Ben Boyce


Care courts initiative can end public homelessness

Posted on March 15, 2023 by Ben Boyce

Bless the many caring individuals, church ministries, and private charities who struggle to feed, shelter, and keep alive the cast-offs, the superfluous population, the losers in our social Monopoly game, who have been cast from the comforting quotidian routine of daily life as an ordinary wage-earner and a useful member of society due to a myriad of causes. 

That population was restricted to a relatively small segment of the general population until the gut punch of the epic drop in working-class living standards and household wealth inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis, followed up by the devastating economic uppercut to the precariat by the two-year pandemic slowdown, in which up to a third of the workforce was fired. 

Once, long ago in the mists of Camelot, in the golden era of the state of California under the benign reign of Governor Brown Sr., those suffering from mental illness, debilitating personality disorders, chronic addicts, unsupported disabled persons, and low-functioning individuals who require lifetime custodial care, would be admitted to a residential facility as a ward of the state. The state employed a small city of caretakers and support staff at the Sonoma Developmental Center.

The end of a state mandate to care for the helpless is largely due to the systematic and ideologically motivated disinvestment by Governor Reagan in his two terms in the 1970s. Poor souls who were formerly safely lodged in places like the SDC may still be wandering around, muttering to themselves in downtown SF. 

Governor Newsom’s Care Courts’ redefinition of the legal power to enforce placement for mentally disordered individuals finally grants the county the legal power to end public homelessness in the county for good. We guarantee individual rights, but not at the expense of basic social rights. 

The full implementation of this law would radically transform the look and feel of downtown districts across the state. That loss of quality of life that is induced by seeing the wretched of the earth taking over business districts or occupying suburban parks or biking trails in squalid shantytowns is the root of the widespread conviction (vigorously promulgated by the right-wing media machine) that the U.S. is a crime-infested hellhole. 

My role is to build support for a bold progressive initiative to end public homelessness in urban areas within two years by creating a small village of tiny home placements on public lands like the thousands of acres owned by the county works and water departments. Bus lines can run to this location. 

Once public homelessness is banned by ordinance in urban areas, those who do not accept a ticket to return to their hometown or move on to a neighboring county will be guaranteed a private space with a lock in a fully staffed facility with 24/7 security, industrial kitchen, medical services, intake social workers, placement specialists, and mental health and addiction services county workers. We have a tiny house with a brass number plate and a key waiting for anyone who needs shelter at the county facility on Sonoma County Public Works land. No one needs to be homeless.

If a local progressive Democratic politician ran on that pledge and delivered, the Republican Party would have to close up shop in that county. That kind of demonstration of effective state power would change the game. It would show that collective action coupled with strategic deployment of public resources gets visible results, like safe public recreational areas and pleasant, walkable downtown business districts.


Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA