Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen says he'd build state-run institutions and force homeless people to live in them against their will, if necessary.
"We need state-run mental institutions where people can actually go, (where) the indigent can go and get the help that they need," Allen said at a housing forum last month. "What we're doing is not working."
Allen, currently in the state Assembly, is pushing the idea as part of his platform in public debates, interviews and newspaper editorial board meetings. On the campaign trail, he's pinning the blame, in part, on Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, both Democrats and former mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.
In Los Angeles, "there's a six-block radius that looks like a third-world war zone," Allen said, referring to Skid Row. "On the streets of Gavin Newsom's San Francisco, there's…drug users shooting up on the streets and…human waste."
Allen, who represents a conservative Orange County stronghold that includes Huntington Beach, says tackling homelessness is too great a task for cities and counties alone, so the state must intervene — an unusual position for a Republican running on smaller government. Allen insists the plan would not cost taxpayers more — an assertion refuted by experts.
It is based on America's former practice of housing mentally ill patients in state-run institutions, an approach phased out across the U.S. beginning in the 1960s and 70s. Institutions for decades were seen as a drain on public resources and widely viewed as ineffective and inhumane. As the federal government steered states toward community-centered mental health treatment, it also slashed funding for care, which experts say led to an increase of homeless people on the streets with untreated mental illness and substance abuse problems.
Allen says part of the reason California has more homeless people than any other state is because it ended institutionalization. He said he'd bring institutions back with a robust offering of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and job-training.
"If you cannot provide a roof over your head in California, and you're a California citizen, a roof will be provided for you," Allen told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board last week. "You will no longer be allowed to sleep out on our sidewalks, under our bridges or on the side of our freeways in California."
He said public spaces shouldn't be "littered" with homeless people. He said he'd require law enforcement to aggressively enforce anti-camping and loitering laws characterized by social justice groups as criminalization of homelessness.
"California citizens have a right to clean streets, to clean cities," Allen said. "For those that are on the streets of California that are not from here, they will find a one-way ticket out of our state and we will clean up our streets in California."
Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said Allen's plan would be costly and at odds with state and federal civil rights laws barring California from holding people against their will for long periods – essentially, warehousing them.
"The real solution would be to make sure that treatment and housing is available so people can live in their communities, which would also be less expensive," Roman said. "Institutionalization is not just an expensive and ineffective way to deal with problems, it also interferes with people's rights…that's why we've moved away from it."
Newsom and Villaraigosa have endorsed an approach to homelessness called "housing first," a national model that emphasizes housing as the critical first step toward ending homelessness. They are then connected with social support, mental health and other services to address the root causes of their homelessness.