As most of our readers are already aware, Davis Mayor Robb Davis believes that homelessness is a top issue facing this community and he has been attempting to fund service programs and affordable housing for homeless people possibly through a $50 a year parcel tax known as the Social Services Tax.
Last week, the Sacramento Bee ran a story on his efforts.
According to the Bee, between 2009 and 2017 there was a 28 percent increase in the number of homeless in Davis, from 114 to 146. The Bee acknowledges, “The numbers are considered rough estimates because it’s notoriously difficult to get accurate counts of homeless populations.”
The mayor told the Bee, “It’s not a huge number compared to Sacramento and other places, but it is a much more visible homeless population than it was. I believe we can get our arms around it, but it’s a long walk.
“If we really want to tackle the most intractable problems … we need a secure funding stream for a long period of time,” he said.
The question that many are asking is whether we should do something to get our arms around it.
On Thursday, the Vanguard re-published an open letter to Mayor Robb Davis on the homeless issue, in part to open some items to important discussion. The letter writer got a number of facts wrong,
but I am going to focus on one central point that is raised – the notion that if you build support services they will come.
Writes Mr. Hanley: “The big problem for cities is that when they improve services, that becomes an attraction for others. This population is mostly fairly mobile, although they don’t move like you and me. They move the way refugees do. I know from being in touch that some make 20+ mile hikes at night pretty regularly.”
Here’s his key point: “I would use great caution, Robb, in creating more attractions for homeless people. They read newspapers. The Sac Bee headline about Davis will bring more. I strongly recommend that you hit this hard in Sacramento, not locally.”
Is Davis likely to become a magnet for homeless people if they provide services that are better than other communities? That is a central point I hear over and over again.
Here is another example of the response to the issue of homelessness with a similar theme:
“There is no amount of money we could conceivably spend that will solve this problem — if we give housing to 100, we will have 100 more a week later. They are not going to attend group therapy and resolve their substance abuse and mental health problems. We don’t have the money to provide Betty Ford level residential addiction treatment and/or the level of mental health services needed to begin to impact the population.
“The best answer is to make Davis much less hospitable and less of a magnet to transients. Raising taxes will eventually drive out the tax paying residents, and we will be left with a permanent class of transient dependents along with a homeless industry who are paid for outreach and never ending services to individuals who are highly unlikely to ever become productive and/or law abiding.”
Is this a real concern or are people simply looking at ways to avoid paying more taxes – or is there something more fundamental going on?
That would seem to be a tough question, and at the Chamber discussion back in October on the homeless issue, Jon Adler, who has worked with the homeless population for about 20 years and is a former homeless person himself, addressed it.
He believes that we are a magnet for homeless people in Davis, but not in ways that seem likely to change any time soon.
He said that we are attracting people here. “The same reason that you chose to live here – it is safe, it is a nice town. When I went to bed, I didn’t worry about someone kicking my head in.”
As we have previously reported, the Social Services Tax would actually be quite a bit broader than just impacting homeless issues. It would fund about half a million for homeless services, and another $500 to $750 thousand for affordable housing with a smaller amount for local public service programs – for a total of $1.4 million.
Davis is fairly unique in taking this approach, although other communities are starting to step up as well.
“It’s not common, but we’ve been seeing more cities and counties passing taxes of various kinds for more social services kinds of purposes,” Michael Coleman, fiscal policy adviser for the League of California Cities told the Bee. “Cities that want to take a step up from what the county is doing to address social service issues” are the ones going the tax route.
However, what Davis is doing is actually fairly modest compared to what Sacramento has done recently, in negotiating with Sacramento County for a $44 million contribution over three years to a city-led homeless services program.
Spearheaded by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, “The county will now partner with the city of Sacramento by first providing better coordinated care in emergency rooms – often the main point of contact for many living on the streets, especially those with mental and physical ailments. Services would include mental health and substance abuse treatment.”
Mayor Steinberg’s “Whole Person Care grant will bring in $64 million over the next three years – $32 million in federal money matched by local funds from the city and hospitals. The money will pay for a comprehensive outreach program designed to keep homeless people out of the ER, stabilize their lives with existing county and city services and move them toward permanent housing.”
So if you are worried about the city’s half million program and that it will lead people to cross the causeway by the dozens or even hundreds, keep in mind that Sacramento has actually stepped up in a big way.
But that hasn’t stopped people from criticizing the city’s approach, and it will be interesting to see if the council can get enough support from the community to pass the tax if comes to the voters in June or November of 2018.
—David M. Greenwald reporting