The California Legislature in its infinite wisdom has set aside $500 million for emergency grants to help cities and counties reduce homelessness.
Grants can go toward shelter construction, housing vouchers and such.
It sounds like a step in the right direction but it is really just passing the buck — all 500 million of them. It will not make a significant impact nor will it address what really needs to be done. Homelessness is a state issue more than a local issue because the state is obstructing long-term solutions that need to address mental illness commitment standards, substance abuse rehabilitation, employment training, and lower construction requirements for transitional housing.
A holistic approach would involve developing a state program similar to the Depression-era Civilian Conversation Corps. The objective would be to divert homeless adults that need them into treatment programs and then a year or two stint in a CCC-style work/training program that would tackle a huge backlog of projects various government agencies have — whether it is local, county, state or federal involving parks, habitat restoration, building maintenance, and such. At the same time the participants would develop skills and a work history. Participants would have the option for a third year of apprentice-style training wedded with appropriate community college courses learning employable skills while partnered with state agencies whether it is vehicle maintenance, performing clerical jobs, or driving trucks.
At the same time, they can be taught life management skills and have access to programs that work on the reasons they became homeless in the first place.
They would be housed and fed as well as paid a stipend during the CCC-style portion of the program with half if it being diverted into a holding account to help pay for housing after they complete the program. Two months prior to the end of the CCC-style program the state would work with participants to secure jobs in the private or public sector. Those who go into the apprenticeship program would be paid a wage.
At the same time, the state should purchase property throughout California in concert with local jurisdictions to build transitional housing.
The state would then hire mentor construction experts to oversee an apprentice program for the construction trades. The transitional housing would be built by the former homeless doing and learning under the watchful eye of mentors.
This will require the state to modify rules such as prevailing wages for government construction given the housing would be built by apprentices. The state needs to also reduce the cost of construction by outright prohibiting jurisdictions from collecting growth fees except for sewer or water. Since we are talking about single adults being taken off the streets fees for schools, parks, and even government facilities should not be collected. The transitional single adult housing would be government owned but leased to a non-profit to operate. By requiring such housing to be served by bus service that communities 50,000 and more receive state funding to provide it helps justify suspending transportation and road fees collected on housing construction.
Simply housing the homeless isn’t much of an answer as it doesn’t solve the problem except on a fleeting temporary basis. And those helped with shelter must be drug free.
You might be inclined to argue a bit snarky that the US Constitution doesn’t require the government to provide free housing to those who get high or incapacitate themselves when it comes to the ability to work or caring for themselves.
While that may be true, it just spurs a lot of useless debate and the expenditure of funds that produce little or no change for the better.
The way it should be argued is from a pragmatic stance. There is only an infinite amount of resources available. Limited funds should be used only on programs that have the best possibility of producing results.
Those who are homeless that aren’t willing to forgo getting high should not be helped until those who are homeless who are willing to work to change their circumstances are helped first.
It sounds cruel, but it isn’t. Life is about choices. And if you chose drugs or alcohol over getting off the streets, it’s a free country. Just don’t expect bumping someone aside for a bed in a shelter or transitional housing who is willing to step up to the plate. Being willing to enter a substance abuse program and following through is a reasonable litmus test.
If you think that is cruel consider what social workers and police who work day in and day out with the homeless are saying. Because those of us who feel sorry for the homeless keep giving them food and money they settle into a comfort zone on the streets doing drugs and such. They are only moved to getting help when they are constantly hungry or freezing and wet because they have no shelter in the winter or during storms.
More than a few times homeless individuals — when asked — will brag about eating seven times a day and being able to pick what they want and discard the rest due to people’s misplaced generosity.
It isn’t unusual for those panhandling who get general assistance or other support and who can access meals to collect over $100 a day tax free. The money doesn’t go to feed their bellies or put a roof over their heads.
It goes to keeping them high on booze and drugs. As for the state, they need to start cleaning up the mess in a systemic way that changes behavior.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.