Criminalizing homelessness solves nothing – Socialist planning could end the crisis

Make-shift shelters on 17th Street in San Diego’s East Village.

Presentation given at the Socialist Unity Party national plenum on Dec. 16, 2023.

Homelessness, housing, prisoners, and the formerly incarcerated are all domestic issues.

According to National Homeless Facts, over half a million people are homeless in the U.S. in 2023. This is a low estimate.

Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis. Here are some statistics on homelessness in the U.S.

  • 43% of the homeless youth are LGBTQ+. Transgender youth homelessness is the worst.
  • 23% of people without housing are children, families, and veterans.
  • 40% of homeless people have disabilities, and 70% are living with mental Illness.

Single adults over 50 now make up half of the homeless population. If nothing changes in the next 15 years, Harvard University estimates that an additional 2.4 million seniors in the U.S. will have no access to affordable housing.

Among the nation’s racial and ethnic groups, Black people have the highest rate of homelessness.

Thirty percent to 50% of the formerly incarcerated on parole have no place to stay, making it more likely that some will go back to prison. Their challenges are tripled when searching for a job, following parole terms and agreements, getting up to date on current events and trends, and reaching out to loved ones for support.  

The unemployment rate for the formerly incarcerated is over 27% — which is higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.

California, New York, Florida, and Washington had the most homeless people in 2022, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report. These four states accounted for more than half of the country’s homeless population, with 30% of the total living in California alone.

It’s been 10 years since thousands of workers and supporters in California joined the nationwide demand to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.

On Jan. 1, 2022, San Diego, California’s hourly minimum wage reached $15. It was recently announced that San Diego’s minimum wage will be $16.85 per hour, effective Jan. 1, 2024.

In San Diego, there are over 10,000 homeless — termed unsheltered people according to the regional task force on homelessness and this number is increasing.

In San Diego, the cost of living is ridiculous.

According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the minimum living wage for a single adult in San Diego is at least $22.31. That means that the current minimum wage is not enough to support a single adult living on their own. A family of four (two adults, two children) in San Diego with one adult working full time needs to earn at least $46.66 per hour for a living wage; with both adults working, each would have to make $30.58 an hour. 

San Diego’s average rents recently surpassed San Francisco’s, making it the most expensive city in the nation.

Many seniors — some on fixed incomes — are homeless because they can no longer afford rent.

The San Diego City Council approved the homeless encampment ban, which bans sleeping in public parks, beaches, downtown, and residential areas. They claim this is for the safety of the unsheltered.

Many feel the current Mayor, Todd Gloria, broke his promise to set up a task force to come up with a plan to help people without housing. Instead, he is criminalizing the homeless by using the police to enforce the encampment ban. What did they expect? 

San Diego started enforcing the homeless encampment law in July of 2023. The law allows officers to jail unhoused people camping in certain locations if they have previously been cited for being homeless.

Todd Gloria explained that many remain on the streets and won’t accept the services that the police are offering. Fines and jail threats can be a “leverage” to force them into shelter.

Local academics researching the homeless crisis have shown that criminalization does not reduce the number of unsheltered people.

There are safety issues with sleeping in public places at night. The coroner logged nearly 588 deaths of homeless people on the streets of San Diego County last year.

The city is developing homeless encampments in designated areas where people stay and keep all their stuff and safe spaces where people can sleep in their cars overnight.

Outside tents and parking spaces for overnight sleeping are what some would see as a good alternative to overnight homeless shelters, where there are many rules, including what you can and cannot bring into the shelter.

The solution to homelessness is complicated, difficult to resolve, and impossible to end in a capitalist system of government. The truth is reducing homelessness just isn’t profitable.

Socialism is the solution to ending homelessness, and here are some reasons why.

Under socialism, people do not fear unemployment, old age, sickness, losing their jobs, rent increases, or losing their homes.

A socialist government plans for the general welfare of all residents. It owns the wealth used for industry. It plans production and seeks to distribute everything according to need.

Only socialism can resolve the homeless, housing, and prison crisis.

We must study socialism. We must fight for socialism.  

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