Allowing large numbers of people to sleep, eat, and defecate outside of designated campgrounds is not safe and robs them of their dignity. Homeless encampments overflow with dirty needles, feces, and rats, making them breeding grounds for diseases including typhus, tuberculosis, and hepatitis A.
The crisis is worsening. The number of homeless people in LA increased from 52,765 in 2018 to 58,936. Homelessness increased by 43% in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, and 17% in San Francisco. Deaths on the street rose 76% in LA and 75% in Sacramento over the last five years. Murders and rapes involving the homeless increased by 13% and 61% between 2017 and 2018. And 2019 data show that both deaths and homicides are continuing to rise rapidly.
Homelessness is far deadlier than natural disasters. Ten times more people will die on LA’s street in 2019 (~1,000) than died in the deadly 2018 forest fires (103). Over a three year period, more people will die on the streets of LA than died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake.
Assaults on the homeless are rising. On August 7, three men beat a 59-year-old man to death with a pipe for no apparent reason. On August 26, somebody burned a homeless musician to death by setting his tent on fire. And one day earlier, two men set fire to a homeless encampment that then raged out of control.
Assaults by the homeless are rising. Most are random and impulsive. In April, a man stabbed a 35-year-old father in the neck who was holding his five-year-old daughter on his lap. In May, a man beat a 62-year-old woman to death with an electric scooter in broad daylight, with no apparent motive. In July, a man sexually assaulted a disabled 87-year-old grandmother.
Social scientists believe the extreme stress of homelessness and drug addiction is making otherwise nonviolent people violent. Of the 12 homeless individuals suspected of violent crime in Los Angeles, CBS found that none had criminal pasts. “A squabble over space for a tent can escalate into assault with a deadly weapon,” said the head of homeless outreach for the LA police.
In Los Angeles and San Francisco, a growing number of residents are afraid to leave their homes and simply walk past homeless encampments. “The longer we leave people on the streets the more danger all of us are in,” says Rev. Andy Bales, who runs Union Rescue Mission. Bales lost his lower leg to flesh-eating bacterial infection resulting from his work for the homeless on Skid Row.
Homelessness has become a human rights crisis. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights last year condemned California’s response to homelessness as “cruel and inhuman.”
The problem is that, so long as there is no temporary or permanent shelter available to homeless people, it is unethical and, in many circumstances, illegal to prevent people from sleeping outdoors, even when doing so poses a threat to themselves and to others. As a result, LA alone wastes roughly $40 million per year on clean up operations that only last a few hours and fail to clean up human waste.
The time for half measures has passed. The growing number of people without shelter in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, San Diego, and other cities threatens public health and safety.
At this point, the federal government should quarantine California for both disease and general degeneracy.