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California’s Most Magnificent Homelessness Failure

The Golden State leads the way in bureaucratic incompetence.

Every once in a while, a political story lands that cuts through the partisan divide and exposes itself as the quintessential paradigm of what is wrong at the heart of government. Corruption is often dismissed as the price of having politicians; dishonesty is deemed pervasive but predictable. Still, the two most cardinal sins of a bureaucracy that seeks to administer our very experience of life are incompetence and apathy. Both of these have been exposed in California’s efforts to mitigate the growing homelessness crisis within its borders.

The Fix Is in for Homelessness

A new report by the state auditors covering fiscal years 2018 to 2023 – released April 9 – found that around $24 billion of taxpayer funds spent on fixing the rampant vagrancy that afflicts the state didn’t really do much of anything. In fact, the auditors concluded that the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal ICH) – the outfit responsible for doling out the cash and coordinating agencies – stopped tracking the results of the expenditure in 2021.

So not only did the cash not achieve the desired results, the responsible agency decided to stop even quantifying what results there were! The cherry on top of this particularly poor-tasting cake is – according to the report – that Cal ICH did not even evaluate the data it did collect.

The Cost of Failure

Let’s consider the numbers for a moment. California spent roughly $24 billion to fix or ameliorate a problem for which it is well known – indeed, it is by a huge measure the worst place in the nation for vagrancy. According to USAFacts, “California had the highest number of people experiencing homelessness of any state: 181,399.”

If the bureaucratic behemoth that administers the splurge of taxpayer funds had just doled out the cash directly, each homeless person would have received more than $130,000.

Would this have solved homelessness in the Golden State? Not entirely. But it would have made more of an impact for those who are homeless due to financial issues. It could have provided funds to start new lives elsewhere in the United States, where that kind of money goes a long, long way. Instead, it appears good money was sent after bad, and the administrators figuratively closed their eyes and stopped looking at what – if any – impact the taxpayer largesse was having.

Lessons Most Certainly Not Learned

State Sen. Dave Cortese, the Democratic lawmaker who initially asked for the report, responded: “Unfortunately, there is a balkanized approach to data collection and outcomes, with no centralized system for tracking our investments. This audit underscores the urgent need to establish best practices and create a blueprint for how the State of California and our cities can address our most visible challenge.”

One might consider asking why a “blueprint” was not considered before the expenditure of $24 billion.

An Accountability Deficit

Who will answer for the profligate spending that failed to achieve anything of substance beyond squeezing Golden Staters for more of their hard-earned money? If one has been even partially politically aware over the last few decades, the answer becomes clear: no one. But should Democrats in California have a crisis of conscience and decide to push for answers, they may just be met with a Sir Humphry Appleby-style* response:

“If you ask me for a straight answer, then I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another in terms of the average of departments, then in the final analysis it is probably true to say, that at the end of the day, in general terms, you would probably find that, not to put too fine a point on it, there probably wasn’t very much in it one way or the other as far as one can see, at this stage.”

But then why would any form of accountability be necessary when the political leanings of the state make it almost an impossibility that they will be voted out in the next election?

*Sir Humphry Appleby was a civil servant in the British comedy sitcom Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister.

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