When we launched the idea of discussing the homeless situation in our Monthly Conclave series, the idea was to provide a space where people could come together, to learn about different approaches to solving the homeless problem in our community.
What we have learned in this process is that the issue has touched on a lot of raw nerves. There are those who believe that the homeless represent a keen danger to our community and those who will not allow their children to walk alone in the downtown because of the presence of the homeless.
The city has put forward some ideas for addressing the homeless issue. The question is one of resources and ability to get the kinds of services needed to help people who have found themselves perhaps suffering from addiction and/or mental illness.
Tonight, the Vanguard will host a discussion that will feature Mayor Robb Davis, Pastor Bill Habicht, Michael Bisch from Davis Downtown, and Mary Anne Kirsch (on the board of Davis Opportunity Village – a non-profit that works toward micro-housing for homeless individuals).
The purpose of our discussion is to look at what various efforts are already underway to solve the homeless problem in Davis, as well as look at what we need to still do.
In a May commentary, Davis Mayor Robb Davis wrote, “We need to talk about our options and make commitments. To deal with the visible homelessness that attracts our attention will take a patient and persistent process.”
On the other hand, during a discussion on Nextdoor, one person wrote that “downtown CANNOT become the homeless camp it has become.”
He wrote, “There are other people who have claimed whole strips of sidewalk. You can’t sit on benches. They do drugs, smoke, piss, panhandle, harass (especially women), litter, and create a hostile environment. I’m sorry, it’s not their downtown, it’s ours!”
Others pushed back, saying “homeless people are human beings who have a RIGHT to exist, especially in public spaces. If you are concerned about their plight, then help by voting for taxes and providing donations that can help with homeless shelters, programs for drug abuse, and even public bathrooms. We are all responsible for helping others less fortunate.”
After a heated exchange, the first commenter later wrote, “But there’s the other side of the coin that you don’t seem to want to address: public health and safety, and subsequently, economic impact on downtown businesses.”
Another person added in, “I am avoiding downtown Davis now. I don’t want to deal with the homeless there.”
He added, “There is no good fix. The homeless problem is not going away by raising taxes in Davis or providing them with little houses here. Let’s not invite the homeless to come and live in Davis at our expense. I don’t want them in my neighborhood, and I wonder who does. Who wants drug users, drunks, and the mentally unfit in their neighborhood? I’d like to see federal programs that house the homeless en masse. Feed and house them in big complexes and keep them there.”
Another person pushed back, “It’s painful to read your rhetoric. The only solution is to invest in actual infrastructure to alleviate the problem in Davis, but Measure A was already voted down and the populace continues to refuse to allow densification to happen which only exacerbates the disparity in the community. Unless the city invests in an actual homeless shelter, along with community mental health and addiction clinics nothing will change.”
From my perspective, one of the best discussions I have seen on homelessness took place at the May Davis Chamber walkabout. We got to see the views of the business community, the mayor and the police.
Some in the business community have suggested that we figure out how many people we can feed and house and then get rid of the rest.
Chamber CEO Christina Blackman said she wants to get the community to help homeless people in ways that do not involve giving direct handouts.
“Educating the community as to why this is a different way of helping,” she said. “I think if we really want to help solve the problem – then making sure that we provide the support services and eventually housing if we can.”
For Mayor Davis, there is no magic bullet solution.
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.
“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.”
The business community is at a loss for how to help the business owner who is having problems with homeless populations.
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.”
Robb Davis in late May’s column wrote, “In Davis, we are not merely throwing up our arms and saying there is nothing we can do. We’re committed as a city to move forward with a process known as Housing First. Housing First is about helping people who are in those situations to move into housing before dealing with the broader issues they face.”
He said, “Housing First starts by providing an alternative to the street but then moves aggressively to deal with the causes of the homelessness. The key is to get a roof over people’s heads and then to provide wrap-around services to address the other challenges they face.”
But again he warned, “Let’s be clear, it is not a panacea.”
Questions I think that should be asked:
- What is the first step to addressing the homeless problem?
- What resources do we need to do so?
- What services already exist and which ones do we need to create?
- Is there common ground that can help this community move forward?
Join us tonight from 6 to 8 pm at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, 129 E St in Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting