Open Letter to Mayor Davis on Homelessness

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Mayor Davis speaks on homeless issues in May in downtown Davis

(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?)



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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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32 thoughts on “Open Letter to Mayor Davis on Homelessness”

  1. Keith O

    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.

    Good advice, I remember reading where a vagrant stated that Davis is an attractive location for the homeless.

    1. David Greenwald

      It ignores the fact that Sacramento has set aside about $44 million to house homeless

      “The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved $44 million over the next three years for a homeless prevention program spearheaded by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.”

      Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article183227976.html#storylink=cpy

      So why would someone who lives in Sacramento going to come to Davis which is spending at most half a million when Sacramento is spending far more?

      Source: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article183227976.html

          1. David Greenwald

            The problem that you have is that you’re arguing that Davis is creating an attraction point for homeless people, I point out that Sacramento has created a far larger funding stream, and your response is “yep.”

    2. Todd Edelman

      Name a relatively friendly, educated, progressive and wealthy town with generally good, non-freezing weather in the USA that is not attractive to anyone who reads newspapers, whether or not they are a “vagrant”.
      What’s your idea for a solution? Requiring a certain income or verified place of residence in order to read newspapers? How do you interpret the vague “hit this hard”?

    3. Alan Miller

      I remember reading where a vagrant stated that Davis is an attractive location for the homeless.

      O, Keith, they also read blogs — you just brought at least 50 new homeless people to Davis by repeating that statement!

  2. Tia Will

     I remember reading where a vagrant stated that Davis is an attractive location for the homeless.”
    I would not recommend making public policy based on reading a single statement attributed to a nameless “vagrant”. 

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s not enough, is it? Sacramento is putting real money behind the problem. And Robb’s proposal is a good first step to creating our own solution. It’s a good move and contrary to the opinions expressed here, it’s not likely to impact migration of homeless people, especially when Sac is doing so much more now.

        1. Keith O

          Well, if we as Davis provide more homeless services at taxpayer expense than say Dixon, Woodland and a few other surrounding cities I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to think that some of them might be attracted to Davis.

          1. David Greenwald

            But if Sacramento is providing more than Davis, then they would be the bigger draw – if you believe that – and homeless experts will say that’s not how it works, but that’s another issue

  3. Mike Hart

    Create a patrolled and fully subsidized camp on the city owned land east of town. Offer to hire anyone there with some nominal payment to clean up the illegal hobo camps that surround our city (I counted over 20 during most most recent flight around town) return the mountains of stolen bikes etc.  Clean up the mounds of broken bottles and needles.  Have the Davis PD actively and aggressively enforce our existing laws particularly downtown.  They can move to the camp the city would provide with water, bathrooms and power.  This would also provide a location for charitable services to provide food, medical and mental health support.

    Any move to try and incrementally provide subsidized housing would be like trying to drain the ocean with a shot glass.  This is an invasion and half-measures are a mistake.

    If the city would take the lead on hiring these people toward cleaning up the graffiti, waste, restoring the gullys and land along the edges of town these people could get work experience and income.

    1. Don Shor

      If these folks could readily hold down jobs, I’m guessing a lot of them wouldn’t be homeless. I’m not an expert on this topic, but I’d guess many of them are a few steps away from being employable.
      As a rural resident, I’m always a little disturbed when the solution to urban problems is to move them out into the country.

      1. Mike Hart

        Hi Don- I don’t think many of them are capable of holding down regular jobs. I am thinking more of a work gang solution under supervision of city employees.

        I am not trying to shift the problem to our rural neighbors, but the city does own rather a lot of land on its urban fringe with very few neighbors anywhere nearby. Having them live scattered around town in the drainages, under bridges and camped in urban parks is a lousy solution. An organized encampment would at least ensure that it is sanitary, policed and safe for both those encamped, and the community at large.

      2. Ron

        Don:  “As a rural resident, I’m always a little disturbed when the solution to urban problems is to move them out into the country.”

        A minor point perhaps, but some homeless folks might have originated from rural areas, and subsequently migrated into cities. The underlying problems and causes might not “belong” exclusively to urban environments, even though that’s where it’s ultimately/usually visible.

        1. Howard P

          Some…

          But I’ve gotten to know a couple of the Davis homeless fairly well… one came from an urban area, the other from the suburbs… one had a house, family, and then “things went south”… the other went into the military, served in the Middle East, and likely had PTSD… one is alive, suffering from early dementia (unclear if lifestyle or genetics), the other is dead.

          My experiences are that the ‘stronger’ ones look out for the ‘weaker’ others… probably more so than most in the “normal” community of Davis… there are also the ones that probably no-one can help… like the guy who last March got drunk, smoked while lying in his sleeping bag, which caught fire when he passed out while smoking, and died a horrible death.

          Guess it depends on whether you view someone substantially different in their situation and yours, as to whether they are ‘human’… and/or if you actually care about anyone except you and yours… just saying…

           

        2. Ron

          Howard:  “Guess it depends on whether you view someone substantially different in their situation and yours, as to whether they are ‘human’… and/or if you actually care about anyone except you and yours… just saying…”

          Not sure what this paragraph has to do with my comment, or even the remainder of your comment. Seems out of place.

