One of our commenters made a derogatory comment about the homeless, referring to them as “Drug addicts, Alcoholics, Vagrants, the Insane, and Spongers.” When the comment got pulled he complained about it being pulled, noting, “Because using real words to describe real things isn’t a bad thing.”
Well, I disagree – I do not think it is a good thing to put derogatory labels on suffering human beings. Moreover, as others in on the email noted, the list is hardly exclusive.
This, unfortunately, follows an article that notes community backlash to a plan to create respite centers in various locations.
I have been increasingly concerned over community complaints about Pacifico and the council’s apparent response that the solution to Pacifico is not to find a better way to operate the current facility, but rather to repurpose it – leaving the residents at that facility in a situation where they may or may not have services or a place to live.
While some of the neighbors of Pacifico have raised legitimate concerns over the way the property has been managed, it is far from clear to me that we have exhausted remedies at the current facility. Moreover, the comments by some of the residents have crossed the lines of decency.
Comments about creating ghettos in Davis – an offensive term in modern times – frankly has no place, and yet the council for the most part, while avoiding that type of rhetoric, has done what the neighbors have suggested.
But one of the bigger and growing humanitarian crises in urban America these days, particularly California, is the homeless issue.
In recent weeks there has been some pushback over the proposed Paul’s Place – it’s evidently too tall and people do not want homeless services in a residential neighborhood, even though the current location has been serving that clientele for a number of years without problem.
Now Mayor Brett Lee’s respite center proposal is also under fire. Some are concerned about locating it near the Dave Pelz bike overpass.
I have not looked that closely at all the sites to know which one of them seems most reasonable. Maybe that is not a good location. But I highly suspect that there are people in this community for which any location will be objectionable, as they see the homeless population as a blight on this community and some would like to see them removed.
While there is a tendency to look at these issues through the frame of our local backyard, this is a statewide problem and, as a recent NY Times article points out, “California may pride itself on its commitment to tolerance and liberal values, but across the state, record levels of homelessness have spurred a backlash against those who live on the streets.”
The Times quotes a property developer in Oakland and an aggressive critic of the homeless who said, “Refugee camps in Syria are cleaner than this.” His solution is “luring the thousands of homeless people in the San Francisco Bay Area onto party buses stocked with alcohol and sending them on a one-way trip to Mexico.”
The Times writes: “Homelessness is an expanding crisis that comes amid skyrocketing housing prices, a widening gap between the rich and poor and the persistent presence on city streets of the mentally ill and drug-dependent despite billions of dollars spent to help them.”
And while the above example is extreme, the Times notes that “residents say they have found themselves weighing concerns for the less fortunate against disruptions to their own quality of life.”
Will a respite center work? Will Paul’s Place work? I don’t know. What we are doing now seems insufficient and, despite the sentiment expressed above, relocation is not only illegal but simply shifts the problems to someone else.
In fact, the respite center as Brett Lee explained it attempts to address the issue.
Last March he said a big problem is that, because the homeless cannot simply go and hang out in neighborhoods or residential areas all day, they go to the downtown where they can blend in a bit better.
However, they have a new idea about where the homeless can go, so that they are not in the downtown all day.
He said, “(A) respite center where people can go, where it’s planned that they go there.
“There isn’t sort of one solution,” he said. “This is a piece.”
We are not doing nearly enough here. In a July Op-Ed in the LA Times, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg noted that he had established legislation while he was a legislator that established a “housing first” mentality in California, prioritizing “getting people off the streets and into permanent housing, where they could then get supportive services for mental illness, substance abuse and other issues.”
He writes: “I still believe strongly in the concept of housing first, but I’ve also come to see that focusing primarily on permanent housing is insufficient. We simply don’t have the housing stock necessary to address our current crisis, and building it will take too long and cost too much. We need an infusion of short-term shelter and housing options to serve as a bridge for those currently living on our streets.”
The jarring data he cites is this: “… in New York City, which has a court-ordered right to shelter, approximately 95 percent of the 79,000 homeless people sleep indoors. In California, by contrast, 68 percent of the state’s 130,000 homeless sleep outdoors in the elements.”
Politifact does the research here and finds that he’s mostly correct.
They find: “It shows approximately 95 percent of New York State’s 92,000 homeless people were sheltered in 2018, meaning they slept indoors at a temporary facility.
“By contrast, it found nearly 69 percent of California’s 130,000 homeless individuals were unsheltered, meaning they slept on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings. It also found California had the highest rate of unsheltered people in the nation.
“California has the nation’s highest rate of unsheltered homeless people, according to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” they write.
The state of New York has less than five percent of its homeless population as unsheltered. Granted, weather is a problem in New York, but the question should be – is the homeless problem less in states like Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts and Nebraska because more people are sheltered than they are in states like California, Oregon, Nevada, and Hawaii where they are not?
Mayor Steinberg clearly believes that sheltering them is optimal, and he notes people who are unsheltered are “vulnerable to disease, violence, and deterioration of their mental and physical health. Record numbers of them are dying. In Los Angeles, deaths among the unsheltered homeless are up 76% over the last five years. In Sacramento, where I am mayor, unsheltered homeless deaths are up 75% since last year.”
I think we need to be doing more, but putting derogatory names on people in unfortunate circumstances, however, is not going to solve the problem – and it may actually make it worse.
—David M. Greenwald reporting