Let the People of California Solve the State’s Homelessness Crisis

A Citizens Assembly Could Unify People Around a Thorny Problem and Succeed Where Politicians Have Failed


The tool is called the citizens assembly.While getting elected to the legislature without a permanent address is nearly impossible, one democratic virtue of the citizens assembly is that it could specifically include a significant plurality of people who are currently unhoused, or have experienced homelessness in recent years.

In essence, it’s a temporary government of regular citizens convened to study a problem, come up with a plan, and then take action to enact it.

Ireland used citizens assemblies to resolve divisive conflicts over abortion and same-sex marriage. Finland employed one to address its most divisive issue—regulation of snowmobiles—and North Macedonia held one to deal with the problem of vaccine hesitancy. And France convened a citizens assembly on energy and climate change after the so-called “yellow vest” protests revealed bitter disagreement over climate policies.

While citizens assemblies are little known here, they aren’t entirely novel. Petaluma has been contemplating a form of citizens assembly, a policy jury, to determine the future of the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds property. Not long ago, your columnist proposed an international citizens assembly to help govern the complex series of crises at the U.S.-Mexico border. . .

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