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The Case for a Federal Government Takeover of America’s Homeless Crisis

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Richard Vogel

It is estimated that at least 550,000 Americans are now homeless.  Over 165,000 of them are wasting away, suffering on the streets and canyons of our west coast cities from San Diego to Seattle.  This is the greatest humanitarian and environmental disaster in our nation's history, and it is worsening.  The time has come for the federal government to declare a National Homeless Emergency and take over management of this crisis.  The federal government is intended to be a last resort and should only be deployed in situations where state and city governments have demonstrated an inability to handle a crisis that imperils Americans en masse.  This is exactly the situation we face today – and it is time to break the emergency glass.


When natural disasters occur in the United States, the federal government often declares a National Emergency and steps in to help overwhelmed states and cities that lack the necessary resources, manpower and expertise.  We've seen this happen repeatedly with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and earthquakes.  Likewise, we've seen this occur with manmade environmental disasters such as BP's Deep Horizon and the Exxon Valdez.  

This crisis is most acute on our west coast, and the states of California, Oregon, and Washington have proven themselves unwilling and / or unable to handle it.  The same is true of the crisis epicenter cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.  All of these governmental jurisdictions have abdicated their responsibility to protect those who need them most.  Note that the average chronic homeless person dies between the ages 42 and 52, whereas the rest of us live on average to age 79.

Embarrassingly, you won't find this type of self-inflicted street carnage anywhere else in the world – not in cities in Europe, Japan, China, South Korea, the Middle East, or even South America.  Ours may be the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, but when you walk the streets of Los Angeles or San Francisco, the United States appears dysfunctional and inhumane.  America’s west coast cities are killing themselves in broad daylight.


California's elected leaders claim they are addressing the crisis.  If that is so, perhaps they can explain the recent L.A. Times poll which found that 95% of voters say homelessness is L.A.’s biggest problem.  We, the people in the epicenter cities, are fed up.  Our elected leaders have been paying us lip-service for years by blaming the situation on a nebulous "housing crisis", as if it were a typhoon from outer space beyond their control.  This is their excuse du jour to wash their hands of responsibility for the crisis they spawned.

California has been a national trendsetter since before becoming a state, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.  In this case, California is exporting a humanitarian and environmental disaster rooted in the failure to enforce the rule of law.  The rule of law is the bedrock of civilized society.  Instead of upholding it, California's leadership has decided to test the merits of street anarchy – ceasing to enforce existing laws against street loitering, camping, littering, defecating, urination, illicit drug use, petty theft, etc.  As one might expect, such anarchy begets more anarchy.

Our three west coast states have a total population of 51 million people.  With rule of law now cast aside on the streets, less than .33% of this population (165,000 homeless) is unintentionally turning our west coast metropolitan centers into feces-laden, infectious disease areas where the other 99.67% (plus tourists) don’t want to set foot.  This is unfair to everyone, homeless and otherwise.


The entire west coast is feeling the detrimental consequences of California's anarchy experiment, and those consequences are now spreading to all 50 states.  Furthermore, it has exacerbated the suffering of our homeless brethren by fostering an environment that keeps them away from the services they desperately need. 

This trend must be reversed, and a federal government takeover is likely the only way it will happen.  Let's discuss how this might unfold:

-The President of the United States declares a National Homeless Emergency across the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. 

-The justification for this National Emergency is three-pronged:  1) Humanitarian Emergency based on 165,000 homeless Americans suffering on our streets in inhumane and dangerous conditions; 2) Public Health Emergency that threatens our 51-million-person west coast population based on widespread homeless littering, discarded hypodermic needles, defecating and urinating on our streets and canyons, explosion of rat populations, all leading to infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics of Hepatitis A, Typhoid, TB, Cholera, Bubonic Plague, etc.  (Los Angeles is currently suffering Typhoid outbreaks on the streets; San Diego was the epicenter of the 2017-2018 Hepatitis A outbreak that infected 592 homeless people and killed 20); 3)  Environmental Emergency based on the mountains of homeless trash, discarded hypodermic needles, and human excrement on the streets and canyons, all washing into and polluting our rivers, lakes, bays, beaches, and Pacific Ocean. 


-The federal government designates 50-plus acre plots of federal land on the outskirts of every homeless-epicenter city from San Diego to Seattle to be each region's Sunbreak Ranch, perhaps 12 in total.  These will be location-solution centers designed to welcome all homeless persons, who can come and go as they please.  Individuals can reside in a community tent or camp on their own.  There will be port-o-potties and port-o-showers aplenty, as well as mess halls, medical tents, and onsite service providers.  These will include dedicated teams of mental health professionals, drug rehabilitation specialists, and vocational trainers.  Each Sunbreak will have private security as well as a permanent 24/7 police outpost in order to provide safety and security to all residents.  (Greg Gutfeld explains Sunbreak Ranch on Fox's Five)

-Once the Sunbreak locations are identified, the federal government will send in FEMA and the U.S. Marines / Army / Navy to construct graveled roads and tent cities using surplus military equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan deployments.  With our military's help (and unique expertise), these tent cities will rise within weeks and be able to house tens of thousands. 

-The states of California, Oregon, and Washington (and cities within) will be required to simultaneously return to enforcing the rule of law on the streets.  This means they must enforce already-existing laws against street loitering, camping, littering, defecating, urination, illicit drug use, petty theft, etc.  With the federal government now providing a safe Sunbreak housing alternative (away from streets and canyons) to all homeless individuals, legal challenges against the police for enforcing the rule of law will fail as meritless.  (States / cities that refuse to enforce the rule of law will be subject to losing part or all of their federal funding – based on their lack of seriousness in solving this humanitarian catastrophe.  Note that these three states currently receive over $562 billion in federal funding annually.)


-The 12 Sunbreaks along the coast will help every homeless person receive the attention and services they need, as well as enable the clean-up of our cities and natural environments.  Once operational, this new solution-based California trend will begin to spread across the nation.

For those of us who have spent years advocating for the homeless while watching billions of dollars being squandered, it is painfully clear that our state and city leaders will never solve this crisis on their own.  The president of the United States and federal government are our only hope.  If they declare a National Homeless Emergency and follow this plan, the president and feds will save thousands of lives, and have the support and gratitude of tens of millions of Americans.  Today is the perfect day to begin.

George Mullen is spearheading Sunbreak Ranch in the effort to end America's homeless crisis.  He is known as author of "The Coming Financial Tsunami" (2005) and "Welcome to the Bubble Economy" (2006) which accurately predicted the 2007-08 global economic crash. He is a principal of in San Diego, California.

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