Homelessness Situation: No Magic Bullet

Mayor Robb Davis listens to the concerns of the business community on Monday

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



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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44 Comments

  1. Jim Hoch

    “ending homelessness” does not mean helping people recover their lives or achieving some state of “social acceptability”. It means taking people who are in tents and putting them under a roof and allowing them to behave exactly the same, just inside. 

    Just to be clear on terms.

     

     

      1. Don Shor

        This article doesn’t address any other parts of the equation. Just housing/shelter. In the absence of effective drug treatment programs, and job training programs with proven outcomes, I think Jim Hoch is probably correct in his assessment.

        1. Jim Hoch

          You are correct Don. With the housing first model you are prohibited from making any demands or having any kind of “equation”. That is old thinking.

        2. Howard P

          For any given individual, there is a separate equation.  One equation does not fit all.

          Housing/shelter will be a big factor for some, if it includes counseling/assessment and job training/placement. For others, the equation is much more complex, and includes exponents, big time.

    1. Alan Miller

      “ending homelessness” . . . means taking people who are in tents and putting them under a roof and allowing them to behave exactly the same, just inside.

      That’s just those who will choose to be “put” under a roof.  Many will choose to remain outside where they can be “free”.

      1. Howard P

        Agree with you, Alan… “ending homelessness” is a cannabis-fueled ‘pipe-dream’… reducing it, is a noble goal.  And, I believe, reasonably obtainable.  Will require effort and commitment…

        Something about changing the things we can, accepting those things we cannot, and having the discernment to know the difference…

      2. Todd Edelman

        Do we have data for Davis which indicates how many would want to stay outside if the alternative was a small, subsidized apartment in a – for lack of a better term – mixed social status apartment building/complex with various services within a short distance?

  2. Ron

    From article:  “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.”

    Great!

    Now, if there was only a large site within the city, with existing buildings that could have been used for that purpose.  (Perhaps previously occupied by a taxpayer-supported organization that coincidentally also had “First” within its name.)

    1. Don Shor

      I’ll just save this so I can copy and paste it to your endless repetition:
      More private apartments = more places for people to live. Those who have housing vouchers or rent subsidies will have more choices. Currently they have almost none. There were no serious proposals from anybody to purchase and revamp the site for non-profit housing. I am unaware of any social service agency that had the wherewithal and intention of using that site. So your comment is pointless. There is no opportunity cost if there was no opportunity.

      1. Tia Will

        Don

        I largely agree with your comment but with one huge caveat. The fact that there was no opportunity is a matter of choice. Our little town is no exception to a fact of current American society. If there is not money, and often large amounts of money to be made, projects are simply not going to occur. But we shrug and act as though that is “just the way the world is”. I would disagree. That is the way we choose to structure our world because those who are relatively more affluent ( myself included ) are making choices which tend to tilt the economic balance in our own favor. It is choice, not fate, not human nature, not God’s will….and this is what we find so difficult to accept.

      2. Ron

        Don “Vacancy Rate” Shor is singling me out for repetition!

        Again, this site was well-suited for housing and services for residents with various personal challenges.  (That’s how it was previously used.)

        From article:  “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.”

        1. Don Shor

          Are you actually proposing that the Families First site be used for housing dozens and dozens of homeless folks, many with addiction and criminal issues? Have you run this by the Rancho Yolo board?

          Talk about unintended consequences.

          There are serious problems engendered by concentrating facilities and resources for the homeless. The ripple effect spreads out to neighborhoods and businesses and can actually become a regional draw, which is not to the benefit of those in need, the community, or the nearby residents. It is far better to disperse them in housing. See the region around Loaves and Fishes for a local example.

          Again, this site was well-suited for housing and services for residents. (That’s how it was previously used.)

          If the history of the previous occupants is any indication, that is not a good use for the site.

        2. Ron

          Don:  “Have you run this by the Rancho Yolo board?”

          Given recent (and perhaps past) approvals, Rancho Yolo does not seem to have a great deal of influence.  Regardless, neither you nor I can speak for them.

          Don:  “There are serious problems engendered by concentrating facilities and resources for the homeless. It is far better to disperse them in housing.”

