Saturday, July 11, 2009

Progressive mythology on homelessness

What's remarkable about San Francisco's political left is how insulated they are from reality on important issues. Once their mythology on an issue is set in place, nothing from the real world can penetrate an impermeable ideological barrier. 

The homeless issue is the most dramatic instance of this. Gavin Newsom was branded as a meanie for putting Care Not Cash on the ballot way back in 2002, and none of the considerable evidence of the success of that initiative---and his other initiatives on homelessness---has altered that prog view of Newsom and the homeless issue.

Tim Redmond, political editor of the Bay Guardian, is a reliable guardian, so to speak, of the left's official doctrine on homelessness. Redmond plays defense against last week's NY Times story that featured Mayor Newsom:

The Times uses his[Newsom's] implementation of Care Not Cash as an example---the program, the magazine says, "essentially ended direct payments to homeless people and put the money into service agencies instead." Not exactly true---Newsom ended direct payments to homeless people, but the "care" part of the package was never really there. And it's all gone in this latest budget. That's not tough love---it's just tough.

Actually, the reporter's characterization of Care Not Cash is exactly right, as a report last year from the city controller's office made clear:

Since July 2006, Care Not Cash has been responsible for adding 1,321 units to the City's affordable housing portfolio for the homeless, or 60 percent of the 2,317 units in the Housing First Program...At its inception, Care Not Cash added ten hotels, providing 684 additional units to the City's stock of housing available to San Francisco's homeless. In 2005, the total increased to 13 hotels providing 911 units, and in 2006, Care Not Cash's additions topped out with a total of 17 hotels and 1,321 additional units (pages 11-12).

And there was this interesting note in the controller's report:

Statistics show that there are far fewer homeless CAAP[County Adult Assistance Program] recipients than there were before the implementation of Care Not Cash in May 2004 (642 in December 2007 compared to 2,632 in December 2003). The fact that the majority of this caseload decline happened shortly after Care Not Cash reduced cash grants for homeless clients seems to indicate that the program's initiation is largely responsible for the decline (pages 9-10).

Yes, indeed. About 1,000 of the homeless who were receiving large cash grants from the city every month simply disappeared after Care Not Cash began. The city promised to do a study to find out what happened to these folks, but apparently it never happened, probably because of the inherent difficulty of tracing people who drop out. But it's safe to say that most of them were either outright scammers or the homeless who wanted only "cash," not "care."

See also last year's Grand Jury report on homelessness.

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