A beginning is a very delicate time…..
As a veteran of 29 years in law-enforcement I saw my share of homeless folks in all three jurisdictions I had the honor of working in (Los Banos, Redwood City and Hollister, CA).
Let’s talk about exactly what homelessness is. Homelessness is something that is sort of like a cornucopia there’s all kinds of different things inside the cornucopia but all contained in this one vessel or word / category. Homelessness is just like that.
But it is so much more.
When I started in law-enforcement, homeless folks were few and far to be seen almost anywhere in California. There were a few folks that we saw; you know that one crazy guy that sat on the corner all the time, or there was a guy that stayed at the bus stop and slept on the bench there all the time.
There wasn’t a lot of these large homeless tent cities you see now. In fact, I don’t remember any at all until maybe 15 to 18 years ago. Probably more like 18 years ago, when I was in the bay area and I worked in a town called Redwood City, as a police officer.
Redwood City had a homeless issue, but it wasn’t a huge one and did not rise to the level of public nuisance or major public health issues. There were a few folks that were living in corners of buildings, alleys, under bridges and medians of different roadways and highways. It was clearly not as big a problem as it is today.
I won't dive into any of my theories as to why there has been an astronomical increase of homelessness over the last 15 or so years, because I don't do politics. The jist of it is, there are just a ton of reasons but many have their roots in the economics of the past 15 years or so.
I have responded as a patrol officer to homeless calls/disturbances in all three jurisdictions I served in. I admit that I have possibly arrested homeless individuals to help them get a warm bed in the past. To be sure there was a codified crime that occured in those instances, but honestly I would be lying if I didn't say that one of the benefits of the arrest was that the individual was off the street in a warm place. I have given homeless individuals my last dollar, my lunch, my clothes and given them rides on occasion. It is just the kind of person my parents raised and it also felt like something I needed to do to uphold the oath that I swore too. I do not deserve a “thank you” or a “good job” for any of this. Police officers do this and more each day and do not do it for praise, thanks or anything else, it is just who they are.
Over the last 10 years most jurisdictions begun taking some sort of a census on their homeless population. The genesis of that is so they can get federal funding for either low income housing, new shelters or whatever other services that are within the spectrum of homelessness that need to be addressed in the jurisdiction.
I guess it was about 10-11 years ago, I was asked if I wanted to be on the Homeless Coalition of San Benito County. Hollister City Councilman Doug Emerson, who was one of the founding members of the Homeless Coalition of San Benito County asked me. I decided to join the coalition board and see what I could do to help.
One of the first members of the Homeless Coalition of San Benito County I met was Robert Rivas. Robert had recently been elected to the County of San Benito’s Board of Supervisors. I am obviously pretty proud of the Assembly Members accomplishments thus far. We have some slight philosophical differences politically, but he has my trust and he truly possesses a servants heart.
One of the important concepts the SBC Homeless Coalition tried to do with services to the homeless population was to engage with the clients individually. This approach set us apart. The idea being, if we could solve the small problems and then their big problems might be easier to manage. If by example, the big problem was we needed a plane ticket for the client to go back to Kansas to reunite them with family, maybe they needed a job, medical assistant or a roof over their head we figured it out for that client.
We truly had some great success with many of those individuals. In fact some of those folks are independently living today, no longer on the streets and are functioning working folks. I was very proud of what we did with the Homeless Coalition of San Benito County.
Here’s the rub there was only five or six of us in the room advocating and working with the clients. We had a couple of paid staff/advocates that also worked very hard at the winter warming shelter we had. They connected with the clients and also helped them in many ways. Only having a few years in this advocacy, I quickly realized that the need far exceeded the SBC Homeless Coalitions capacity.
Several years ago, San Benito County built a permanent homeless shelter and resolved to provide services. They have received multiple grants and funding and now offer a wide array of services. I applaud their efforts thus far. The original SBC Homeless Coalition was no longer needed, so eventually it was mothballed.
Why did I tell you all of this? It's because I wanted you to understand that I have a thorough understanding of the topic and I have worked on many different sides of it.
So what is the definition of homeless, what is it?
According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Social Work, homelessness is formally defined by the United States government as when a person “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, and if they sleep in a shelter designated for temporary living accommodations or in places not designated for human habitation.
But wait Dave has more…
The condition of being is a lot of different things actually. It can literally occur overnight for some folks. it can occur over a long period of time for others. However the journey that got these souls there is really not important. What is important is that they are now are homeless.
Let me just say this once, so you understand, there are folks in the world, in our community, in this state and in this nation that choose this lifestyle. This is what they want to do. This is not a result of not having a job, mental health or any other thing that you can attribute to causation of being homeless. They simply do not want to live in a home and would rather live out in the streets. There is quite a number of these folks that feel this way. For them that is the solution, we have to be OK with letting them live their life like that (with some exceptions of course). We must have rules of course but at the end of the day if a person wants to be homeless then we have to be OK with letting them live their life as they see fit, this is America, period.
You can broadly classify homelessness in four different categories, honestly there’s probably a myriad of different categories within those categories as well:
- Couch surfers - there are a lot of folks out there that live with friends for long periods of time all over the place because they do not have a home. They are still homeless because they are transient nature and do not have a permanent address. Most likely they have jobs most likely they are completely indigent and that they have something coming in bats some sort of support could be found and support or some of the support that is giving him some normalcy and they do not live out in the weather.
- Mental health drug attic’s and alcoholism - are three of the biggest factors and things that I’ve seen in my career that are both causation of homelessness and for those folks to continue to be homeless.
- Migrant workers or other undocumented citizens - I think this definition sort of explains itself. But if not in a labor camp or you’re not working to a standard that supports living with a roof over your head in the community that you’re living in, then most likely living out in the weather on the streets is where you will most likely end up unfortunately.
- On Purpose - As explained in the paragraphs above. Like I said, we have to accept their decisions with a few exceptions.
- Stop all sidewalk service. Stop bringing food and clothing to them in parks and on the streets.
- Increase sidewalk service for mental health and medical.
- Try to connect to the individual clients, solve the small problems (my phone is broken, I haven't eaten)
- Limit the handouts, increase social skills training / job training / job opportunities.
- Introduce very low income / no income temporary housing (exposure to the elements / other homeless lifestyle habits cause hospital visits. Hospital visits cost local hospitals many millions of dollars each year, providing a roof is literally cheaper in most instances).
- No more camping on city streets, parks or alleys.
- No more setting up their little camp spots all day with trash and belongings where our children / families play and frequent.
- Establish areas where the homeless can go/camp, that has bathrooms, water and power outlets.
- Increase in programs that encourage families to stay together. Provide free parenting classes, adult education and college.
- Bring back drug court, it really worked.
- Free, proactive and on-going mental health, medical and other counseling will double the success rates for many of these folks.
- Take law enforcement out of the homelessness continuum of care and options on the tool belt. Law enforcement is just that. If laws are being broken call them. Being homeless is not a crime.
We have to remember that tomorrow we could be in their same situation tomorrow. We have to give folks the benefit of the doubt, but not at the expense of our safety, property values and cleanliness of the community we live in.
That's all I have for now. Be good to each other.