A mayor in Southern California thinks the state’s “housing first” strategy for dealing with the homeless and drug crises is making things worse and impeding local efforts to find solutions. He would be aware since he had firsthand experience.
“[T]he state has said housing first is it, when it seems to only be working for a very small percentage of people and then anything else can’t get state funds or county funds,” Escondido’s Republican Mayor Dane White, who once was homeless and battled drug addiction himself, told Fox News Digital.
In the past ten years, the average number of persons living on the streets in downtown San Diego has increased dramatically from 548 to 1,906 people.
At the end of 2022, White, an Escondido native of the sixth generation, was elected as the town’s youngest mayor. He explained how he decided to run for government as a result of his own violent encounter with a homeless person.
“I got assaulted, and not just assaulted —he threatened to kill me six times while chasing me angrily through a parking lot. He admitted to all of it, and he didn’t even get arrested. He got a ticket, and then the case was just dropped entirely. I couldn’t believe it,” White said.
“I was stunned because you hear stories like that in California and think there’s no way that that could be true. But it is. Literally, nobody cares. And it was time for somebody else to just step up and at least care a little bit,” he added.
White has a unique viewpoint on how to deal with the homelessness and addiction issues that plague his state because of his personal experience. Before attending rehab and making a complete 180, he struggled with heroin addiction for several years while living on the streets.
“I was actually first introduced to drugs when I was 11 or 12 here in Escondido, and that’s part of the reason I was sent to boarding school. Then got back into drugs and alcohol my senior year when I was out of boarding school. Basically from the time I was 17 to 21, in and out of homelessness. I was in the foster care system briefly. It wasn’t until a judge mandated I go to rehab that I went to rehab and that was in Utah. I actually came back to San Diego, then checked into a rehab here, and that’s ultimately what turned things around,” he explained.
The municipal mayor rejects the “one-size-fits-all approach” that state authorities have suggested as a remedy, such as relying primarily on “low-barrier” shelters and adopting “housing first” policies.
According to White, low-barrier shelters accept individuals as they are and even allow drug users to get high there, whereas high-barrier shelters demand that residents be sober, clean, and looking for work in order to stay.
“The state of California says that everything we do has to be a low barrier,” he explained.
He recognised that although he has “no problem” with low-barrier programmes and gave an example of his personal use of one, he was in a better position than many because he has family support. To escape their drug-dependent lifestyles, “a lot” of people need institutions with greater structure and accountability, according to White.
“They need structure. They need that rigidness. They need accountability, and we’re not allowed to give it to them, not with state funds anyway,” he said.
According to a recent survey, the Golden State is home to about one-third of all homeless people nationwide. As the primary answer to the issue, White believes Democratic leaders have placed too much focus on housing when it actually only seems to affect “a very small percentage of people.”
“For Escondido, homelessness is mostly tied to drug and alcohol addiction; throughout the state, that might vary,” he said. White thinks state leaders have “politicized” the issue and need to be more open to taking different approaches to treat the crisis.
” I think it’s absolutely politicized. They politicized it to the point that we’re totally willing to just watch people rot in their own filth and misery on the side of the road. And then those of us who want to do something different than what the state says must be done, are vilified and made out to be these evil creatures who don’t have any of the right answers when truthfully, there isn’t one standard response for this particular issue,” White said.
The Escondido City Council has been “left to do this on their own” because they disagree with the state’s strategy, he claimed. Before asking the county or the state for assistance, White thinks that cities around the state should start looking out for themselves and collaborating with neighbourhood organisations.
White stated that his objective as mayor is to move half of the homeless people into shelters in the upcoming year, which he believes is doable with the right financial support.
The mayor, however, believes that if state authorities stick with their current course, the crisis will not get better.
“So until a state like California is open to multiple solutions, we’re just going to continue to see the numbers get worse and worse… It grows every year. And not just the number of homeless people, the number of people addicted to drugs, the number of people with a mental health crisis… It all goes up because we take this one-size-fits-all approach,” he argued.
Statewide Democratic leaders could be beginning to get the message.
Last Monday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed put out a proposal to make welfare claimants submit to required drug testing and treatment programmes. Breed claimed that this was necessary because more “accountability” was required.
“We fund a wide range of services, and we want to help people get the care they need but under current state law, local government lacks tools to compel people into treatment. This initiative aims to create more accountability and help get people to accept the treatment and services they need,” Breed said in a statement.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decisions, according to Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, have “paralysed” state officials from removing homeless encampments.
In Grants Pass, Oregon, a local anti-camping rule that forbade people from staying on public property was recently declared unconstitutional by the court. The case developed on the earlier Martin v. City of Boise decision, which forbade prosecuting persons for sleeping in public places where there weren’t enough beds available.
To “clarify” local and state governments’ capacities to address the homelessness epidemic, the Democrat filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the case.
“These courts have stretched Martin’s reasonable limit into an unsurmountable roadblock, preventing cities and towns from imposing commonsense time and place restrictions to keep streets safe and to move those experiencing homelessness into shelter,” Newsom’s amicus brief states. “California’s elected officials who seek in good faith to improve what often appears to be an intractable crisis have found themselves without options, forced to abandon efforts to make the spaces occupied by unhoused people safer.”
Progressive groups criticised the two Democrats for opposing these decisions.