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By Eric Johnson
Published Jul 17, 2023

The sidewalk under this Capital City Freeway overpass in Midtown Sacramento often serves as a sad and squalid home for a dozen or more tent-dwellers. During the weeks that these two gentlemen lived there, they kept it relatively tidy. The sidewalk under this Capital City Freeway overpass in Midtown Sacramento often serves as a sad and squalid home for a dozen or more tent-dwellers. During the weeks that these two gentlemen lived there, they kept it relatively tidy. Image credit: Eric Johnson

A Simple Solution to Two Huge Problems

It has been five years since I moved from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Midtown Sacramento—this is my first time living in a city. As you may have heard, this place is in the midst of a kind of Renaissance, and it is a great place to live. Except for one thing: I don’t go a day without having to experience at least a twinge of trauma caused by the fact that there are hundreds of people in this neighborhood who are forced to live on the street.

I live four blocks from McKinley Park, a cultural resource that features a big rose garden, an awesome public swimming pool, outdoor yoga twice a week, and my granddaughter’s favorite playground. Walking there involves traversing one or another freeway overpass, under which I have witnessed way too much human suffering. I can’t seem to get used to this—it always provokes a mix of emotions ranging from heartbreak to anger; I don’t get mad at these folks I consider victims, but at the social and political forces that keep them where they are.

Here is a statement that should not be controversial: The primary cause of homelessness in California is a lack of housing supply and the accompanying increase in housing costs. It took California a few decades to fully recognize this, but thank goodness, the California legislature and the Newsom administration seem to have finally figured it out. Just a month ago, the state committed $200 million to move 7,300 people out of encampments and into housing.

Let More People Live in the Suburbs

I have a number of friends who, no matter how much they enjoy visiting my neighborhood, wouldn’t dream of living here because of what they view as a deplorable and dangerous situation. In theory, they might prefer city living over life in the suburbs, but not with things as they are now.

Frankly, this basic human desire for order and safety is what gave us the suburbs in the first place. Ironically, as Jon Vankin’s article about the movement to abolish zoning laws shows, there is a vicious-cycle relationship between the laws that protect American suburbs and the housing crisis that is the main cause of the homelessness crisis.

Should Zoning Laws Be Abolished?

Zoning for single family homes is at the heart of numerous urban and social problems.
Zoning laws that restrict new housing development cause environmental damage, racial and class segregation, and force people into cars creating traffic. Now, a new movement wants to abolish zoning in the United States.

What Fixes Homelessness? Homes.

There are a lot of people who believe that homeless individuals need to get themselves straightened out before they can be entrusted with the keys to a place to live. That idea was disproven decades ago—in fact, George W Bush’s homelessness czar was a powerful proponent of the “housing first” concept.

Over the past 10 years, this strategy has driven the efforts of affordable housing advocates in Texas and California. Guess why it isn’t working here.

Why Hasn't Housing First Policy Worked in California?

"Housing First" prioritizes getting the homeless into housing before anything else.
Housing First policy works to reduce homelessness, evidence shows. But in California the policy has proven ineffective. What is the state doing wrong?

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