Monday, February 12, 2024






A look at what homeless individuals suffered during the record-level intense rains of early February demonstrated for a second consecutive year the utter inadequacy of programs to help California’s approximately 180,000 unhoused.


It also exposed the crying need for original thinking, going beyond today’s paltry shelters, most of them open only parts of the day.


At countless charity facilities that distribute clothing to the very needy, lines formed during and between downpours as thousands around the state sought shoes, plastic ponchos, blankets, water-resistant jackets and whatever else might offer a little relief from the seemingly relentless cold and damp that lasted almost a week.


It was a carbon copy of what happened in January 2023, when harsh rains that began the wettest winter in decades demonstrated starkly the inadequacy of this state’s many programs to help the homeless. Yes, there were some shelter beds available, but many required clients to leave before 8 a.m. and did not allow many back in until after 6 p.m.


During that interval, in both years, thousands endured soakings seemingly without end as temperatures in most areas did not rise above the mid-50s.


What were officials doing during this mass drenching, while newspapers and TV showed pictures of mudslides and other problems of the housed?


In California’s largest county, Los Angeles, for one, the five-woman Board of Supervisors voted to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to let local governments criminalize occupants of homeless encampments that have become commonplace under freeway overpasses and along sidewalks.


Many local officials want the court to alter a 2020 ruling in an Idaho case called Martin v. Boise that held it is cruel and unusual punishment to make camping on public property a crime when the people involved have nowhere else they can legally sleep.


“The interpretations of (that case) have tied the hands of cities and counties in imposing common-sense time and place restrictions on some key public spaces to keep people safe and move those who want assistance into shelter,” said one Los Angeles supervisor. “We have no interest or intention to criminalize homelessness. We need clarification about what tools we have to address this crisis and keep people safe.”

        So the Los Angeles board voted to support a new appeal of a case from Oregon called Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, which restricts local government’s ability to clear homeless encampments.


Sure there are problems with encampments. No one can deny some criminals hide out in them. No one can deny that some encampments deny the public use of parks their tax dollars built and maintain. No one likes encampments near schools.


But what execrable timing it was for officials to act against encampments just when many unhoused were being swamped while others lined up to beg for something, anything, to help them dry out and warm up.


Instead of sounding off against the homeless (while still saying they should not criminalized), public officials might have done better if they’d sent police cars and buses to collect some unfortunates forced to sleep in cardboard boxes on hard sidewalks while drenched.


The rains demonstrated just how serious this problem remains, despite California having thrown tens of billions of dollars at it. For sure, the state has more homeless today than when Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature spent more than $10 billion to help reduce the problem in the 2022-23 budget.


Plus, civic efforts to create ever more affordable housing don’t help the homeless, when supposedly “affordable” units often rent for $1,800 per month or more, even without parking spaces. How many of the unhoused can pay that much each month?


Here's one idea that could help, a tactic that could and should have begun when last winter’s rains first showed how desperate the need is: Use part of the huge government allocations to buy or lease some of the hundreds of millions of square feet that remain vacant today in office buildings, even where some companies now require white collar workers to report to offices at least part-time.


Without permanently converting those spaces to residences, they could at least offer dry indoor spaces where people could sleep.


But why would officials think creatively when they can instead order up legal briefs seeking more power to harass the homeless?




    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit