During the campaign, it was pointed out time and again the disconnect between the voters of Yolo County, who overwhelmingly supported most reforms, and the positions of DA Jeff Reisig, who opposed reforms. But Mr. Reisig, as well as the Davis Enterprise in editorials, continue to insist that he was among the most progressive DAs in the state.
And yet, here we have it, well after the end of the campaign nearly three months ago, with Mr. Reisig still fighting against those progressive reforms.
In an article that appeared this week in the Daily Democrat, Mr. Reisig claims that the “explosion of homelessness” is related to the passage of Proposition 47.
Prop. 47, approved in November 2014, reclassified crimes, particularly drug offenses and low level property crimes, from felonies to misdemeanors and was supposed to transfer the savings into rehabilitation efforts and programs that would combat recidivism.
Mr. Reisig told the paper that Prop. 47, while “well-intentioned” has “has spurred an uptick in homeless individuals across the state.”
He said, “We can’t ignore it now.”
According to him, “the homeless population falls into three categories — the ‘truly destitute’ individuals who lost their jobs, suffered a tragedy and are desperate for help; those suffering from mental illness; and those who are ‘driven by addiction.’”
“This category has exploded in the last few years,” Mr. Reisig explained
He argued, “It is this third category of drug-addicted homeless that have been affected by Prop. 47.”
He claimed it has created “a ‘turnstile’ of offenders both homeless and otherwise. It also eliminated the legal compulsion of treatment that existed before the law was passed.”
Mr. Reisig said that the misdemeanor charge is a “ticket” with the failure appear rate between 60 to 80 percent. He said, “A homeless person facing a misdemeanor drug charge can simply not show up to their court hearing, perpetuating the problem.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” Mr. Reisig added, noting that misdemeanors do not typically result in jail time and offenders are often “right back on the street.”
Unfortunately, the Daily Democrat only interviewed Mr. Reisig. He presented no data to back up his claims.
The first point to make is that if there is a connection between homelessness and Prop. 47, no one else other than Jeff Reisig is drawing the comparison. With all of the studies looking at the problems of homelessness, you would think one of them would draw the link if there were some validity.
The homeless population has increased in recent years, rising 14 percent from 2016 to 2017. It had risen only nine percent over the previous seven years.
But part of the problem here is that Prop. 47 was supposed to take the savings and reallocate it to community and social services. That has not happened and therefore some former inmates have ended up on the streets with no safety net or support system.
But there are no studies showing us how many people. Without good data, everyone is guessing. Or basing it on their ideology.
Nor is there data showing that the previous system worked. There were high recidivism rates and high incarceration rates. They point to things like drug court, but drug court never worked like it was purported to do so. If it had, we wouldn’t have needed reform efforts like Prop. 47 in the first place.
If there is a failure of Prop. 47, it is in the lack of resources to deal with the underlying problems of addiction. Why is Jeff Reisig spending his time, energy and political capital fighting against Prop. 47, rather than lobbying the legislature for actual funding to fund the rehab programs, and creating resources to work with homeless individuals?
There was an article in the LA Times in February. The number of people living on the streets and shelters rose 75 percent from 2010 to 2017. They report, “If you took out Los Angeles, national homelessness would have dropped last year for the first time since the recession.”
A 2016 report from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) shows that “California’s increase in homelessness runs counter to the national trend. From 2010-2015, homelessness nationwide dropped 11 percent, overall, with a 26 percent drop in the unsheltered population.”
The causes in California’s increase include high cost of housing, unemployment, low wages, mental illness with a lack of services, and substance abuse coupled with the lack of needed services.
“Homelessness is often complicated by addiction and mental illness. Statewide, the number of psychiatric beds decreased by 30% between 1995 and 2010, according to the California Hospital Association,” the survey found.
Everyone is quick to blame various factors – but without resources for treatment and services, this is a battle that seems doomed.
The bottom line: Jeff Reisig, while his comments lack any kind of statistical grounding and the article lacks any kind of alternative theories on the rise of homelessness, is correct to an extent – the rise of untreated mental illness and substance abuse are contributors to homelessness.
But Mr. Reisig is using this to attack Prop. 47 rather than attack what is really a systemic failure of the state to deal with the homeless issue, across the board.
The CSAC report notes: “Given the intractable nature of the problem, cities and counties are turning more and more to comprehensive collaborative approaches to help systematically address the root causes and immediate issues associated with homelessness.”
They note: “Solutions often center on effective outreach, short and longer term housing options, mental and behavioral health services, job trainings and more.”
What is missing? Where the state funding for this? Why isn’t the legislature putting more resources into treating mental illness and substance abuse?
To me, that’s where this crisis is rooted. Charging people with felonies is not going to fix this problem either. Creating the resources, services and support systems takes time, personnel and money, but is far more likely to succeed than the heavy stick approach advocated by Mr. Reisig and other law enforcement officials.
We aren’t going to arrest our way out of this problem, and Mr. Reisig has to recognize that we aren’t going to charge our way out of it either.
—David M. Greenwald reporting