The decade's most triggering comedy
When he was the mayor of San Francisco in 2008, Gavin Newsom announced a ten-year plan to “end chronic homelessness” in the city. This was a big challenge, Newsom said, and that’s why it would take a decade — longer than it took us to land the first men on the moon after Kennedy promised to do so. But after ten years, Newsom insisted, the residents of San Francisco would finally be able to enjoy their city without hordes of junkies and prostitutes and mentally ill vagrants wandering around downtown and defecating on everything. Watch:
In case you missed the logic there, here it is one more time: “Food solves hunger. Shelter solves sleep. And housing solves homelessness.” These are deep insights. I’m surprised he didn’t also point out that dry land solves drowning, breathing solves suffocation, and not having cancer solves cancer. At the time, people living in San Francisco thought that this platform made sense. They didn’t think it was a bunch of meaningless platitudes. They also didn’t ask what it means for shelters to “solve sleep.” Does he think that people with houses don’t sleep? What does that mean exactly? Anyway, they just went with it. Give the guy ten years, they said. “Let him cook,” as the kids say. Pretty soon everyone will have homes and nobody will be sleeping, or something.
But predictably enough, Gavin Newsom’s ten-year plan turned out a lot like Greta Thunberg’s promise that the world would end by 2023. It never materialized, and everyone involved knew it would never materialize. Not that Newsom stuck around for ten years to find out — he became lieutenant governor of California just three years after announcing his big ten-year-plan. And then he moved up to governor in 2019. And through it all, in the hands of Newsom and his deputies, the problem of homelessness in San Francisco — and in California at large — only became progressively worse. And year after year, the residents of San Francisco have heard excuse after excuse for this failure. The excuses kept changing, but one thing remained constant, which is that it was never the politicians’ fault. It’s always someone else’s.
Lately, politicians in the city have settled on a new excuse. They’re blaming federal courts for the homelessness crisis. Here’s San Francisco Mayor London Breed, for example, just a couple of months ago:
So London Breed blames a federal judge for the homelessness problem in the city. And people apparently agree with her, as you saw. More than a decade after Newsom promised to end homelessness, people are cheering for a mayor who’s coming up with excuses for why her party completely failed to do that. The problem, Breed says, is a judge who issued some injunction within the past year. That’s why the plan to end homelessness didn’t work over the past 15 years. By the way, government is the only place where it works this way. It’s the only place where you can go to your boss with an excuse for why you utterly failed to do what you were paid to do, and then get a standing ovation.
To be fair to London Breed, though, a judge did recently issue an injunction against the city, preventing them from removing homeless encampments unless they had shelter beds to house everyone. And yes, that was a dumb ruling. The Ninth Circuit later clarified that the city can remove homeless encampments, as long as the homeless people decline an offer of housing. So that’s something.
But all this legal wrangling is just the latest excuse that people in San Francisco have heard, when they ask why homelessness is still completely out of control. Every year, there’s a new explanation. Last year, for example, Newsom blamed the economy and COVID for why his plan to end homelessness wasn’t actually ending homelessness: “We’re dealing with unprecedented economic contraction, the worst in our lifetimes, induced by a pandemic,” Newsom said. A few years before that, in 2012, Newsom attacked people who pointed out that homelessness was getting worse, saying they were just being cynical and playing politics. Then, speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Newsom defended his 10-year-plan, saying that Michelangelo taught him that it’s better to set a high bar and fail, than to set a low bar and meet it. Of course Michelangelo was talking about artistic pursuits, where that rule may apply. But with politicians, you’d much rather they set out to do simple things and then actually do those things, rather than claim that they are going to do a big thing and instead do nothing at all.
What do we take from this? If you live in California, the message is pretty clear: homelessness is just something you have to deal with. No ten-year-plan, no matter how well funded it is, can possibly solve homelessness. It’s a fact of life. The best you can hope for is helping a few thousand homeless people, as hordes more homeless people arrive. That’s the reality of life in a big city. And if you disagree, Gavin Newsom will tell you that you’re the problem.
That’s why it’s been so interesting to watch what’s been happening in San Francisco over the past few days. This week, San Francisco is hosting the APEC Summit, which will attract business leaders, tourists, and nearly two dozen heads of state, including Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In response, for the first time in a generation, virtually overnight, the city of San Francisco has cleaned the streets. Homeless encampments have been forcibly moved out of sight.
The place looks presentable again — even livable, if you can believe it. Residents are completely stunned. They had no idea anything like this was possible. Watch:
The last question from that guy in the clip is a good one. Why exactly doesn’t the city of San Francisco do this all of the time? Later in that news report, the news station makes it clear that the city isn’t spending any extra money on this clean-up. All the funds are coming out of existing budgets. They could easily be doing this all the time. So why aren’t they?
