What a Week Living on the Streets Taught This Gubernatorial Candidate

Written by Scott Keyes

Not many Goldman Sachs executives know the struggles of the streets. Few have had to wonder where their next meal will come from, and even fewer where they will sleep that night.

Neel Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs banker and current Republican nominee for governor of California, is not one of them.

In late July, Kashkari, a millionaire who helped oversee the 2008 bailout of the financial industry, bought a Greyhound bus ticket from Los Angeles to Fresno, one of the poorest cities in California. Kashkari brought with him just a few essentials: a backpack, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes and $40. For the next week, he lived on the streets, experiencing firsthand what it is like to be homeless. (It wasn’t his first time undertaking such a venture; last year, he stayed overnight in an Oakland homeless shelter.)

Kashkari picked an epicenter of homelessness in California. In 2013, there were 3,131 homeless people in Fresno, 81 percent of whom were unsheltered. This was the highest rate in the nation of unsheltered homeless people living in major cities.

“Since I had little money, a motel was out of the question. I tried to sleep on park benches or in parking lots,” Kashkari recounted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. However, he was frequently hassled by police officers and kicked out of such places and because Fresno, like many cities in California and across the nation, has ordinances in place that make it a crime for homeless people to do basic human functions, like lying down to sleep. (Fresno has an anti-camping law that prohibits people from sleeping in public areas such as parks.)

Kashkari concluded his op-ed by arguing that “California’s most vulnerable citizens deserve leaders who will fight for them. It’s a fight that Republicans should lead,” pointing to the solutions of “improving education and reducing regulations.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s (D-CA) campaign and several liberal blogs have scoffed at Kashkari’s week as a campaign stunt. But they should resist the temptation unless they also want to accuse Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Kashkari’s fellow Californian, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who have all experienced homelessness firsthand in order to learn more about the problem, of political grandstanding.

Indeed, ending chronic homeless is something that many conservatives like Kashkari would argue is a fiscally conservative position. That’s because it costs taxpayers three times as much money to let homeless people languish on the streets rather than give them permanent supportive housing and services.

Where liberals can take issue with Kashkari, however, is his argument that a social safety net doesn’t help cure poverty. “The solution is simple,” the Republican hopeful declares at the end of a video documenting his week on the streets. “It’s not more welfare, it’s not more food stamps. It’s jobs.”

Job creation is vital for combating poverty, but that doesn’t mean leaving poor people to fend for themselves until they’ve climbed a few rungs up the economic ladder. In fact, the very tools Kashkari dismisses — welfare, food stamps, and increasing the minimum wage — help keep millions of Americans out of poverty.

In 2011, for example, nearly 50 million people — one out of every six Americans — lived in poverty in the United States. Though that number is far too high, it would have been higher were it not for our social safety net. Food stamps lifted nearly five million Americans out of poverty; unemployment insurance and supplemental security income lifted 3.4 million people apiece out of poverty.

And though Kashkari decried government spending on welfare programs, even many of the places that helped him survive during his week on the streets, including a shelter and a food bank, rely in part on government funding in order to serve the needy.

Kashkari’s economic plan doesn’t mention homelessness once, and only mentions the poverty rate as an attack on California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), while neglecting to mention any specific ideas. Kashkari focuses on gutting regulations, but he only focuses on regulations that he believes harm businesses, not the types of local regulations that kept him — and thousands of other homeless people in California — from being able to sleep on a bench or ask passersby for spare change.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Betty Haniotakis
Betty H3 years ago

For Freddy R. - You said "Not one link in rebuttal, not one checkable phrase from any respectable source that can be collaborated..."

I suppose you meant to say "corroborated"

Tamera Dolcini
Tamera Dolcini3 years ago

Not on the streets long enough to learn anything about poverty nor the homelessness! If these politicians really want to find out what is really needed to help people get off the streets, to help them out of poverty, they must spend at least six months to a year on the streets without personal resources. Get rid of the sleeping bag and start with one day's minimum wage, a backpack with a thermal blanket and a change of clothes. As many homeless first must overcome the problem of not having an ID card, even this must be left behind. Only then, will they get a clue regarding what it really means to be homeless, but they still won't know what it's like to be disabled and homeless.

Charlie Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

What Mr. Kashkari should be required before any legislator takes office.

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore3 years ago

It obviously DIDN'T teach him compassion. Even Jesus said "as ye have done for the least of these, my brethren, so ye have done also to me."

Wanda Bagram
Past Member 3 years ago

This is an awesome story and all, BUT why haven't I seen a story about the police destroying the homeless Tent City, on the edge of Lakewood Township, New Jersey? I mean that story has got Care2.com written all over it but not one article about it!


Rose Becke3 years ago

I agree with Samuel

Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago


janet t.
janet t3 years ago

The thing to get rid of the poor is stop sending jobs overseas, paying a living wage. I would like to see 15.00 an hour and I would bet in 10 years or so we would have a booming economy with a lot fewer people on the streets.

Phil M.
Phil M3 years ago

The numbers David F. listed are from an email forward that has seen resurgence in recent months focuses on large assistance amounts to a selection of countries and frames those aid efforts in direct comparison to cuts to defense and veteran spending. While there is no doubt that the populist message of the email pulls at the heart by mentioning the hardships facing the military community, it is unfortunately framed in thinly veiled racist language and suffers from a distinct lack of contextual perspective.

You can read the email message via the following image links: “So Sad, Isn’t It?” – Part I, Part II on this website below .Make sure to view both :