A former activist in the campaign against "mass incarceration" says California needs to follow the model of cities such as Frankfurt, Lisbon and Amsterdam if there is to be any hope of solving the state’s homeless problem.
Author and environmental policy advocate Michael Shellenberger says that contrary to public opinion, most European cities successfully reduced homelessness by using a combination of shelters, social programs and law enforcement.
"They enforced public camping laws, they enforced laws against public drug use, and they gave addicts the option of rehabilitation rather than jail, but they still enforced their laws," he said on Sunday's broadcast of NBC4’s "NewsConference" program.
Shellenberger’s new book "San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities" is a sharp critique of state and city policymakers whom he says have mislead the public by using "homelessness" as the label for a problem that European cities approached as "a medical crisis of addiction and mental illness."
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Once awarded a "Hero of the Environment" award by Time magazine, Shellenberger worked with Congresswoman Maxine Waters on drug decriminalization and needle exchange programs in the late 1990’s, but says the goal was never to trade mass incarceration for mass homelessness.
"It was my understanding that we were going to make drug rehabilitation an alternative to prison," he said. "Now, years later, there is no requirement for rehab, for psychiatric care, for anything, including when people create very serious crimes."
Shellenberger says cities need to provide shelter for the homeless and programs to help restore their lives. He also argues that homelessness should become the domain of a single state program, "Cal-Psych," that would reduce duplication and provide services that are currently lacking in many counties.
Also appearing on NBC4’s "NewsConference" program was Los Angeles Congresswoman Karen Bass, who says solving the homeless crisis is the fundamental reason behind her campaign for Mayor. She agrees that more needs to be done to help those leaving prison to integrate back into society.
"We need to look at the reasons why people become homeless and also prevent future people from becoming homeless" she argued.
Bass discussed restoration of the "safety net" for those experiencing homelessness, and said that state lawmakers need to consider legislation regarding the "gravely disabled" standard by which someone can legally intervene on behalf of a person suffering mental illness.
"I think it is an extreme injustice to see people on the streets suffering from mental illness and not to be taken care of," she said on the program.