AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Millions of Americans across the country are emerging from the pandemic to find their streets filled with tent cities, drug needles, and, in some cases, human feces. In fact, since the pandemic began, homeless encampments and slums have exploded in size following a series of progressive-led initiatives. While many liberal media outlets have attempted to downplay these concerns and shift blame, voters are increasingly skeptical of Democrats’ ability to solve the crisis. Across the nation, Democrat politicians are increasingly concerned that the problem is weighing the party down—as voters of all political stripes are asking how it is possible that our greatest cities have been overrun with homeless camps.
There is no one single reason for the steady increase of the urban homeless population in public parks and spaces from coast-to-coast–but the evidence suggests that a series of progressive policy decisions have been the driving factor.
While deinstitutionalization efforts in the 1970s and 80’s directly led to a rise in homeless populations, the overall rate of homeless individuals had been declining nationally in recent years. Then, in 2018, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that “the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause prohibited cities from penalizing people for sleeping outside when they lack access to indoor shelter or long-term housing.” This made it largely illegal for police or social workers to remove encampments or assist homeless individuals who refused to move. In conjunction with progressive efforts to increase illegal immigration and the release of thousands of prisoners from state prisons, this new ruling led to an explosion of homeless tent cities across California.
Throughout the country, even areas that were more equipped to handle homelessness were hobbled by pandemic CDC guidance that demanded cities allow “people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are” if there’s no place to house them. The rationale for this guidance was that, should the homeless be dispersed, they may carry COVID into surrounding areas.
Even as vaccines became readily available and COVID rates began to decline, homeless encampments in left-leaning cities continued to expand. Journalist and author Michael Shellenberger, a former California homeless advocate, believes that liberal leaders in major cities are directly responsible for creating and exacerbating many of the issues urbanites now face. In his latest book “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” he reveals that, between 2015 and 2018, San Francisco had to replace 300 lampposts that had been so corroded by urine that one collapsed and destroyed a vehicle.
Shellenberger also argues that San Francisco’s many liberal policies aimed at helping the homeless actually exacerbate the problem significantly. He refers to this as “pathological altruism,” pointing to things like the fact that homeless individuals are given over $300 a month with no strings attached, “safe injecting zones” for heroin addicts, and cities’ refusal to prosecute or even arrest people for shoplifting. As noted by columnist George Will:
“An “advocate,” says: “We can’t end overdoses until we end poverty until we end racism.” So, in 2020, the city put up two billboards promoting the safe use of hard drugs (heroin, fentanyl): “Change it up. Injecting drugs has the highest risk of overdose, so consider snorting or smoking instead.” “Try not to use alone. Do it with friends. Use with people and take turns.” Last year, however, San Francisco did ban smoking in apartments.”
Instead of acknowledging the fact that these programs clearly are, at minimum, less effective than originally thought, liberals are pivoting. They instead blame the homeless problem on a lack of affordable homes. While cities like New York and Chicago have large and comprehensive shelters, California’s “Housing First” advocates are aggressively opposed. Instead, they demand the city provide free houses to the homeless, with no stipulations that recipients are tested for drug use or even obey the law.
These radical policies are already starting to affect elections. Earlier this month, for example, Republicans won several races for local government in New York City, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans seven to one in the Big Apple. One of the biggest causes for the success cited by Republicans was “dissatisfaction with quality-of-life issues such as homelessness and crime,” which made even some Democrats break ranks and vote red. In Denver, Democrats predict homelessness will be the “No. 1” issue in the upcoming mayoral election. Even in far-left California, experts predicted that if Newsom was recalled earlier this fall, his failure to address the homeless crisis would be the reason why.
Some Democratic leaders, likely recognizing the political disaster this issue could become, are beginning to address it. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has begun clearing homeless encampments and relocating the homeless to hotels and low-income apartments. Los Angles is making a similar move, but is already facing stiff pushback from progressive media outlets for “playing politics.” The fact that these homeless encampments have been overrun with drugs, disease, and sexual assault is not acknowledged in these criticisms. But even if progressive leaders do make efforts to clean up their streets, it may prove to be too little, too late.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.