A recent campaign mailer paid for by 24th District Congressional Republican candidate Andy Caldwell is drawing criticism for repeating a debunked claim that California's homeless population is causing a leprosy outbreak.
The flyer, which recently hit residents' mailboxes, includes a headshot of Caldwell and the headline: "California is on the wrong track."
"California residents pay more everything," the mailer reads. "Meanwhile, our traffic is grid-locked, our roads are falling apart, our water is being rationed, and homeless people are bringing back diseases such as leprosy!"
A September column in The Hill publicized the claim that Los Angeles was at risk of a leprosy outbreak due to its homelessness crisis. But that's since been debunked and rebuked by health officials and medical experts.
Over the past decade, LA County has averaged just two cases of leprosy per year, and none have been identified in people experiencing homelessness, according to county health officials who were cited by the Associated Press. The infectious disease most associated with the Middle Ages is actually on the decline (LA had 13 cases in 1998), and there's no current risk of an outbreak, officials said.
Some Central Coast residents took issue with the mailer's repeating of the rumor, feeling that it demonized homeless people.
"This is not only a baseless and demonstrably false claim, it is frankly vicious and repugnant," Los Osos resident John Aycock wrote in an email.
Caldwell told New Times that he "was not aware" that the leprosy rumor had been debunked. But he then added that "the prediction is bubonic plague is going to make a comeback."
"Stating health concerns regarding the squalor and vermin and deplorable conditions of homeless encampments is statement of fact not an attack," the longtime conservative radio talk show host said by email.
California leaders have expressed concern about the public health risks associated with homelessness. This month, Gov. Gavin Newsom called it "a public health crisis" during a State of the State speech, citing recent outbreaks of typhus and hepatitis A in LA and San Diego encampments, respectively.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara)—Caldwell's opponent—condemned the campaign mailers in a statement, stating they were used to "spread false information, create unfounded fear, and slander people who are trying to get back on their feet."
"It is extremely troubling," Carbajal said. "We need representation that is honest and committed to making positive change in our community." Δ