          I’m not sure that’s true.  Is it not better and more efficient to have needed services and housing in one place?  (It’s difficult for me to believe that the existing facility is entirely “unique” in that manner, within the nation.)

          Also, how would neighbors (say, in an otherwise “regular” apartment complex) “feel” if their immediate next-door neighbor had such challenges? Might that also create concerns, for some?

          One reason that the Families First site might have worked is because it was somewhat separated from existing dwellings (and most businesses).

          I have no plans to stop pointing out the “opportunity costs” resulting from approving a development that could have been better-accommodated on campus.

        3. Ron

          Jim:  You do have a good sense of humor.  🙂  That’s always appreciated, regardless of views. (Not directed at you, but I guess there can be a fine line between offensiveness and humor, though. Especially online.)

  3. Tia Will

    Jim

    While you may interpret the meaning that way, there are many who see “ending homelessness” as a comprehensive goal with “the roof over the head” being just one component of a comprehensive plan not to gain “social acceptability” but rather to integrate into a more stable, productive and probably most important of all, safer lifestyle.

    Again, I take exception to the words you use. You state “allowing them to behave exactly the same, just inside. ” Short of strict incarceration, and even then given the amount of drug use in our prisons, we do not have the ability to “allow” or not “allow” individuals to use or not use drugs. Again, for those who are addicted, this is a disease, not a life style choice although it may have started that way. Often, it does not start that way but starts with severe pain either physical or mental and then morphs to addiction bypassing the issue of “choice” or “morality” altogether. Until we start looking at these issues more individually as a manifestation of illness rather than as a moral failing which is ours to “allow” or not, I doubt we will see much improvement.

    1. Jim Hoch

      “we do not have the ability to “allow” or not “allow” individuals to use or not use drugs.” Yes in fact we do. Treatment programs, transitional living programs, and the like have a variety of criteria and all include a prohibition against illegal drugs and most often legal drugs (alcohol, pot) as well. 

      However the target audience for Housing First is people who refuse to make that tradeoff.

      Many homeless people have homes available to them from relatives or other sources. They choose to remain homeless because they don’t want to make the behavior changes that would allow them to move in with relatives. Now the Housing First people say if people move into stable housing they will, magically, desire to improve their lives. They can’t explain it, they can’t prove it, but it sure sounds good to people who have no experience of homelessness.

      BTW have you ever seen a Housing First study that had as an endpoint what the neighbors experience was? Me neither, why do you think that is?

      1. Ron

        Jim:

        Just wondering what you think is a good (societal) solution for those who won’t (and/or can’t) change their behavior, and/or are suffering from other mental health issues.

        1. Howard P

          Make a suggestion of your own, Ron, that is realistic… for someone that can demonstrate/opine an option does NOT work, does not impose an obligation to find the solution, for their views to be valid.

          Your oft-repeated “families first” site concept is unworkable as to initial cost, and on-going maintenance, operational, and programmatic costs.  It borders on idiotic.

          But, hey, we both know, and I wish you’d be honest and admit, that your very frequent suggestions re:  the Families First site comes not from a concern for the homeless, but your continued animus towards the proposed, now approved apartment project.

          “Man up” and be honest… you have not been, on this subject, to date, as near as I can tell. [edited] … you tried to twist my concerns about housing, including possibilities for the homeless/unsheltered into ‘you should logically support re-purposing the FF site to serve the homeless’.

          [edited]

        2. Ron

          Howard:  “Man up” and be honest… you have not been, on this subject, to date, as near as I can tell.”

          Sorry that you feel that way.  What I’m “honestly” trying to point out is that there are opportunity costs, when a site is approved for a megadorm that (unlike a shelter/services for homeless, for example) could have been accommodated on-campus.

          I’m waiting for somewhat to start complaining about the lack of an available 6-acre industrial/commercial site, next.  (You know, for all of those “start-ups” – just waiting in the wings, to save the city from financial ruin.)

          Perhaps that will be the focus of “tomorrow’s article”.

        3. Jim Hoch

          Ron,

          If there was a good option it would have been solved already. I don’t believe that the current legal structure gives you many options. You cannot hold people against their will even if you had the funds to do so.  Therefore you need to make a choice, which is more important, the individual or the community?

