Editorial: Dr. Drew is the wrong choice for L.A.’s homelessness authority
If Los Angeles County supervisors are serious about their historic care-first, jail-last approach to justice and safety, they will say “no” to the homeless services board appointment of Drew Pinsky, the bomb-throwing, COVID-denying, justice-reform-blaming media personality who urges L.A. to renounce many of its most hard-won human services programs.
Dr. Drew (as he is known in his many media appearances) was nominated by Supervisor Kathryn Barger for a seat on the board of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the joint powers agency that’s charged with getting people off the street and into housing.
LAHSA is no place for Pinsky, a physician, addiction specialist and TV, radio and podcast pundit who has positioned himself as a truth-telling expert with a knack for cutting through liberal nonsense supposedly spouted by politicians and the news media.
Such “nonsense” once included the notion that COVID-19 was something to worry about. The disease, he assured his audience in February 2020, was nothing more than the flu, and concern about it amounted to a “press-induced panic.”
The supposed nonsense also includes the belief that people shouldn’t face years in prison for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs. Proposition 47 “is murder,” Pinsky said, referring to the 2014 ballot measure that helped change the punishment-based approach to substance abuse and addiction, and allocated savings from reduced prison costs to drug treatment and other non-carceral approaches.
No, Pinsky said, he doesn’t believe substance abuse is properly a criminal justice issue — yet people who don’t agree to drug treatment should be jailed.
Homelessness is almost exclusively a mental health and addiction phenomenon, he argues, and has nothing to do with housing costs — just look at how many immigrants come here and find a place to live. He does not appear to be swayed by academic studies, engaged by LAHSA, showing that mental illness and substance use affect less than half of L.A.’s homeless population. Nor by studies showing that those afflictions are most successfully treated after the people who suffer from them are housed. He calls the “housing first” model embraced by the Board of Supervisors — and experts around the country — “a hoax.”
Pinsky is popular in part because he gives people what they want: a veneer of expertise to dress up their instinctive belief that simplistic solutions such as more criminal laws and more policing are the best way to resolve social problems.
At Board of Supervisors meetings, Barger has cited him approvingly, especially his assertions that homeless encampments could endanger the entire county by spreading communicable disease. That’s ironic, given Pinsky’s initial COVID denial.
But even if Pinsky is right about the dangers of unsanitary encampments or the troubling role of methamphetamine among a portion of the homeless population, his proper place is not on the board of an organization whose mission is to house people.
LAHSA would be only too happy to move thousands more people out of encampments and into housing, where experience shows they are far more likely to accept treatment for underlying conditions, if the city and the county would allocate the funding it takes to do it right.
Pinsky, it should be noted, ultimately apologized for his initial COVID stance (and later contracted the disease), and his acknowledgement that he was wrong is praiseworthy. The problem is not that he made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. The problem was and remains his unwavering insistence that he is right and that those who disagree are wrong, well before he has the evidence to support his position.
Los Angeles, along with the rest of the nation, is emerging from more than a year of lockdowns and shutdowns and is both eager to return to a more normal life and impatient with the homelessness that was previously the region’s chief challenge. There is a hunger for quick fixes and shallow thinking, and serious danger that progress toward care-based solutions and away from punitive excess will be reversed. Pinsky’s appointment to the LAHSA board would be such a reversal.
The matter comes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Barger’s four colleagues have a decision to make: Defer, as they do on most appointments, in order that their own choices for other positions likewise go unchallenged; or stand up for the care-first model they have championed, save Pinsky for some other role, and find a better choice for the LAHSA seat. It shouldn’t be a tough call.
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