(Editor’s note: the following was originally posted on Nextdoor)
Dear Mayor Davis,
I speak of the homeless problem not as a disengaged party. I have been in close touch with a number (more responsible ones) and examined what exacerbates homelessness and puts individuals there. From that, I have developed a list of steps that can help keep people from falling off the edge.
Arrests for crimes of homelessness leading to loss of assets. (Loitering, urinating in public, parking somewhere they aren’t supposed to, inability to pay registration of a vehicle, etc.) It is not just the arrest, but if the person has a (low paying) job at the time of the arrest, or they did recently, they often have a car, and tools. Those get impounded. Generally release is in 10 days. The person cannot pay the impound. Any tools in the car are lost. (For instance landscaping, or tree trimming tools.) This knocks them down financially.
Being unable to show up for work makes them lose jobs. Cell phones may be left in cars. If phones are checked in as personal effects, the phone usually comes out with them, but not always. I know of homeless who have lost cell phones, birth certificates, and drivers licenses in vehicles they couldn’t get out of impound. Impound operators won’t let them into their cars without payment, and if the person tries to break in, will have them arrested for trespassing.
So – What I think you should do, Robb, is to campaign in Sacramento to changes to state laws.
1. Impoundment and registrations. At the absolute minimum, a person should be able to get into their vehicle to retrieve their effects without charge, and be able to get a civil standby to enforce
it, and told they can do so when released. If the person is unable to reasonably pay, (which should be considered automatic if they have no fixed address) they should get their vehicle out of impound without charge. It would be helpful if the state would pay for small repairs like tail lights out. And, if a person is truly unable to pay registration fees, those should be forgiven. This will keep people mobile and in shelter. That makes them employable.
Fiscal impact: Probably positive. None of those fines are collected. The state has lower bills for people living on the street.
2. Cell phones. These are so basic now to participation in modern life. What indigent homeless do is to get hold of smart phones without SIM cards. They can tie into wifi and then use Skype or Facebook to communicate and make Skype and FB video calls. (However, there are people on FB who make a project out of flagging homeless people’s FB accounts. Since these people have no credit cards and none of the documents needed by FB to verify them, they can’t get their account back and have to create a new one.) This used to be easier. These days, open wifi is rare. Coffee shops work and will share the wifi password after a purchase. Then word gets around. But it’s still a problem. I think, Robb, that you should call for the state to provide basic voice and data service to people that qualify. That keeps them connected which is necessary for obtaining employment today. It also allows police and services to know where they are and who they are.
Fiscal impact. There are around 25,000 homeless people in the state. That could be covered for $750,000. It should simplify and improve services and aid in moving people off the street.
3. Think about the changes to marijuana growing. Thousands of people we would call transients used to make their living seasonally as migrant labor trimming buds and harvesting marijuana. This is changing as it becomes legal. There’s a reason Humboldt and Mendocino counties voted against legalization of pot. It is seriously damaging their black market economies. I don’t have an answer to this, but it’s significant.
4. Addiction I don’t have an answer to. But I do know that a covered-up problem in Davis is opiate overdoses downtown. One Friday night around 11 PM I saw 3 young people lying on the sidewalk with paramedics, all overdosed. The paramedic looked at me like I was Alice in Wonderland when I asked how common this was. “All night, every night on weekends,” was his reply. Our doughty Enterprise and Sac Bee will not report on this. I sincerely doubt this is accidental. I think it’s because UC Davis doesn’t want parents to worry about their kids.
I was told by a pain physician that his intractable pain patients who get kicked off their opiate prescriptions by the current crackdown tell him that they go to the local high school to get what they need. It’s easy to start, hard to stop for kids.
5. In the bigger picture, homelessness is driven by inequality. The opiates and homelessness problem is linked to unemployment and gross underemployment. Real unemployment in this country is vastly higher than the official statistics which have been gamed for decades. It’s commonly thought that the bottom 25% have about 10% of the income. The real number is below 2%. That fraction has shrunk dramatically in the past 40 years. We are turning into a nation that is essentially a colony of the few who own most of it. Based on the homeless, the chronic unemployment problem and the upsurge in riding the rails, we are really in a weird kind of great depression today. We just won’t acknowledge it.
Current situation in Davis:
In addition to the bikeways east of campus near the 80 bike underpass, there is a pile of bicycles on the other side of the small railroad trestle on the east side of F street at roughly the drainage ditch underpass. These are used by homeless travelers that hop the freights that come by at night. They stay out there, and come into town, then move on. They stay and live for periods of time under F street in the tunnel at the drainage ditch. A few are appearing on the greenbelt evenings. The dog I walk acts like there is something in the brush from time to time, quite possibly a person. I don’t investigate as a rule. I told one homeless guy in the greenbelt a few months ago to put his Four Loko can in the trash can instead of throwing it in the bushes. He did it. This trash strewing is a real problem. The bicycle thefts and bicycle dumping is a growing nuisance. Often, it’s homeless people. I got familiar with a guy living under F Street in the drainage ditch tunnel during the summer. And some lady would ride around the greenbelt on her bicycle dropping Safeway lunches into the trashcans, whole, uneaten, for him and others to find. From his responses, I think he was an ex-con released from prison who had no place to go and ended up here. He exercised and kept to himself, and disappeared eventually. He seemed like someone who could hold down a job if offered one. I’ve met other homeless ex-cons. There was a bank robber years ago who got released from San Quentin and lived under the freeway for a while. Then there are the 113 campers.
There are some homeless UC students. Some have pitched tents in out of the way places I’ve noticed. Others sleep various places on campus. I’ve run across a few homeless women that sleep on campus because it’s a safer, more patrolled environment. During the Occupy protests, I thought it was rather ironic that the protesters drove out some homeless women who had been sleeping on the quad under the trees for quite a while. It was more ironic that not one of the protesters gave a damn about the fate of those displaced women. They were shooed off. Said a lot to me, that did.
Davis is what you call an “attractive nuisance” downtown and along the parks. First, Davis is becoming known as a place that is nice to go. College towns are like that. People give handouts, and there’s a friendlier feeling. There’s restaurants, and good dumpster pickings. Davis is also a transportation hub. There is Amtrak, which will kick them off if caught, but if not, they can get a long way. And there are freight trains that come and also sit here for periods of time. Freeway onramps are also used, but not as much. A few non-homeless ride the rails for kicks, but mostly it’s practical choice.
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. There’s a reason shopping carts appear around various places. It tends to mean someone transported their stuff (an old suitcase or backpack, maybe a tent or sleeping bag). (Note: There are two shopping carts parked off F street on the east side north of Covell near the train tracks. Save Mart has been unresponsive to notifications to come get them.)
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.
Written by Brian Hanley
(Vanguard note: “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.” The problem is that the letter writer seems to ignore that Davis is talking about generating maybe half a million for the homeless, a good thing in my book. Sacramento on the other hand is tapping into about $44 MILLION for housing and shelter for the homeless (see – http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article183227976.html). So why is Davis going to attract people from Sacramento when Sacramento is doing more than Davis?)