous proportions.

Six people die on our streets each night; an untold number die alone in spartan hotel rooms or in other hidden places. Thousands more wander the streets in delusional hazes or drug-induced stupors.

Housed residents must navigate tent encampments that often block sidewalks or deal with clearly disturbed people screaming at unseen demons.  Sometimes they pay for the government’s hypocrisy with their lives, as did the woman stabbed to death on a Metro train.

Despite protestations about economic factors and the high cost of housing, intervention agencies’ only job is to reduce homelessness.  In this they have failed.

LAHSA CEO Valecia Adams Kellum and l.A. Mayor Karen Bass believe in housing first.
(X-formerly Twitter)

I do not believe leaders like Mayor Bass and Governor Newsom are immoral people.  Nor are they stupid. They want to alleviate the suffering they see every day and they know homelessness programs aren’t working, but they are at a loss to understand why.

Advisors who should be experts can only suggest doing more of the same because that’s all they know after three decades of exclusive Housing First policies.  One indication of how the thought of challenging the status quo never enters the conversation is a recent article in the Westside Current about the abuses of Ellis Act’s eviction policies click here.

Besides new ordinances to ensure landlords are following the law, City Council members have asked the CAO and CLA’s staff to prepare proposals to change current State law and clarify renter protections.

We have not seen, nor is it likely we ever will, this kind of local, bottom-up advocacy for changing Housing First, even though local governments have to deal with the consequences of failed policies.

There may be many reasons for leaders abdicating their duty to advocate for their constituents. Homelessness has become politicized to the point where supporting anything other than No Barrier Housing First means incurring the wrath of a vocal and powerful advocacy lobby.

Council members like Hugo Soto-Martinez and Nithya Raman are more interested in engaging in rhetorical battles based on theories of social and economic justice than in the practical effects of ignoring growing encampments.

An excellent example of the moral hypocrisy surrounding homelessness is this quote from the LAist article on the Supreme Court hearing. “If the numbers are doubling and tripling, what you’re doing is not working, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that there’s got to be something else,” [advocacy attorney Carol Sobel] said. “How do you move forward if you don’t even know what happened in the rearview mirror?”

She was trying to condemn restrictions on camping in public, but her condemnation applies equally to Housing First; we’ve seen budgets double or triple, while homelessness increases each year. And yet advocates still sing the same song, with the same results.

Perhaps their reasons are coarser.  A cursory review of the budgets and invoices on the City’s website City Administrative Officer click here. show the amount of money involved in homelessness interventions is phenomenal, with contracts—most awarded without other bids–in the millions for field services, shelter management and other programs.

The money to be made for construction is even higher. As the State Auditor has pointed out in the current and previous reports, the money usually comes with few strings attached and insufficient performance metrics.

The money flowing into the system, and the jobs based on current policies, are powerful incentives to maintain the status quo regardless of the human suffering it may cause. It is truly a devil’s bargain.

(Tim Campbell is a resident of Westchester who spent a career in the public service and managed a municipal performance audit program.  He focuses on outcomes instead of process.)

Santa Monica paramedics were able to revive the man who had taken a drug overdose in Tongva Park.

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