Just before the holidays, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson issued an annual report on homelessness nationwide in which he called on state and local leaders on the West Coast to address the issue with "crisis-like urgency."
While many homeless advocates have contended that homelessness is a national epidemic driven by problems of widespread drug abuse, poor mental health care, and income inequality, Carson cites data that shows homelessness decreasing in 29 states and the District of Columbia as evidence that this is a locally driven crisis.
He points to this year's point-in-time homeless census counts which found a 16.4-percent uptick in the number of homeless in California (or 21,306 people), and overall number of homeless people in the state is 22.5 percent higher than it was nine years ago. Across the country, the number of homeless was nearly 568,000 according to the biennial counts, a 2.8 percent increase over estimates made in 2018, but an 11 percent decrease since 2010. In San Francisco, the increase was about in line with the state's, with a 17-percent uptick since the last count in 2017 — though local data suggests the real number could be much higher still.
Carson also noted that the number of homeless veterans was on the decline — down 2 percent from 2018, and 50 percent over the last decade, though no mention is made in his report of how much attrition there was from deaths of older veterans.
"As we look across our nation, we see great progress, but we're also seeing a continued increase in street homelessness along our West Coast where the cost of housing is extremely high," Carson said in a statement. "In fact, homelessness in California is at a crisis level and needs to be addressed by local and state leaders with crisis-like urgency. Addressing these challenges will require a broader, community-wide response that engages every level of government to compassionately house our fellow citizens who call the streets their home."
President Trump has used the homeless crisis to attack California Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, and he took up the homelessness report in a tweet on December 29 specifically attacking the House Speaker. Fox News used that as an excuse to get Ben Carson on the air for comment, and Carson diplomatically said that "the homeless crisis is not a partisan issue."
The ability of people to easily live outdoors year-round in California is a constantly ignored piece of the conversation around homelessness — though if California were a Republican-led state, that would certainly be the excuse that would be repeated on Fox News.
Instead, Carson turns this into a partisan issue, using "regulations" as his dogwhistle for why Democrat-led California is too expensive to live in for some people, and pointing to those as a major root cause for the homeless problem in San Francisco and elsewhere in the state.
Still, the Chronicle's Editorial Board decided to give Carson credit for calling out the state of California in an editorial on Christmas Eve:
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California officials don’t tend to appreciate advice from the Trump administration, which based on its record so far seems more likely to play the state’s troubles for political gain than to make any constructive attempt to address them. That said, Carson is right: The state’s response to homelessness isn’t equal to the human disaster at hand...
Beyond legislation to speed development, the state’s rampant homelessness calls for reform on the order of the right-to-shelter policy backed by the leaders of Newsom’s task force on the issue — though not, so far, by Newsom himself. Anything less will enable more demagoguery and suffering.
Newsom's office responded on December 26 pointing to this story in the Desert Sun from earlier in the month about how Newsom has just allocated $650 million in homeless funding directly to counties and cities despite Carson's department dragging its feet all year long in certifying the point-in-time counts, which were done in January and released between June and July.
"They are weaponizing and politicizing this issue," Newsom said of the Trump administration, "so we will work around them and provide 75% of the funding while we wait for HUD to verify the count numbers." Carson's report, with certification of the numbers, arrived late on the Friday before Christmas.