Viewpoint: Housing Doesn’t Cure Homelessness: Mental Health Help Might

This editor has seen this young man, walking up Temescal. He has been offered services by the Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, but so far has refused. He’s waiting for the library to open to use the computers.

The drain in your house is plugged and backing up water. You call a plumber, who comes and says it is a clog. Probably your fault, maybe you put onion skins down the garbage disposal. The plumber runs the rooter and the drain seems to work for a brief time.

Then the sink backs up again and the plumber comes back and tells you it is your fault, you probably put apple peelings or fat down the drain. The rooter is used again.

The third time it happens, do you call the plumber? Or do you just stop shoving items down the drain? The money that residents have given to build housing for the homeless keeps increasing—and so do the homeless.

Is it time for a change?

State, county and city residents are empathetic and have voted for sales tax increases and bond measures to raise more money to build housing for the homeless but can’t keep up. It seems to be a treadmill with faster and faster speeds without a “stop” button.

In 2011, there were 39,135 homeless in L.A. County. In 2022 there were 69,144 people considered homeless. In a mere eleven years, the population had nearly doubled to 75,518.

Between 2015 and 2022, Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority’s (LAHSA) budget went from $63 million to $547.8 million. The proposed budget for 2023-44 is $609.7 million. Of the $13 billion budgeted for the City this coming year, $1.3 will go to address homelessness.

California Governor Gavin Newsom

With Prop. 1’s passage, Governor Gavin Newsom will take an additional $6.8 billion in taxpayer money to build 4,350 housing units.

Does building housing work?

If one questions “Housing First” as the sole solution, one is are deemed evil, much like Voldemort, “he who must not be named,” in the Harry Potter series.

Homeless nonprofits and advocates are certain that housing is the fix—if only there were enough.

A recent study by UC San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative cited unaffordable rents as the leading cause of homelessness among Californians.

Meghan Henry, project director for Ahar, said California’s housing crisis continued to drive homelessness: “The three main [factors] that create this issue are unaffordable housing, stagnated incomes and systemic racism.”

Of the top 10 companies who contributed to help Newsom with advertising to pass Prop. 1, the top contributor was a Casino run by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (the tribal leader not a native, but a friend of Newsom’s) and five construction-related unions.

The “Housing First” model began with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2013. California adopted the model in 2016.

Interestingly, there is no statistical data for Housing First. Instead, the continued push for building is predicated on feelings. Because “I would feel better if I were in a house,” so the homeless must feel that way, too.

A 2022 RAND Institute study found that 54% of unhoused Angelenos reported having a mental health condition. And, when a broad view of mental health is taken into consideration – including depression, stress and anxiety – some experts argue that it impacts all homeless people.

Tim Campbell in a 2023 story (“The Pseudoscience of Housing First”) wrote that in the May 2022 Stanford Economic Policy Institute report “Housing First showed no effects in reducing drug use, alcohol consumption, psychiatric symptoms, or enhancing the quality of life.”

An August 2022 National Institute of Health study reported “that there is no substantial published evidence as yet to demonstrate that permanent supportive housing improves health outcomes.”

That study noted there are positive outcomes when Housing First is part of a whole-person service package that includes medical, mental health and recovery support as needed.

Campbell wrote “The more resources are dedicated to Housing First, the more people become homeless.” A 2022 L.A. City Controller Report wrote that new construction is consuming so much of the homeless intervention budget, little is left for other services like transitional shelters.

There is no winter shelter for the homeless on the Westside. Why?

LAHSA CEO VaLecia Adams with L.A. City Mayor Karen Bass.

All money seems to be spent on salaries for those working in homeless nonprofits (the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority CEO VaLecia Adams makes $430,000 annually) or for building affordable housing. HHH was passed with a $1.2 billion bond in 2016 and eight years later 7,190 supportive housing (SH) units have been built (and 1,480 non-supportive housing units have been built).

Federal/State/County Projects as of March 24, have about $335 million committed, which will produce 3,269 SH units and 1,926, non-SH units.

And still, the streets are filled with homeless, who need mental health help.

The Wall Street Journal on March 25 (“He Left Family and Career, Driven by Voices in His Head”) wrote about a successful California lawyer and family man. He was 35 when he started hearing voices. His marriage unraveled and he went back to Virginia to live with his mother and received treatment.

After medication and therapy, he returned to California, but in 2022, he stopped therapy and taking his medication. Within months, he lost his job, his car was impounded, and he quit paying rent. He stopped answering his phone and then the service was cut off.

His sister and mother were powerless to help. Eventually, a social worker persuaded him to go to a hospital.

The mother flew to his place and spent three days cleaning the apartment, which was strewn with trash. She washed his clothes. At the hospital, her son refused to see her. Two days later she called the hospital, and he was gone.

He was evicted but stayed near the complex. Eventually the social worker was able to convince him to go back to the hospital, but he was released after 72 hours.

While on the street, he was shot in the leg, and a friend convinced him to go back to the hospital, where a psychiatrist sought to have him committed. The man appealed by submitting a petition for writ of habeas corpus, a legal request for release and a second judge allowed him to leave the hospital.

Two months later, police got a call from a passerby about a man lying in a doorway on a cold night. Officers brought him a comforter.

The Wall Street Journal contacted him, and he responded on March 16 from a library saying he needed food and shelter.

“You should understand by now that I had a quite a stable and productive life before I underwent any psychiatric treatment or therapy,” the man wrote. “I believe people in your position often use medicine to try to keep people from learning what they otherwise could.”

Time to stop watching money circle the drain.

This man on the street was offered help, but refused.


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5 Responses to Viewpoint: Housing Doesn’t Cure Homelessness: Mental Health Help Might

  1. Rafael says:

    $430,000 annual salary for CEO of a “Non Profit” is excessive. I fully agree with the premise of this article that so muth of the money spent to help the homeless is WASTED!

  2. Jeff Hall says:

    Wow, somebody talking common sense!

    It’s so rare these days, it’s a bit jolting when it appears.

    Of course mental health is part of the solution, as are temporary and cost-effective shelters. We need to give these individuals purpose, including a productive task they can perform for few hours each day, rewarded by food and shelter. We must reintegrate these the homeless back into society.

    The ones with mental health issues, or drug or alcohol issues that are so serious the person is menacing or dangerous or incapable of sustaining himself/herself should, alas, be checked in for treatment, even if involuntarily. This might sound harsh, but leaving people on the sidewalk unhelped for years at a time is what’s really harsh.

  3. CC Fischer says:

    The lack of accountability for these salary farm non-profits, counting checks on a clipboard denoting “encounters” with houseless individuals as real substantive work and the manner they are contracted less for professionalism and more to build the ideological power blocs of politicians, has doomed efforts to failure.

  4. M says:

    Very good reporting and the responses make sense. Much more sense than anything proposed by people in charge of the homeless situation.

  5. Jim McCashin II says:

    “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Democrats think that everything can be solved by throwing money at it and of course raising taxes to pay for it. No thought of how the money taken from taxpayers should best be used or a system of accountability for its use. What is in the Kool-Aid that California voters seem to keep drinking?

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