November 7, 2017

AP Suddenly Discovers and Reports on West Coast Homelessness

The Associated Press has suddenly discovered that homelessness is a serious problem in the nation’s three West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington, and that the problem merits national attention. How convenient — and how tardy.

The running joke since the press decided to try to pin homelessness on Ronald Reagan in the 1980s has been:

Question: How do you make the homeless problem disappear?

Answer: Put a Democrat in the White House.

Giving credence to that joke, the AP has spent most of the past nine years ignoring homelessness, generating precious few if any nationally visible stories.

Reversing course nearly ten months into the Trump administration, the wire service, focusing the West Coast, “deployed a team of journalists to chronicle the crisis, find explanations and identify potential solutions.”

The AP’s best but still quite weak defense for its past neglect would be that official statistics prepared by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development claim that overall homelessness dropped (Page 8 at link) nationwide from 640,000 in 2008 to 550,000 in 2016, and that the figure declined in every year except 2010, which showed only a slight increase.

That may be, but based on a review of related NewsBusters posts during the Obama era, links to other sites contained in those posts, and other news reports seen in 2016 and early 2017, that reported decline is difficult to square with information found elsewhere:

  • A March 2014 report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty cited “increasing reports of homeless encampments emerging in communities across the country, primarily in urban and suburban areas and spanning states as diverse as Hawaii, Alaska, California, and Connecticut.” The group found “news reports from 2008 to July 2013″ documenting “over 100 tent communities in 46 of 50 states and the District of Columbia.” Such “communities” were a relative rarity before the recession.
  • That report also claimed that from “2007 through 2010, family homelessness … increased by 20%.” It’s hard to imagine that the number of individuals tallied as homeless somehow managed to drop by enough to offset that spike.

Even if one concedes the possibility that there has been a gradual nationwide decline, the explosion of homelessness in West Coast locales should have earned sustained national attention several years ago:

  • In a column I wrote at another website in late 2014, I noted that in San Jose, California alone, the number of homeless “encampments” grew from “an estimated 60″ in February 2013 to “a network of at least 200″ just 22 months later.
  • In that same column, concerning the state of California, I also noted Los Angeles Times report which claimed that “under (Governor Jerry) Brown, the state in 2011 ‘ended special redevelopment assessments, which essentially brought affordable housing construction to a halt.’”
  • The number of unsheltered homeless in Seattle’s King County grew by well over 50 percent from 2011 to 2013. In 2015, the city’s mayor called it “a full-blown crisis.”
  • A carefully crafted report at the LA Times in early 2015 failed to provide specific numbers, but noted that “Over the last two years, street encampments have jumped their historic boundaries in downtown Los Angeles, lining freeways and filling underpasses from Echo Park to South Los Angeles.” This past May, based on a count done in January, the Times reported that the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless in LA County increased by 23 percent from January 2016 to nearly 58,000. (In other words, one US county has over 10 percent of the entire country’s reported homeless population.)
  • An April 2016 report at KGW in Portland, Oregon reported that “more than 1,800 people sleep outside in tents or on the streets every night,” and that “the issue is reaching a breaking point among Portlanders with and without a safe place to sleep.”

Even if the national declines HUD claims have taken place are real, it’s clear from the items just chronicled that the homeless situation on the West Coast has been in crisis or near-crisis for several years; in fact, many of the areas just cited have been in officially declared states of emergency for several years. But the AP and other national establishment press outlets have virtually ignored it.

Only now is the wire service paying attention, reporting that a “crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the West Coast.” Here are some of the statistics contained in its first detailed report Sunday by Gillian Flaccus and Geoff Mulvihill:

  • Seattle alone now has “400 … encampments that have popped up in … parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks.”
  • “Official counts taken earlier this year in California, Oregon and Washington show 168,000 homeless people in the three states.” These three states, which have a combined 16 percent of the U.S. population, have roughly 30 percent of the nation’s total homeless per HUD (2017 national data won’t be released until late November or early December).
  • The AP insists that “Nationally, homelessness has been trending down, partly because governments and nonprofit groups have gotten better at moving people into housing.” If that’s really true, that makes the spikes seen in the three West Coast states even more newsworthy; yet they’ve been ignored for years.
  • Even smaller towns are being affected: “In Oregon City (Oregon), a suburban, working-class town of 36,000 people, the police department this summer added a full-time position for a homeless outreach officer after roughly half the calls concerned trash, trespassing, human waste and illegal encampments.”

Here are a few pertinent things the AP hasn’t mentioned, and which one expects it never will:

  • Each of the three states has had a Democratic Party governor during the entire period.
  • Two of the three states’ legislatures currently have Democratic Party majorities (Washington’s House has a slim Dem majority, while its Senate has Republican control only because one “independent Democrat” caucuses with them).
  • The growth in homelessness in these three deep-blue states took place during the Democratic presidential administration of Barack Obama.

At its APNews.com website, the wire service has set up a tag for the “Homeless Crisis” — no doubt, just in time to batter Donald Trump for anything which happens from this point forward.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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