The issue of homelessness is a vexing problem – not just for communities like Davis, but in almost all communities. On Monday, the Davis Chamber organized a walkabout in order to focus attention on various trouble spots in the Davis Downtown.
Our takeaway: there is no magic bullet solution to the problem. However, we found the conversation that occurred on location between city leaders like Robb Davis, business leaders who head up the Chamber and DDBA (Downtown Davis Business Association), and the police chief to have been extremely valuable.
Chamber CEO Christina Blackman wants to find alternatives to panhandling in order to help homeless people. She is concerned that panhandling simply feeds addiction.
But, while this sounds good, Robb Davis fears that without housing and wrap-around programs, with the low cost of methamphetamine and other drugs, “the amount of money necessary to get a week’s supply of the drugs we’re talking about is very very low.” He believes if you curtailed panhandling and giving to zero, “I hate to say it, but I think you’d have an increase in petty theft.
“I don’t think there’s any one magic bullet,” he said.
Robb Davis said, “There’s no one thing we can do, there’s simply not.” But he does believe that building relationships with the homeless community can help.
“It takes relationships,” Mayor Davis explained. Mayor Davis said that he can think of about five people who were in relationships with people in the community that eventually helped them get off the streets “because at a moment in time they were ready.” He said, “That was not predictable. It was not programmed.”
Downtown businesses are of course concerned that aggressive panhandling and scary behavior on the behalf of some homeless people acts as a deterrent to people coming into the downtown to go to stores.
While that appears to be a valid concern, the answer may be more difficult.
The issue is complex and, while police are often called, Chief Pytel explained that “we have to deal with people’s immediate safety concerns.” But, even having said that, “there may or may not be anything that we can do.
“A lot of people say, why don’t you just arrest them,” he said. “We’re finding over and over that that’s not necessarily the answer,” especially if “mental illness or drugs and addiction are the primary issues.
“So just making an arrest under the current criminal justice system is not going to change that behavior,” he explained. “We are looking for support that people are open to alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system.”
There was a lot of talk of private sector working with benefit organizations and the city on a more innovative approach.
One company is taking this upon themselves. Sutter Health, one of the larger private-sector employers in the region, is establishing a $20 million matching fund to help regional government provide housing for their homeless populations.
Sutter has agreed to an effort called “Housing First” which addresses the issue of homelessness, first by connecting people with permanent housing. That effort then is followed by support services.
In December, the city announced it will “receive $233,000 in matching funds from Sutter Health to increase permanent supportive housing for its chronically homeless population.”
According to the release, the funds will be used to support Davis Pathways, “a program that aligns private and public funding and resources to support no-or-low barrier access to housing – a proven best practice in ending homelessness.”
“The City of Davis is committed to creating long-term housing solutions for our chronically homeless,” said Mayor Robb Davis. “By partnering with Sutter Health, our city is able to secure additional resources needed to jump start an innovative program that allows us to work with local landlords and service providers to permanently house the most vulnerable individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in Davis.”
The hope is that Davis Pathways will serve 45 people over three years. According to the city, the grant from Sutter Health will help to provide funding necessary “to incorporate job training, bridge rental assistance, and supportive services.”
“Every day we see growing numbers of homeless in our region, and see the toll homelessness takes on individuals and our communities,” said Sutter Health Valley Area President James Conforti. “At Sutter Health, we are working to create a regional data-driven response to chronic homelessness by working with government, businesses and service providers to support projects that offer low and no barrier housing options for the most vulnerable populations, like the Davis Pathways program.”
The matching grant is one of several community investments that Sutter Health is making to address chronic homelessness.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors took a similar action to receive a $1 million matching grant that will be used to purchase housing units and fund rental subsidies for the chronically homeless.
In September, Sutter Health also provided a $400,000 matching grant to the City of Sacramento to ensure the Salvation Army homeless shelter could transition from a night shelter to a 24/7 shelter.
Nearly $2 million of the funding Sutter committed has already been matched for purposes in Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties according to an article in February in the Sacramento Business Journal.
These matching grants are part of a larger strategic initiative being led by Sutter Health to align public, private and philanthropic resources in Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties in support of a Housing First response to homelessness – a response that calls for low-or-no-barrier access to shelter.
“As Sutter Health has met with local leaders and experts to explore best practices for addressing homelessness in our region, we’ve identified immediate opportunities for action and as a result have already begun to commit matching funds to support key elements that will be a critical part of our campaign,” Mr. Conforti explained. “We are having positive and productive discussions with elected officials throughout our region and look forward to engaging the entire community in this effort in 2017.”
Clearly, there are concerns that the Housing First model only addresses the issue of housing without the type of support services needed to actually treat the underlying problems.
That is where there is the need for additional services, but Robb Davis, a longtime advocate for the homeless, is supportive of the program and seems to believe it can be a step in the right direction.
—David M. Greenwald reporting