I think we need to have a genuine and courageous debate about power (in this case the real-estate companies and big business lobby in CA, versus what it would really take to make our state equitable, devoid of the hypocrisies that inform these types of conversations). Thank you for soliciting our ideas.
As much as we would all like to eradicate homelessness altogether, we must recognize that some portion of the homeless population will refuse all help, and direct our scarce resources to those who can most likely benefit from them. The hard truth is that we cannot force assistance on those who reject it, and we cannot afford to waste time and money on them when those efforts could be so helpful to others willing to do what it takes to improve their situation.
Finally, precisely because our resources are scarce, it would be more effective for individuals concerned with the homelessness problem to direct their time and money to private charities, rather than large, sweeping government programs (with their large, sweeping government bureaucracies). Private charities generally are more responsive to the needs of their communities because they have greater local knowledge of what must be done, and they have greater incentives to show positive results in order to generate future donations. Heavy-handed government involvement, by contrast, relies on compulsion (i.e., taxation) instead of charity, and need not be effective in order to continue receiving its funding.
This is the defining issues of our day, and we must meet the challenge. This issue is complex, involves multiple partners, and often takes longer than I’d like. The daily balancing act of local governments has become: how do we enforce local ordinances (littering or public nuance) to protect quality of life in our cities, with the compassion and long-term strategy of building housing and providing appropriate support services. This is the connected approach that Riverside is driving, but change takes time.
Riversiders recognize that to effectively address homelessness there needs to be a collective response. We know that partnering with community champions delivers effective solutions. My team has been working tirelessly on the Love Your Neighbor Initiative to engage the faith and businesses communities in partnerships that have delivered well thought out solutions, such as the Grove Village (barn-raised cottages) and a Social Work internship program that expanded outreach to vulnerable neighbors. These partnerships should be replicated across the state as all segments of society must come together as force multipliers. These are a few illustrations of a larger and connected strategy in the City of Riverside.
Respect is missing. The problem won’t be solved by moralizing, and neither the YIMBYs or the NIMBYs have the answer. We need to be practical and not expect people to see their quality of life dwindle because they lack the political power to stop homeless shelters in their neighborhoods. But we also must think about how to use the enormous energy and capabilities of religious and other non-profits to tackle this issue.
This is an urgent matter and we need to look deeper at the economic conditions of the poorest among us for whom housing has become a luxury vs. a basic human right and need.
The Building Industry Association of Southern California (BIASC) had been steadfast in its commitment to promoting the creation of new housing across all socioeconomic levels, particularly when it comes to addressing homelessness.
In 1989, BIASC created HomeAid Orange County, a charitable nonprofit dedicated to providing immediate housing and support services for the homeless. To help address Orange County’s limited emergency housing options, HomeAid OC has built or renovated 63 housing projects, including emergency shelters, transitional/bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing. To date, these efforts have provided housing for over 65,000 individuals who have experienced homelessness.
HomeAid OC was selected by the Orange County Children and Families Commission as the fiscal agent for the Orange County Catalytic Investment Fund, designed to address the lack of emergency shelters. In this role, HomeAid is leading efforts to create a minimum of 70 emergency shelter units for families in need of immediate housing. HomeAid OC also partners with dozens of nonprofit service providers to help the homeless move towards self-sufficiency through programs that include education, job skills training, and physical and emotional support. This includes working with organizations like Casa Teresa, Orange County Rescue Mission, and Orangewood Children’s Home, to name a few.
Dismantling the state mental hospital systems in the 1960s, then not adequately funding the community mental health which was to replace it, has led to our prisons and jails becoming the default housing for the mentally ill who cycle in and out of homelessness and incarceration. They were not designed and are not staffed to deal with these problems.
Providing the homeless jobs is a critical piece of addressing the problem. San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles Counties are focusing more on this issue. The coastal and big city-centric view is that NIMBYism is what prevents dense, transit-oriented, multi-family housing in any community in which it is not being built. While that may be true in some cities, there are many inland areas in which it is not lack of political will, it’s just plain economics. The market will not bear the cost of the concrete and steel required to build to higher densities.
In the United States we live in more space than people in any country in the world, other than Australia. Living in less space per person, with more shared amenities, is more affordable. Communities should amend their codes to allow it.
People who are homeless have an income from government benefits, and it may be time to investigate whether anyone is exploiting homeless people to obtain those benefits, perhaps through fraud. For example, the Social Security Administration will pay Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to a “representative payee” who can be a relative or another third party. Living in a shelter or medical treatment facility reduces the SSI benefits paid to the individual. Does that create an incentive for unscrupulous people to enable homeless individuals to live on the streets while acting as their “representative payee” and collecting their benefits? Is there any oversight?
As another example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funds an outreach program to increase access to the disability income benefit programs administered by SSA “for eligible adults who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and have a serious mental illness, medical impairment and/or a co-occurring substance abuse disorder.” If it is possible that public benefits are being intercepted by people who are exploiting the homeless to collect government cash, we should find out and do something about it.
Orange County business leaders have identified increasing the supply, choices and affordability of housing as a key initiative to Orange County’s long-term economic prosperity. As a result, OCBC is a leader in research, with cutting-edge data, that has assisted regional agencies like the Southern California Association of Governments, individual city research and private company research. There is a wealth of information to help local governments meet the need in OCBC’s recent study: Inside OC’s Retail E-volution and the 2019-20 Orange County Workforce Housing Scorecard. Contact OCBC at www.ocbc.org.
Shelter is a basic human necessity, but far too often, we have treated having a stable home as a privilege. Our state is finally making progress, with an anti-rent gouging bill advancing out of the state legislature’s Senate Judiciary, and notable progress at the local level. This will help to level the playing field between tenants and landlords. Of particular concern are huge corporate landlords like Blackstone that use the red herring of protecting small mom and pop landlords to distract from their efforts to increase corporate profits at the expense of vulnerable tenants. They also buy properties in mass, displaying long-standing community members and destabilizing the housing market. In addition to housing justice, Liberty Hill is deeply committed to criminal and youth justice. Unfortunately, many individuals re-entering society after incarceration are denied housing. Private landlords refuse to sign a lease. Public housing authorities block applications. How can we expect our community members to successfully re-enter society without a roof over their heads? This is unacceptable. We must do better.
What is lacking is will. Mayors and city councils must have the will to take people off the streets and send them to centers providing the minimum basics. There is nothing unconstitutional about doing so. Misplaced compassion has actually kept homeless people from services more efficiently provided in centralized locations.
Significant education of local government leaders and the general community is needed to provide a common foundation to discuss the most effective ways to prevent and respond to homelessness.
The affordable housing crisis we face today is decades in the making. It will take many years to transform our housing systems. However, action is required now to lay the infrastructure that is necessary to improve housing stability of all residents in the future.