The media has been writing and speaking a great deal the last year about how the California economy has improved and how the unemployment rate is going down. Unfortunately, the streets of the cities in Sonoma County present a contradictory picture. The Press Democrat has been running numerous articles on the plight of homeless people and the services available in Sonoma County. Catholic Charities, which does much good work, recently sent out a fund raising letter asking for money to support their programs. The letter described some of the people who are living on the street which included a double amputee.
As you travel around Sonoma County, especially in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, it is impossible to ignore the numbers of people living on the streets. Our county is starting to resemble a third world country.
A contributing factor to the homeless situation is the result of Prop 47 which was passed in the last election. Non violent offenses such as drug and property crimes were changed from felonies to misdemeanors. This of course saves the state money because of the fewer number of people in jail. However, the results on the streets are anything but positive and much more costly.
Proposition 47 was passed by voters on November 4, 2014. It recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized. Many of these nonviolent offenses include shoplifting, writing bad checks and drug possession. The measure included exceptions for offenses involving more than $950 and criminals with records including violence or sex offenses.
One of the results of the passage of Proposition 47 is that close to 4,000 inmates have been released from prison. Many of those released have no job and are barely able to survive on government assistance. Many are still drug offenders who do not have to take part in mandated treatment programs. As these people leave prison, they will gravitate to areas where they can easily access government services and where they are able to live whatever way they want. Since many of their offenses are now classified as misdemeanors, they are not being arrested because the police know arresting these lawbreakers is a waste of time since there is virtually no punishment and no chance for drug treatment.
Proposition 47 was supposed to reallocate resources since money was being saved by the state since there were less inmates in prison. However, the cost of law enforcement has just been shifted to local police departments. Some groups, such as the ACLU believe that those who link Proposition 47 and crime were “making irresponsible and inaccurate statements.”
We also have the possibility of a ballot initiative in November put forward by Governor Brown that would change a law mandating strict sentences for the most serious crimes. Rather than change sentencing policy, the proposal would allow correction officials to more easily award credits toward early release based on an inmate’s good behavior, efforts to rehabilitate or participation in prison education programs. There is much argument about this proposal. If it passes, could such an initiative increase the homeless problem in the state? These are all issues that should be studied and considered.
Contrary to the statements from Governor Brown and President Obama, the unemployment rate in this country and especially in California is not doing great. It is going down in certain areas and specific industries. Many people have stopped looking for work and are no longer counted in the statistics. Consider the number of companies that have moved to other states because of the crazy business regulations in California. The tax structure in the United States regarding businesses is also against companies staying in the country.
According to a 2015 article in Public News Service, California has 21% of the country’s homeless population. That is almost a quarter of the nation’s homeless people in California. The majority live in Los Angeles but in the Silicon Valley, 4500 people live on the streets or in encampments each night.
There are many causes of the homeless situation in California which of course filter down to the counties. Governor Brown is intent on allowing people into California who are not citizens and in fact are here illegally. These people do take jobs, housing and public benefits. Very often legal residents are affected by people coming into the state illegally.
The state legislature is discussing and considering legislation that would deal with the issue of homelessness throughout the state. Watch for this legislation when it is introduced.
Cities like Santa Rosa need to decide how they are going to manage the problem of people living on the streets or in makeshift dwellings. Instead of focusing on reuniting Courthouse Square Santa Rosa might want to focus on a program that deals with housing, job training, legal guidelines and public safety. After all, isn’t public safety the first responsibility of government?
This whole issue reminds us again of how important it is for voters to pay attention to who they vote for. Elections have consequences.
John Myers, Los Angeles Times, 1/27/16
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service, 11/27/15
Justin Fox, Bloomberg View, 3/4/16