California’s Governor Gavin Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco (2004-2011) before he became lieutenant governor. So it’s reader’s choice whether to see him as especially expert on this subject, or as especially motivated to make claims about it that reek of political theme-placing.
Whichever way you prefer to see it, the conservative fact-checking site Politifact California took it on this week, after the Los Angeles Times picked up on Newsom’s claim, from an Axios on HBO interview he did in June 2019. (The video is not posted online, but a promo clip can be viewed here. Newsom is seen making another drive-by allusion to “toxic masculinity,” like the one LU caught for you in our Web Crawler headlines on Wednesday.)
Politifact California summarizes the governor’s point:
Newsom said most of the homeless people on the street when he left office were not from California, but added “we took responsibility” for them.
He then made the head-scratching claim about Texas.
“The vast majority (of San Francisco’s homeless people) also come in from — and we know this — from Texas. Just (an) interesting fact,” Newsom said.
Politifact California went through a scrub of “point in time” homeless counts in San Francisco, which are done every other year. They determined that between 8% and 16% of the homeless in San Francisco, depending on the year, had come from outside the state of California. The homeless population originating from San Francisco itself varied from 60-70% of the count.
The balance of the homeless were from other parts of California.
The bottom line here is that, even if people from Texas represented all of the out-of-state homeless, they couldn’t possibly be the “vast majority” of San Francisco’s homeless population.
Texans don’t, of course, represent all of the out-of-state homeless. So where did Newsom get his claim?
Politifact California asked Newsom’s office. The response they got is a classic “ridiculous numbers” assertion. Apparently, Newsom’s claim is based on the most popular destination for a San Francisco program called Homeward Bound, which “gives homeless people bus tickets to travel to friends or family within or outside the state who have agreed to take them in.”
How popular is Texas as a destination for Homeward Bound bus tickets? Out of the 12,268 bus trips outside of California since the program started, Texas has been the destination for 827.
That’s 6.7% of the bus trips, enough to qualify Texas as the top destination outside of the Golden State. Washington State is the next most popular destination, at 5.8% of trips.
Politifact California makes several valid points about this, such as the point that going to Texas doesn’t mean a homeless person came from Texas. It may just mean that’s where the homeless person has someone to stay with on the other end. (It may increasingly mean that, in fact, given the net outflow of Californians to Texas in recent years. On the margin, more Californians find themselves with relatives in Texas due to interstate moves.)
But I don’t think we really need to pare it down any further. Newsom seems to have based his statement about the nearly 10,000 homeless people in San Francisco on 827 bus tickets bought since 2004 – which don’t represent the “majority” of anything.