Davis is looking to offer things like permanent supportive housing at places like Paul’s Place. As the proposal notes, “DCMH staff will offer each resident on-site supportive services, which includes intensive case management.” The program staff already successfully manages the 52-unit Cesar Chavez project.
But there seems to be a misconception about the nature of the homeless problem. There are those who argue that “homeless people ended up unsheltered because of mental illness” and addiction. These facts are then used to oppose building permanent housing programs, arguing that unless we address these root causes first, we are not going to get to the origin of the problem.
That view, however, may be limited. As Paul Thornton wrote in the LA Times this weekend, “most individuals who experience homelessness don’t end up that way because of mental health issues or addiction.”
He argued that in LA County, which has a huge homeless population of 59,000, the crisis “is truly the product of California’s housing crisis, where wages have failed to keep up with rents rising ever higher because of inadequate supply.”
The LA Times editorial board counters that the percentage of people who suffer from mental illness was only one-third of those homeless. That means, of those people who were homeless at some point last year, “two-thirds were not dealing with serious mental health problems or addiction problems, but fell into homelessness because of the widening gap between wages and housing costs.”
They point out that “substance abusers and the mentally ill are the most visible face of homelessness because their behavior draws the most attention. And mental illness is more prevalent among people living on the street — and in public view — than among their homeless counterparts who are couch-surfing or living in cars or shelters.”
While those figures were specific to Los Angeles, it turns out overall the homeless population looks pretty similar. A study from 2009 found about “20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.” That number seems to have remained fairly constant, with most estimates putting the number between one-quarter and a third nationally.
If that is the case, providing shelter and support services may be an avenue to deal with some of the homeless populations.
In an editorial from October 2, the LA Times argued: “Of the roughly 134,000 homeless people on the streets of California, about a third are seriously mentally ill. Their illnesses cannot be successfully treated on sidewalks. They must get housing first.”
With the case of Paul’s Place, Bill Pride told the Vanguard the current building is serving about 35 to 70 people a day with the resource center, but often people are having to wait hours to use the shower or wash their clothes.
“We have 20 people signing up for showers every morning,” he said. “They have to wait an hour, sometimes two, to take a show before it’s their turn.”
In addition, the new facility would allow people to have private sleeping quarters rather than having adults living on bunk beds, which is far from ideal.
“Currently it has 12 beds – eight for men, four for women,” Bill Pride explained. The new program will reduce the number of beds from 12 to 10. “The big change for me is that right now we have three bedrooms housing four people (each), so there are four people per bedroom, all living in bunk beds.
“That’s not an ideal situation, mostly folks are adults… up to 65 years of age,” he explained. “The new building is going to have 10 transitional housing rooms but they are all going to be individual rooms for everybody.”
Finally, they are adding 18 tiny housing units – 300 square feet.
The opponents focused on “Housing First principles” and ignored that “DCMH staff will offer each resident on-site supportive services, which includes intensive case management.”
Bill Pride explained there will be supportive housing beds operated “the way we do at Cesar Chavez.
“There is going to be staff on site to help folks, give them any kind of assistance they may need,” he said. “We’re here to help the folks that move in, stay housed. That may mean dealing with some kind of crisis situation.”
The question I keep asking is this: right now those people are living on the street. Many of the programs work in conjunction with wrap-around services anyway. Isn’t it better for those people who do need treatment to not have to worry about housing while they get their treatment?
The key commitment of Paul’s Place is to find a way for those who get housed, to stay housed. Isn’t that what we want?
—David M. Greenwald reporting