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Newsom is correct on homelessness. His Republican opponents are dead wrong

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Sometimes, it’s hard being a Democrat these days, if you support the police and want homeless encampments, with their garbage and filth, cleaned up.

The Democratic Party somehow has gotten saddled with being the defund-the-police party, and also the party that refuses to get serious about encampments. Regarding the former, it’s astonishing to me that the Democratic Party should be so associated with anti-police extremists. Supporting the police has always been a bipartisan effort in America; Republicans and Democrats alike believed in strong policing to protect the citizenry from crime. Sadly, with the rise of the “woke” or social-justice movement, bashing and defunding the police has become routine among some Democrats, and Republicans are making hay of it.

The encampment issue is trickier, but here, too, Democrats are on shaky ground. Increasing numbers of people dislike the filth and sordidness of encampments and want them cleaned up or cleared out. This doesn’t mean people don’t feel compassion for the homeless; but there are too many reports that many homeless people choose to live in the streets and parks, and there is a justified resentment that cities are apparently unable to roust them. Citizens see their government losing control of the streets, and they know this is a first step on the downward path.

Republican pollsters, who are very smart, know how to appeal to this resentment. This is why the two main Republican candidates running to replace Gavin Newsom as Governor of California both did the same thing in recent days: They outlined their plans for eliminating camps.

Of the two, Cox’s is by far the more severe: He says he would arrest people who refuse to leave camps when ordered to do so. Both his plan and that of Falconer seem, on the surface, harsher than the one proposed by Newsom, which is essentially to throw huge quantities at money to buy hotels, motels and other existing housing stock, or to erect new modular housing on vacant land.

Falconer’s plan and Cox’s, even more so, appeal to the fed-up-ness of the electorate. I understand that. I’m as fed up as anyone, and I probably have encampments a lot closer to my home than most of you do. At the same time, I recognize that this volatile issue won’t be solved by being emotional. Cox knows he can’t just arrest tens of thousands of homeless people. That doesn’t stop him from saying it, but it’s just cheap rhetoric. Falconer, too, knows that he will need money to pay for his proposal to offer alternative housing to homeless people; thanks to the Boise v. Martin ruling, municipalities can’t eject people from encampments without offering them a roof over their heads, however modest it may be. Falconer won’t, or can’t, say where the money will come from. Newsom already has: from COVID relief funds and from California’s remarkable budget surplus. So Newsom is being honest about the problem, while Falconer isn’t; indeed, if Falconer were honest, his plan would actually be the Newsom plan.

It’s obvious that this homeless situation will require huge amounts of money to solve. I, personally, wish officials would get tougher on the most resistant criminal elements who live in tents and refuse to relocate to shelters even when they’re available. But I recognize that just because citizens are pissed off doesn’t give cities, counties and the State the ability to arrest large numbers of people. That sort of behavior is what I consider Trumpian—fascist, dictatorial and unConstitutional—and it’s why I remain a Democrat, even though sometimes it’s hard.

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