Is there a drug problem in California

San Francisco and LA crisis - When homeless people take over entire districts

The deputy sheriff just shrugs his shoulders: "We have such thefts here every few minutes". We're standing next to our rental car in a suburb of San Francisco. A window is smashed, several pieces of luggage are gone. We only landed at the airport an hour ago. And already we get a foretaste of the conditions in the whole region.

"Smash and grab" is what they call these break-ins into parked cars here. The San Francisco Police alone register around 30,000 such cases each year. The deputy sheriff is not going to investigate our case. The high number of petty crimes is overwhelming for the police. Drug offenses, burglaries, thefts - there are so many that the authorities have practically given up their prosecution.

Streets full of tents

We drive into the center with a new rental car. And be amazed. There have always been homeless people here. But now almost every quarter seems to be affected. Every now and then we see entire streets where the sidewalk is blocked with tents. Neglected people, drug addicts, and nobody seems to care.

Andrea Faye and Matthew Zimmerman own a picture framing shop in the Tenderloin district. When they opened the store two years ago, their street was quiet and peaceful, they say. But in the past few months several dozen homeless people have pitched their tents here. Drugs are consumed and traded openly. It smells like urine.

Andrea and Matthew feel threatened: "Once there were six syringes in the cracks of our door - it was like in a horror film," says Andrea. And Matthew says he was assaulted by a homeless person when he asked him to step away from the front door of the store. Calling the police doesn't do much - for minor offenses such as drug consumption or the illegal setting up of a tent, the police usually don't come by at all.

Criticism of Democrats

Like all major cities in California, San Francisco is firmly in the hands of the Democrats. For the Republicans, the conditions here are a godsend. Hardly a day goes by without the conservative TV broadcaster Fox News drawing attention to the homeless crisis. That shows the failure of left politics, say the Fox commentators. And President Trump has threatened several times that the national authorities could intervene in the city. The situation is threatening to get out of control.

Official statistics speak for themselves: According to newspaper reports, San Francisco recorded an increase in the number of homeless from 2018 to 2019 from around 30 percent to over 17,500 people. In the entire state of California, around 130,000 people have no shelter. Almost 60,000 people are affected in the greater Los Angeles area alone, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year.

Matthew Zimmerman has nothing to do with Trump. Like the vast majority in the city, he did not vote for him. But Matthew admits: “I nodded a few times when Trump was talking about the problems in San Francisco and all of California. He's not entirely wrong, it's gotten out of hand ». Andrea Faye, who belongs to the left-progressive camp, agrees with him. Somebody finally has to act and take responsibility.

Is it too slack Democratic policies to blame for the crisis? At City Hall we meet Democrat Hillary Ronen, a member of the eleven-member San Francisco City Council. She shows great understanding for the anger in large parts of the population. The year-round mild climate is one of the main reasons homelessness is so obvious in California - you can survive outdoors all year round.

Lack of care

Above all, however, there is a lack of the official safety net. The Democrats are not to blame: "The Republicans in the country have bleeding the state and the social safety net in recent years," she says. “Now they are blaming the state and the left. That is hypocritical and wrong. Countries like Switzerland or Germany, with a robust welfare state, never have problems as big as we do. "

Indeed, drug addicts and people with mental illnesses in the United States often receive little professional care. In addition, rental prices have risen dramatically across the region. A two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco costs around $ 3,700 on average.

The rising housing costs are the result of the tech boom. Corporations like Apple or Google bring well-paid professionals to the region. At a disadvantage are poorer people who can hardly afford life here. Meanwhile, the emergency sleeping quarters are overcrowded, and every night there is a waiting list with several hundred names.

Lack of living space for the poor

We travel on to Los Angeles, where we meet a recognized expert. John Maceri runs several homeless shelters in the city. Those affected are given a roof over their heads here. And they are supported in returning to work. Sometimes this succeeds, but by no means always, says Maceri.

The number of those affected has literally exploded in the city. Maceri sees the main reason in the lack of living space. For decades, far too few apartments have been built for poor people. The state is actually not lacking in money. But this is mainly invested in hospitals or prisons, where the homeless often end up. In the long term, however, according to Maceri, it would be cheaper to invest the money in cheap living space so that people don't even end up on the street.

Apocalyptic scenery

We ask him where the problem is most apparent in Los Angeles. He sends us to the Skid Row area with the warning to be extremely careful. And indeed: in Skid Row we see unrestrained misery.

Thousands of people who have reached the bottom. For minutes we drive past one tent after the other. Even during the day, staying here is terrifying. The nights must be horror. A world like from an apocalyptic horror film.

Conversations with those affected are difficult. Many are drugged, aggressive or, above all, ask for money. Brianna, an older dark-skinned woman, sits lonely on the floor. We want to know why she lives here. She says she has no more income, no money for an apartment. Even in this dire situation, some American optimism shimmers through: “I'm going to be a grandmother soon. I hope to see my granddaughter soon ».

We leave, somewhat perplexed. All the people we have met seem somehow helpless. The deputy sheriff, the business owners in San Francisco, the politician, the operator of the homeless shelter - and the victims anyway. None of them showed us an early way out of the crisis.