          If you say Individual then housing first makes sense and the community gets to deal with the consequences.

          If you say Community then you increase pressure on the homeless while offering treatment as an option. Some will take the treatment option and some will move to wherever.

        4. Ron

          Jim:  It does seem that everyone agrees that there’s no easy, single solution.  Probably never will be. It is not a new problem. (However, it probably became a larger concern as a result of the “de-institutionalization” that occurred some time ago, without sufficient supporting services in place to make that transition.)

      2. Alan Miller

        “we do not have the ability to “allow” or not “allow” individuals to use or not use drugs.” Yes in fact we do. Treatment programs, transitional living programs, and the like have a variety of criteria and all include a prohibition against illegal drugs and most often legal drugs (alcohol, pot) as well.

        So because treatment facilities — which, BTW, have a lousy record for long-term “treatment” of “addiction” — prohibit using drugs onsite, “we” have the “ability” to “allow” individuals to “use” or “not”.

        Your logic escapes me.

        1. Howard P

          The record is actually quite good for those who sincerely seek help and are committed to following through… it is abysmal for those coerced/forced to seek help… obvious…

          A door may be opened, but folk have to deliberately cross the threshold.

        2. Alan Miller

          The record is actually quite good for those who sincerely seek help and are committed to following through…

          With or without treatment facilities.

        3. Howard P

          Alan.. point well taken… some can do it on their own, others benefit from/need ‘program support’… but if the true individual commitment is not there, likely ‘failure’… again, no magic bullet, no magic wand…

    2. Jim Hoch

      Don,

      Don’t want to be rude but your citation is of an idiot. “For example, even in the most desperate, chronic cases, alcoholics never drink all the alcohol they can. They plan ahead, carefully nursing themselves back from the last drinking binge while deliberately preparing for the next one.”

      Both people and rats will consume mood altering drugs until dead given sufficient sources.

      1. Don Shor

        Dr. Schaler is not an idiot. But I can refer you to Stanton Peele, Vince Fox, and many others if you prefer, and more recently Johann Hari.

        Both people and rats will consume mood altering drugs until dead given sufficient sources.

        Not most, and not usually. That’s an absurd assertion about addiction.
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html
        Key quote:

        The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

      2. Ron

        I suspect that there’s lots of “addicts” who are not only staying alive, but also are not even homeless.  (Addicted to food, alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, etc.)  Some who otherwise function quite normally, as well.

        1. Jim Hoch

          This is the rabbit hole we probably don’t want to go down. I think Don Shor as a moderator should set a better example of not promoting off topic conversation but that’s just my opinion.

          1: Maybe you missed the phrasing “even in the most desperate, chronic cases” so that is what I am using as my sample frame. Not functioning people. 

          “Addiction” is a behavior diagnosis, not a functional diagnosis. Lots of papers on this from around the time life insurance companies began testing for carbohydrate deficient transferrin which is a marker of ethanol consumption. The debate was whether a specific level of ethanol connection would classify one as an alcoholic. The general opinion was no, consumption level may be a marker for a behavioral problem but would not be conclusive. Of course the insurance companies looked at ethanol consumption alone as prognostic to shorter life span so they didn’t care.

          So “addiction” does not mean people who use some substance.

          1. Don Shor

            The point of all this is that simply providing housing is not going to deal with other issues, obviously, and in the absence of a clear understanding of the limitations of substance abuse treatment I don’t think money is going to be very well spent in this endeavor.
            What little I know about the homeless population includes the conclusion that it is a diverse group. Some have substance abuse issues. Those would require social services that would direct them to the treatment program most appropriate to their situation. I don’t see that being staffed at a facility in the city; my understanding is that services like that are usually provided by the county.
            I have a friend (in Michigan) who works in social services. She has a client base of over 55 people that she is supposed to keep in contact with each week, providing referrals, helping with bureaucracy, etc. I can’t imagine California is much better in terms of the ratio of staff to clients. It becomes a revolving door with poor outcomes.

        2. Ron

          Jim:

          Fair enough.

