The 'Inspirational' Golden State | Opinion

President Joe Biden appears to be looking to California for policy inspiration. This bodes ill for Americans.

California, a beautiful land graced by mild weather, lost population last year for the first time in its 170-year history as a state. That 80,000 residents are fleeing annually to Texas, where summers are markedly less enjoyable, speaks volumes about California's craptacular governance.

Corporations are also leaving in droves. Oracle and Hewlett Packard Enterprise packed their bags for Texas late last year, and Tesla is building its newest Gigafactory outside of Austin. They follow on the heels of Charles Schwab, Toyota and McKesson.

California's lawmakers remain unperturbed by the effects to the state coffers, squandering ungodly amounts of taxpayer money on ineffectual programs like it is their birthright.

One such area of conspicuous failure is homelessness. It torments nearly every region throughout the state.

California's homeless population exploded over the past five years. Yet the state continues to double down on its one-size-fits-all policy approach—Housing First—that was instituted in 2016 based on the theory that housing alone will heal the ills of those struggling with homelessness.

A recent study by the UCLA Policy Lab shows that 75 percent of the homeless struggle with Substance Abuse Disorders (SUDs) while 78 percent suffer from mental illness. It is no surprise that homelessness increased by 16.4 percent under Housing First given that three-quarters of the homeless have issues that cannot be addressed by a mere roof.

Still, "more affordable housing" is the sole cry of California policy makers who, ironically, have unsuccessfully struggled for two years on how to best address the cost and regulatory barriers to its increased production. They blame a lack of affordable housing as the primary reason for the dramatic increase in homelessness in California (and throughout the nation).

California homelessness
A woman walks past tents for the homeless lining a street in Los Angeles, California, on February 1, 2021. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Given that rural homelessness has also soared throughout the country—National Public Radio cited an 11 percent increase in the number of homeless children and their families, in the 2016-17 school year (over the 2013-14 school year)— it simply doesn't hold up.

Some believe the explosion in homelessness is weather-driven. The sidewalk in Los Angeles over the winter months is more tenable than a sidewalk in New York City. However, this theory is easily debunked as NYC is ranked No. 1 in homeless Americans.

And some believe it is a lack of government spending. Funding has more than doubled in both New York and California over the past five years, while the ranks of homeless have continued to swell.

California's struggle with homelessness is, foremost, a policy issue. Not only has overall homelessness increased under Housing First, 70 percent of California's homeless are now unsheltered—the highest percentage in the nation. The sad but familiar irony is that Housing First was established to specifically address "the street homeless."

In government, nothing succeeds like failure.

Viewing housing as the primary solution to homelessness is akin to building a hospital, then removing the doctors, then removing the medicine, until all you have left is beds. This is the essence, and failure, of the Housing First approach.

The materialistic focus on a roof also means that taxpayers underwrite subsidized-for-life housing for tens of thousands of Californians who, once healed and provided with proper tools and incentives, could provide for themselves. Many programs across the country have proven this to be possible.

Not to be deterred by continued failure, California lawmakers have now introduced a bill, AB 71, a corporate income tax to raise an additional $2.4 billion Housing First funding for homelessness. This is in addition to Governor Gavin Newsom's recent request of President Biden to supplement his latest Housing First initiative called Project Homekey. If approved, this additional corporate tax will not only accelerate the flight of California employers, even more billions of dollars will be spent to fund failure.

In 2019, California residents cited the homelessness crisis as the No. 1 issue facing the state. COVID-19 has sidelined this to some degree, though temporarily. With the recall effort now nipping at Newsom's heels, he must get serious about addressing the underlying reasons behind the state's homelessness crisis—and heed the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Money often costs too much."

Chuck DeVore and Michele Steeb are former Californians who moved to Texas.

Chuck DeVore served in the California State Assembly from 2004 to 2010 and is now a vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Michele Steeb led a nonprofit women's shelter in Sacramento for 12 years and is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.