State government spent $20 billion over five years on homelessness yet the population continues to increase. The war on drugs costs $100 billion nationally, but drugs permeate our society. The U.S. government spent $25 billion on immigration enforcement last year, yet folks keep coming.
Why? It is estimated that we have 171,500 homeless residents in the state, and CalMatters estimates the cost was $42,000 per person last year. That doesn’t count emergency services which costs another $18,000 per homeless resident, per year to taxpayers. The median income in San Jose is $42,938.
Seventy-four percent of the drug-addicted population of 19.7 million (2017) are alcoholics. Only 38% use illicit drugs (a little over 7,000,000). Given we only pursue illicit drugs—including marijuana—we spend over $14,000 per person trying to stop their drug of choice.
Last year, we spent $25,000 per undocumented worker, trying to stop the 1 million who crossed our borders. These undocumented immigrants contribute to our economy and do not, as myth would have you believe, take away American jobs.
Easy fixes would be to end the war on drugs, legalize, tax and regulate the use. But how many people would be out of a job? About 44.4% of inmates in our prisons are in for drug offenses.
As for homelessness, we know the solutions. HousingFirst solutions pioneered by George W. Bush Housing Czar Phillip Mangano — put people in homes and provide services on site. Yes, it costs money, but not nearly the money we are spending on emergency services and homeless programs. By doing so we would reduce health care costs by 59%, reduce emergency room visits by 61% and decrease general inpatient hospitalizations by 77%.
In immigration, we simply need to pass bipartisan reform. It has been held up in Congress by the MAGA wing of the Republican Caucus. It would pass today if it came to the floor of Congress.
While the solutions are straightforward, the politics and interest groups who benefit from perpetuating the problems will not go quietly into the night.
As one prosecutor told me, “Legalizing drugs would put me out of business.” Think about that statement. Solving the problem would financially impact those we have put in charge of solving the problem. What incentive do they have for winning the war on drugs, curing the homeless or stopping undocumented workers?
It’s time we demanded our public servants work for the public good. All evils in our society will never be fully accomplished, but we can do our citizens a favor by implementing the known solutions in a fiscally responsible way.
San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.