NY Times reports on the 'backlash' to homelessness in California

The NY Times published a story about homelessness in California today but the framing of the story is a bit odd. It’s headlined, “As Homelessness Surges in California, So Does a Backlash.” The rule for progressive outlets is always the same: If the story helps Democrats then it’s a story. If the story might help Republicans then the reaction to the story is the story. So here, instead of writing a straight piece about how the homeless are causing a rise in crime in San Francisco, you get a story about “backlash” in which the homeless are the victims. Here’s how it opens:

Insults like “financial parasites” and “bums” have been directed at them, not to mention rocks and pepper spray. Fences, potted plants and other barriers have been erected to keep them off sidewalks. Citizen patrols have been organized, vigilante style, to walk the streets and push them out.

California may pride itself on its commitment to tolerance and liberal values, but across the state, record levels of homelessness have spurred a backlash against those who live on the streets.

The subtext here is that even liberal, tolerant people are getting annoyed by the situation. A homeless activist in Los Angeles clarifies that even some who are “very left of center,” are unhappy:

“Some people who I’d put in the fed-up category, they’re not bad people,” he continued. “They would describe themselves as left of center, and sometimes very left of center, but at some point they reach the breaking point.”…

“I think those of us in the service-provider community always knew we weren’t going to solve the problem,” said Mr. Maceri of the People Concern. “But I think the expectation was we were going to make a significant dent. So on the one hand, the message is we have all these resources to quote-unquote solve this problem. And what the general public sees is, it’s not getting solved, it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

He’s right about things not improving. The count of homeless people was up this year along the west coast despite cities like San Francisco spending hundreds of millions of dollars to combat it.

In addition to the public’s (accurate) sense that a lot of money is being spent with little result, there’s also the constant disinformation coming from professional homeless activists. As the LA Times pointed out recently, activists always downplay the degree to which this is largely a problem about mental health and drug abuse. As a result, people see behavior taking place in the streets that is rarely reflected by their representatives and often tut-tutted in newspapers. This creates a sense that no one is addressing the problem as it actually exists for homeowners and businesses. To the Times’ credit, some of that frustration does get voiced by Paneez Kosarian. Kosarian made news in August after she was attacked by a deranged homeless man with a history of drug abuse.

Ms. Kosarian and others cite city estimates that half of the homeless people in San Francisco have substance abuse issues, and say the crisis is being misdiagnosed as purely a lack of housing. Mayor London Breed announced this month that San Francisco would begin enforcing a state law that makes it easier to force mentally ill people off the streets.

“This is definitely a more complicated definition than just homelessness,” Ms. Kosarian said. “Even during the daytime, I fear walking alone.”

The story also quotes property developer Gene Gorelick who is fed up with the crime:

Mr. Gorelik said he saw a connection between the 90 homeless encampments in Oakland and crime. His construction sites have been burglarized nine times, he said, and his car has been broken into twice.

A woman being attacked outside her apartment. A man’s car and businesses being broken into repeatedly. These are examples of the many other business owners and homeowners who have been robbed or had altercations with homeless people. That’s not to mention the feces in the street, the used drug needles in public parks, and public transportation and sidewalks that have become illegal campsites. Why is it necessary to frame all of this as part of a backlash instead of a story of people being victimized by crime associated with the homeless?

As is often the case these days, there is a divide between the comments recommended by Times readers and the ones recommended by Times’ staff. Here’s the top comment recommended by readers:

This article misses a key distinction that we Californians make. Californians have all the empathy in the world for those who we call the homeless – those who lost their homes to foreclosure, disasters, layoffs, or runaway medical expenses. Many have jobs, but can’t muster thousands of dollars of cash for a security deposit. They are people who want to get back on their feet, but can’t because of runaway housing prices. We want to do all we can to help these people get out of their cars and tents and back into a home.

Californians are fed up with vagrants, which are a completely different problem than the homeless. Vagrants actively seek to live outside the rules and confines of society to use drugs and alcohol. Many have mental illnesses that they are self-medicating – a treatment they choose over going into the system and using resources to stabilize and reintegrate. Californians are fed up with those who CHOOSE homelessness, even when offered services to help them get back on their feet. When the city or county clears our camps, they bring social workers to help enroll vagrants in services designed to get them in their feet. A great majority refuse, and move on to their next location. It is vagrants that Californians are done with and that we have no solution for, not the homeless.

Times’ staff selected a response to this comment but I’ll spare you.

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