Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
The story of January 6, in the Manteca Bulletin about our Community Resource Officer Mike Kelley was an extra ordinary story about him enforcing the law while reaching out compassionately to those whose daily lives are a challenge of survival.
As a longtime member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (first in the Bay Area and now with our local affiliate), I have seen the face of those desperate in need of our support. There are many reasons to be homeless; those that are homeless because of addiction, those who lost their job and can’t afford the rents; veterans not able to survive in our society because they experienced the brutality of war.
However, the services provided by Officer Kelley and non-profits in Manteca are only temporary solutions. Enforcing the law and reaching out is different from truly solving the problem. No matter how compassionate it is done it still is a band aid.
Helping the homeless is not only a job for the Police Department (actually it is not their job). It has to be addressed by a coalition of federal, state and local governments with the support of private organizations, non-profits and corporate entities. It takes a village. The first and most important step in addressing the homeless issue is to provide housing or shelter. Living from day to day without knowing where your meals, showers, hygiene and safe shelters are is not conducive for any person to even think of work applications let alone work.
Study after study on homelessness point to housing first as a true solution. The University of New Mexico institute for Social Research found that it is cost effective to house the homeless. A recent economic Roundtable on homelessness also concluded that in order to combat homeless, the first step is to provide homes. The Roundtable study focused on Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley with the highest percentage of homelessness in our country. The study analyzed everyone who was homeless during 2007 and 2012 and found that it cost approximately $100,000 annually for each homeless person, who comes into contact with the police and requires health and social welfare services. The study detailed the non-profit group “Destination Home” tracking 400 people they housed and found that before receiving housing each one created a public cost of $62,500 per year, housing them cost $20,000 per person annually. That’s more than $42,000 in savings every year, more than offsetting the costs of housing. Santa Clara County spends approximately 5% of its total budget addressing the homeless issue.
“Housing first” was a proposal on homelessness back in 1992 in New York. From the 242 chronically homeless 88% were still living in their apartments five years later at a lower cost to tax payers. The model spread to Washington Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah. It also concluded, if the resident lapsed back into drugs and alcohol it was better to keep them housed instead of having them laps into homelessness. Not only is it more compassionate, it keeps them off the street, preventing an economic drain on society. Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance for Homelessness, said: ”move people into permanent housing first and then provide help seems to work better. People do better when they have stability”.
More recently tiny homes (400 to 500 square feet) for homelessness have popped up all over the country. People on the street die from exposure, drugs, suicide, violence and poor health. Seattle provided three city properties to build clusters of tiny homes. These sites have wrap around social services helping families and individuals connect to housing, employment and education.
Living in a tiny house doesn’t need to be a dead end. Seattle has a CAC (Community Advisory Committee) made up of church, business and local citizens who oversee, lend support and advise. Price to construct a tiny house is minimal as it comes in at between $2,000 to $5,000. Some cities rebuild empty containers for housing units.
Pastor Steve Lindner in Sacramento leased a trailer to shelter a mother and her three kids. A year later she had moved into permanent housing.
Affordable housing is an important tool in the struggle against homelessness. Affordable housing keeps families from becoming homeless. Does the city need a bolder approach in creating affordable units? What is the percentage of affordable housing units in the city? Should builders receive incentives to include affordable units when applying for new subdivisions? Should the City apply for grants? Building tiny houses with wrap around (social) services is a viable option. City zoning laws allow for these units. Is there truly a will to resolve the homeless issue and not put it all on the shoulders of the Police Department.
The moral compass of a society (city) depends on how it takes care of its at risk citizens. Housing first (tiny housing) is doable, it is a cost effect and possibly a first step into affordable permanent housing. The poor (homelessness) we will always have with us but we can’t ignore them.