About 171,000 people living in California are homeless, a total that, stunningly, accounts for nearly one-third of all the homeless people in the United States.
This growing problem is hard to miss: Camps are sprawling across sidewalks in some places and are overwhelming public parks in others. And there are 40,000 more homeless people in the state now than there were six years ago.
That’s made California a target for Republican critics who point to encampments in San Francisco and Los Angeles as proof of failed liberal policies. But it’s also led to increasing frustration among liberal voters and elected officials in California, who have begun to criticize progressive policies and court rulings that have thwarted the removal of camps.
In a surprising move, the Sacramento County district attorney sued the City of Sacramento yesterday, claiming that the city authorities were not doing enough to remove homeless people from the streets.
District Attorney Thien Ho said that lax enforcement of city ordinances had left homeless people to suffer in squalor, and neighboring residents to endure hazards and threats of violence. City officials pushed back, saying they had been limited in their ability to clear encampments and had already stiffened enforcement of local laws governing critical infrastructure, private property and access to sidewalks.
The lawsuit filed this week, by a Democratic prosecutor against a Democrat-led city, is the latest sign of just how much the frustrations around homelessness are bubbling over in California, as my colleague Shawn Hubler and I reported yesterday. You can read our full article here.
In recent months, Mayor London Breed of San Francisco and Gov. Gavin Newsom have pointed to homeless camps as a sign of society’s increasing dysfunction. Newsom has successfully placed a measure on the March 2024 ballot that will ask voters to direct more money into housing and treatment for homeless people.
“People’s lives are at risk,” Newsom said in a Sacramento forum held last week by Politico. “It’s unacceptable, what’s happening on streets and sidewalks. Compassion is not stepping over people on the streets.”
The governor has also ramped up his criticism of federal judges who have ruled that people have a right to camp if cities fail to house them. Last week, Newsom went as far as to say that he hoped a 2018 ruling on the matter made it to the Supreme Court, so that justices on the conservative-leaning bench could make it easier for states like California to remove encampments legally, or at least could provide more clarity on what was legal. “That’s a hell of a statement for a progressive Democrat,” he said.
Homelessness in California is particularly visible; in a state like New York, residents without permanent housing typically live indoors because of right-to-shelter laws. But here, more than 115,000 of those 170,000 Californians sleep on the streets, in cars, in tents or outdoors, according to a federal tally of homelessness conducted last year.
That proliferation of encampments across California in recent years has made it so that politicians can’t ignore homelessness, said Daniel Conway, a lead proponent of a successful Sacramento ballot measure last year to increase shelter beds and remove encampments. “Now it’s become something where policymakers can’t go to the grocery store without somebody stopping them and saying, ‘Guess what my kid saw on the street,’” he said.
And the problem is particularly acute in Sacramento.
Between 2020 and 2022, the number of homeless people in Sacramento County increased by 68 percent, to 9,278, according to the latest federal data. By comparison, San Diego County’s homeless population increased by 10 percent, and Los Angeles County’s by 2 percent. Sacramento County now has more homeless residents than San Francisco.
“Across the nation, Sacramento was one of the places where homelessness grew the most,” said Marisol Cuellar Mejia, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, which analyzed the data.
If you read one story, make it this
The 50 restaurants in the U.S. that we’re most excited about right now.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Janice Gagerman, who lives in Chico. Janice recommends Lassen Volcanic National Park:
“Lassen is my favorite spot for hiking and camping. We took our kids camping during the Perseids meteor shower this summer, with spectacular views from 6,000 feet up. We also went snow shoeing.
We’re glad it’s off the beaten path, and so has fewer visitors than other mountain areas. Hiking on top of Lassen, one can see Mt. Shasta as if it were a stone’s throw away.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Tonight, 50 years after his opening-night performance, Neil Young will once again step onto the stage at the Roxy Theater to honor the venerable West Hollywood club’s 50th anniversary, The Orange County Register reports.
The Roxy, founded by the record producer Lou Adler and the club owner Elmer Valentine as a dream for a high-level, dignified performance venue that spotlights up-and-comers, came onto the scene in 1973 with a bang. Young played the club the first three nights it was open, followed in the club’s first year by headliners like Jerry Lewis, the Temptations and Frank Zappa, and later, by popular comedic acts and the first American run of “The Rocky Horror Show.”
Now a half-century later, the Roxy, which is still under the ownership of Adler, and his son, will celebrate 50 years on Sunset Boulevard with performances by Young and Crazy Horse tonight and tomorrow night. A “Roxy 50” performance series featuring musical artists from myriad genres will follow through the rest of the fall.
The Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles has also put together a companion exhibition displaying photographs of famous Roxy performances as well as the club’s white piano. It runs through early 2024. And the West Hollywood Library has joined in on the celebration, too, with a photographic exhibition that will show through May.