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IN DECEMBER 2008, he still looked young and not as controversial a political figure on a national level. He also enjoyed some popularity for being a progressive ‘star’ on the rise, and had decided to launch a direct communication platform for California voters: YouTube. This was the then mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, who in 2008, using the crudest demagoguery, made a promise he never kept: to end the homeless crisis in one of the Golden State’s most populous cities in ten years.
“We believe fundamentally that food solves hunger, that shelters solves sleep, and that housing solves homelessness and if we are going to solve the problem of those that are out on the street, that we define as homeless, we better solve the housing problem if we are going to have an impact, that’s why we established this framework as we call it a ‘ten year plan to end cronic homelessness in San Francisco'”, Newsom said, almost fourteen years ago, in a video recently resurfaced on social media.
Spoiler alert: Not only could Gavin Newsom not end homelessness in San Francisco by 2018, a decade after his promise, but by 2022, the situation has worsened throughout California under his tenure as governor. Today there are places in California where you can’t even walk. The streets are filled with feces and the smell of marijuana. Insecurity reigns, the housing crisis is growing and the homeless are multiplying in the face of state inoperativeness.
Numbers don’t lie: Gavin Newsom failed miserably
Here are some data that expose the failure of the governor of California to combat the homelessness crisis: of the 15 cities in the US with more homeless per 100,000 inhabitants, California has no more and no less than ten on the list, including the first six: Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Salinas, Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, San Jose — the first six from highest to lowest — Santa Barbara (ninth), San Francisco (eleventh), Turlock (twelfth), Stockton (fourteenth).
Specifically in the case of San Francisco, while the homelessness situation since 2019 has improved slightly statistically — the homeless population decreased by 3.5% reaching up to 7,754 by this 2022 — the reality remains harsh: according to the San Francisco Department of Housing and Supportive Services, as many as 20,000 people could become homeless this year, a number that represents 2.5% of the city’s population.
If you look at the big picture, the numbers are even clearer and starker: since 2011, the city’s homeless population increased by about 35%.
An image is worth a thousand numbers?
And if the numbers aren’t enough to portray Gavin Newsom’s great failure trying to curb the rise of homelessness in San Francisco and all of California, the images are even starker.
“Oakland California sure does have a homeless problem. Driving around town, there’s homeless encampments all over the place. They’re on the side of the roads in dirt lots. There’s long stretches of them on sidewalks. Some of em are tents, some are RVs, some are actual encampments with makeshift structures where hundreds of people gather in communities,” reads a documentary by Nick Johnson posted on YouTube, which already has more than 11 million views.
In downtown LA, in the Skid Row area, the situation is especially alarming. With encampments everywhere and homeless numbers growing noticeably.
In fact, according to the latest official report from the LA Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the number of homeless people in LA County increased by 4.1% since 2020. The count registered no less than 69,144 homeless people in the county and 41,980 in the city.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
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