Another local resident in the SoMa neighborhood had the same question. He told the New York Post, “They’ve cleared out the tents … on Howard Street, which tells me the city had the capability to do this all along — instead they just do the bare minimum.”
Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, echoed that sentiment: “San Francisco has been incredibly clean, beautiful, and safe for the last 3 days … and it is great that the city is able to put its best foot forward for this major event that brings in 40K people from around the world, and $80M to the economy. It is important to ask why the city cannot be this clean and safe every single day?”
Benioff has an especially good reason to ask that question, since he poured roughly $8 million into Prop C in California, which taxed individuals and businesses to promote “homelessness services,” including a lot of nonprofits. What did he get in return for that money? Apparently not much. And that’s not surprising. When you hand Left-wing nonprofits money to fix any social issue — whether it’s homelessness or something more important like microaggressions in the workplace — you don’t actually give them incentives to fix the problem. Instead, you give them incentives to prolong it, so they can bilk more billionaires like Marc Benioff.
What’s the solution then? Well, it turns out that it’s pretty simple. Instead of dumping money into “homelessness services” and nonprofits, all that was needed this whole time was a little willpower.
The San Francisco Chronicle obtained emails from city officials that demonstrate how easy this has been to accomplish, all along. Christopher McDaniels, the city’s superintendent of Street Environmental Services, wrote an email back in September explaining every street that needs to be completely cleared. He wrote, “With APEC coming, I am concerned about historical encampments that are close to priority areas.” McDaniels’ boss added, “we need to stay on top of the growing encampments; do we have a plan?” Within days, according to the Post, “certain areas — including the notorious intersections of Van Ness Avenue and California Street, Hyde and Eddy streets, Taylor and Ellis streets — were cleared of homeless tents.”
Reading all of this, it’s hard not to laugh a little bit when you think about the fact that San Francisco’s bureaucrats managed to make the city look presentable for the leader of communist China. It’s like if your wife makes a point of doing her hair and putting on make-up whenever the pool boy comes to clean the pool. It shows you where her affections lie. San Francisco has revealed itself in the same way. It also kind of makes you wonder how San Francisco might look if Xi Jinping ran it. Does anyone seriously doubt that it would look a lot better than it does under London Breed and Gavin Newsom?
But the most important point is that this proves what I’ve been saying for a long time, which is that these are simple problems to fix and the government can easily fix them. It just takes a couple of emails from some mid-level bureaucrats, and it gets done. Of course, these bureaucrats have not “solved chronic homelessness.” They have not prevented people from losing their homes, or doing drugs, or developing mental illness. But they have moved those people out of sight, and they’ve used force to do it. They have cleaned up the city, at least parts of it. It can be done.
For now at least, San Francisco is doing what is necessary. This is a very good indication that, as it turns out, our cities do not have to be crime-infested cesspools. They do not have to be third world wastelands with zombified drug addicts walking around and taking dumps in the street. If San Francisco can make at least parts of itself look clean and livable in order to impress China, it can make the whole of itself clean and livable for the sake of its citizens — if it cared to.
But the vast majority of the time, San Francisco doesn’t care to do that. The Left likes to say that “poverty is a policy choice.” That’s not true. Poverty is a fact of life, an inevitability in human civilization. Social decay, on the other hand, is a choice. That does not have to happen. It only happens if it is allowed to happen. Or perhaps in our case, made to happen. Who would have thought that, after years of giving drug addicts taxpayer-funded needles, devaluing the currency and outsourcing manufacturing to China, we’d end up with even more homeless people? Who would have thought that suspending the enforcement of pretty much every misdemeanor would lead to more public urination, more public drug use, more public robberies, and more public sex acts?
For more than a decade, Democrats’ solution to this rapidly growing crisis has been to throw more money at the problem, and give themselves more power in the process. Certainly, this approach has worked out well for Gavin Newsom. But it hasn’t worked out for people living in San Francisco. It tells you a lot that the city’s leaders — like so many political figures all over the country — felt no incentive at any point to make their community better, more prosperous, and more beautiful, just for the sake of their own people. The welfare of their own people simply doesn’t motivate them at all. But when Xi Jinping and an army of CEOs are in town, then our leaders will spring into action. Now those are some people that politicians really want to impress.
What’s happening in San Francisco right now is the end of plausible deniability for all of these bureaucrats and elected officials. It’s now beyond any doubt that they are the reason for the managed decline we are witnessing in major cities. This managed decline is deliberate. But by the same token, it’s also reversible. And it can be reversed very quickly. El Salvador fixed its violent crime problem in a matter of weeks. Now we learn that San Francisco has always had the ability to end its homelessness epidemic in a matter of days. And when APEC is over, and the floodgates reopen in SoMa and the homeless druggies pour back in, that will be obvious to everyone — even people who have the misfortune of living in San Francisco.