          I guess the underlying point is that there can be various combination of factors that can facilitate chronic homelessness (not just addiction).  I’m also never sure if one factor “causes” (or facilitates) another.  (I realize that it depends upon the individual.)  My “impression” is that there is often an underlying mental illness (beyond that which many “normal” people are walking around with).

        3. Howard P

          Yes, hence the term “high-functioning” addict… they are in the greatest danger, as they can convince others (and, more importantly, themselves) that there ‘is no problem’, so, no change in behavior ‘is needed/warranted’… a disease that is ignored for lack of obvious symptoms… not good. Often, tragic, at the end of the day…

  4. Howard P

    Am struck with the “profiling” of the homeless in Davis… yes there are those with drug abuse/alcohol abuse issues… but thru a friend, I met and somewhat got to know several who ‘camped out’ on the Nishi site… the only ‘drug’ they used was tobacco… the ones I met had varying degrees of MH issues… PTSD, depression, minor (maybe 3-4 on a scale of 1-10) bi-polar… they posed no danger to anyone, except perhaps themselves… they also had health/dental issues…

    Once someone gets into a “hole”, it is very difficult to climb out by yourself… we need to offer ladders, but they will still have to climb those ladders.  Those who do, can likely get back ‘health’.  There are some, due to severe MH or addiction issues, will reject such ladders, and the ‘solutions’, if any, are ephemeral, at best.

    To repeat… there are no magic bullets.  Nor magic wands…

    And thinking that the Families First site is even close to a ‘panacea’, is idiotic… at best… more likely also a deflection on several levels.

    1. Ron

      Howard:  “And thinking that the Families First site is even close to a ‘panacea’, is idiotic… at best… more likely also a deflection on several levels.”

      Hmm.  Don’t recall using the word “panacea”.  Of course, your statement is coming from the same guy who previously advocated such sites (including specific zoning to accommodate such needs), I recall.  (I’m sorry that I didn’t save the exact quote.)

    2. Howard P

      You will not find such a quote… because I never said that.  You prevaricate.

      I did suggest that zoning should permit uses, but not at Sterling/FF.

  5. Alan Miller

    Robb Davis . . .  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.

    The implication being:  if the public stops giving in to panhandlers downtown, then the panhandlers will have no choice but to turn to stealing from us?

    Why stop there?  If people stop giving in to panhandlers, there might be an increase in panhandlers mugging people and holding up banks.

    Find a panhandler today and give generously, our safety depends on it!

    1. David Greenwald

      The implication is that if someone has an addiction and no way to et money to feed that addiction, they have to find another.  Makes intuitive sense to me.

    2. Robb Davis

      Alan – my comment was about the issue of addiction and how it can take over a person’s life.  Methland a book that came out a few years back describes well the effects of meth on people and their willingness to seemingly do anything to obtain it.  I know in Davis there are examples of people doing some pretty degrading things to obtain the money to buy meth.  It is a serious problem and my point was that eliminating panhandling will not solve the problem.

      Without housing AND casework AND treatment AND mentoring/advocacy, it is going to be hard to address the syndrome that presents itself as people living rough.  No Howard, I am not saying everyone living rough is an addict or has mental health challenges or has a history of trauma, but most do have some combination of all of these.

      Housing first is a philosophy that does not stop at providing a roof but includes permanent support, services and casework.

      When I say there is no magic bullet I am essentially saying that all of the above are necessary.  I will try to put together a short article providing some perspective on the problem in the week ahead.

      1. Jim Hoch

        Robb,

        From HUD

        “Housing First is an approach to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. ”

        There is no reason to believe that outreach to people will be more effective if they are housed than unhoused. The metric here, as I have said all along, is to house people. Recovery from substance abuse or mental illness is a completely separate initiative and other housing first projects have shown very little difference in success. Therefore you have to have housing alone as a goal and be happy to have the people do what they do in the tent in the house instead and consider that worth paying for.

        The more important questions are:

        1: where in Davis are envisioning these people are going to live with ongoing mental illness and substance abuse? The incorrect answer is anywhere near my children.

        2: It is not reasonable that you can provide housing with this population without intermittent ugly incidents. How to you plan to manage those and still keep the voters willing to pay?

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