  4. Jeff M

    85 percent, of the nation’s estimated 600,000 homeless are of the temporary kind.  They are primarily men with a small number of women and whole families who spend relatively short periods of time sleeping in shelters or cars.  Most eventually get their lives together and end up finding a place to live.  These people have an economic problem generally.  

    President Trump and the GOP are working to help fix that problem nationwide; while Governor Brown and the Democrats in control of California are doing everything they can to stop it and make the state even more economically inhospitable to low-income, working-class people.  But there is the solution for the 85 percent homeless… improve the economy so there are more jobs, reform social services so more are required to work, and build more low-income housing.     

    The remaining 15 percent are the chronically homeless… the main social problem.  They clog the shelters and jails.  They are expensive—costing between $30,000 and $50,000 per person per year. 

    So it makes some sense to throw some money at solving the problem of this 15 percent.   The Housing First model (results of initial study here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10737824) seems to be working well enough although it is certainly an irritating model.  Many states have adopted it… including Hawaii where I have some experience given I have a chronic homeless family member that has lived there for 40 years.   
    But what we are seeing are demands from the tax and spend dimwits running California into the ground for spending on the 85% with temporary needs.   That is a waste.

    These political dolts have a tendency for over-counting the impact of a few extra carbon molecules in the air and under-counting the impact of running out of other people’s money.  They are also chronic NIMBYs.  And to satiate the guilt that comes with their refusal to allow development (or to bolster their NIMBY block), they make the absurd demand that we don’t economically segregate these people and every one of every income level must live together in communal harmony.  

    Together these things drive up the cost of land and housing development to the point that no affordable housing can be developed.  These same people also voted for the politicians that killed the RDA program… raiding it for money to give to the public employee union members… which had been very effective for communities to use to build low income housing.

    Wealthy job producers are fleeing this high-tax, high-regulation state and they are being replaced with more low-income people that end up homeless.  This is not a sustainable trend.  We certainly don’t want to attract more low-income people to the state unless we have the jobs and housing to support them.   

    We have real solutions available and they are economic, but they are rejected and destroyed… instead the economic trajectory of the state is completely wrong with respect to helping these people.  And now the rejecters and destroyers are back demanding more money from our pockets to spend on what will absolutely not solve the problems.

    Vote no.

  5. Tia Will

    Jeff

    By the standard you are using for what “helps” the poor, my mother, sister and I would not have received assistance following the death of my father. I would not have had my first job in a government run program for at risk youth thus enabling me to make enough to save for college and ultimately two years worth of medical school. I would not have been able to secure the funding needed for the last two years of medical school through a government ( tax and spend) program. “Other people’s money” is what allowed me to build a career and lift my family out of poverty. This is what taxes can be, the ladder which can be used to climb out of poverty.

    I am very sorry that you seem believe that as citizens, we have no obligation to help those whose lives have not been as comfortable or fortunate as our own other than to give free reign to private business which you seem to think will right all wrongs, but certainly was not there for us when needed.

  6. Alan Miller

    This letter is all over the place, so I am not sure the main point.  I agree with many of the observations . . . the bicycle piles, the trash . . . but on the rail riding:

    . . .  and the upsurge in riding the rails . . . homeless travelers that hop the freights that come by at night . . . A few non-homeless ride the rails for kicks, but mostly it’s practical choice . . . 

    I just don’t buy it.  I observe the rails daily, and rode the rails myself back from the late 70’s to early 90’s.  I used to talk to the “old guard” hobos camping in the heavy bushes in the “triangle” inside the Davis wye (now the Amtrak parking lot), occasionally bring them some fruit. Never ran into a bad soul, and back then if any scruffy-looking person left railroad property, the Davis police would be on them like white on rice.  How times have changed.

    It used to be you could see many hobos and others going by on freights — nearly every one that was rideable — back when it was Southern Pacific.  Then a couple of things happened:  First, Union Pacific bought SP, and they were not kind to riders.  They also installed heat-sensing equipment at key locations that see a human heat signature so the railroad bulls can stop the train and arrest hoppers with great ease.   Then, the north line out of Davis, easily hop-able, stopped serving through trains to Oregon.  Then 9/11 happened, and the feds and the railroad police began to look at anyone on or near the rails as a potential terrorist.

    I know where people “spot” to hop freights, where people hide so as not to be seen, and what trains could be ridden out of Davis and where they go.  I haven’t seen anyone attempting this is many years.  I know a few hardy souls who really know their stuff and how to keep stealth do pull it off, but they are few and far between.  In my observation, most of the people who hang out in the ditches couldn’t be that stealth and keep hidden if they tried.  I’m not even sure I could pull it off in today’s environment.

    So I’m not buying it that they come and go by freight in any great numbers.  Yes, I’ve seen them sneak into the bathrooms on Amtrak, where they are often caught and thrown off at the next step, often Sacramento, which is where they are going anyway, so free ride.

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