Guest Commentary: Generosity the Biggest Barrier to Solving the Homeless Dilemma

By Gloria Partida

In the late 90s when I was volunteering with STEAC, the number of homeless people in Davis was so minimal that the visibility was almost nonexistent. This is not to say the numbers were insignificant but rather that the detectability was within a level we deemed acceptable. They had little effect on the areas that determined our quality of life. They did not crowd downtown corners or doorways, setup camp in open spaces, sit all day in the library or coffee shops to keep cool in the summer or warm in the winter. They accessed the free community meals and came by to get a fresh set of clothes from the corner of 5th and C street where we handed out clothing or food. There were many other people that used these services as well. Families and individuals struggling with low wages, high housing cost and various personal traumas. One of the reasons I volunteered was my own personal experience with homelessness. My sister and I often found ourselves couch surfing when our mother couldn’t afford rent and later, escaping a violent environment, I spent a very brief period in my car with my three young children. I intimately understand how easily a path can change and how quickly you can lose direction. Then as now the attitudes of the community towards the homeless ran the gamut from those that supported them as full members of our community to those that felt that their problems were of their own doing and needed to be dealt with somewhere else.

Presently, while those two attitudes still exist it is the later that seems to be increasingly heard in our community; Not surprisingly in direct proportion to the rising explosion of homeless numbers. Those numbers make it difficult to not be aware of the homeless population among us. While there are varying degrees of needs among that population, from those that only need a little help with perhaps entry funds to housing, to those that need complete wrap around services, to those that are intractably homeless, it is the last population that draws the most concern. It is also this last population that we must work the hardest to keep people from slipping into.

Last year Mayor Brett Lee proposed a respite center pilot program. The idea being that we would give people exactly what the name implies respite. Respite from being in the elements. Respite from being consciously unwanted in spaces. Respite from the dehumanizing effects of being unhoused. While the merits of housing first have become evident in providing a platform to build success for people that have slipped out of housing, the stepping-stones to that platform are still missing for most. The longer people flounder in the culture of the unhoused the more difficult it is to come off the streets. The ability to sit in safe harbor for extended periods of time may be just enough for some to begin to contemplate the “what if?” of a better life. It may be long enough for people to find the lost path.

This effort will require resources of time and money. These resources are not insurmountable. What is disappointingly becoming the biggest barrier is the resource of human generosity of spirit. As we look in our community for a location for our unhoused to congregate and receive services and perhaps sleep without worry, the cry of not in my back yard rings loudly. Granted it is ringing with the qualifier that yes something must be done but not close to, fill in the blank. These concerns are not unwarranted, but we must remember that any concerns raised about what a respite center will harbor are already in our community.

Children are already riding past homeless residents on their way to and from school, we are already dealing with the effects of people living on our streets, off of our community gardens, outside of our businesses and setting up camps in our open spaces. The difference is that they are not supervised or having intervention delivered to them in these spaces. They are not in a defined area that can be patrolled with extra security. To the concern that having services will bring more people here, we need to remember that most of our surrounding communities have much more services to offer. Many of the people that are here are long-time residents. Many are native Davisites. Still, no matter how much information and outreach the community is given, fear wins out. It seems that the biggest fear is that if we have a location for the unhoused to congregate, they will become more visible. While It is natural for people to worry and to want the homeless issue to become invisible. The problem is that it has been invisible for a long time. The issues that caused homelessness festered behind closed doors for years. Low wages, high housing costs, the opioid crisis, unresolved traumas all quietly lived next door to us, until they didn’t. What we see now is the uncovered effects of communities not addressing the needs of their vulnerable citizens. The time to remedy this is now. We have an opportunity to do what is right, to improve the quality of life for those most in need and while doing so improve the quality of life for ourselves. No matter where we point to for placement of this center there will be someone that will find it disruptive. The question is, will it be more disruptive than what will come of doing nothing?


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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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46 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    I am in favor of a respite center.  I am not in favor of a wet shelter.

    This article is great in some ways and deep-hearted.  I don’t always think that’s a good thing.  There is a conflation of this word ‘homeless’ with so many categories of persons.  I have tried to break that down with a clever and offensive acronym, but that has been banned here.  Many of what people call ‘homeless’ and  . . . . . well, you all aren’t stupid, you fill in the blanks.  I can’t discuss it unless I use approved language, so F**K it.

  2. Eric Gelber

    Thank you for this. I dealt professionally with homeowner opposition to housing and services for special needs populations in other contexts for decades. Those who proclaim Not in My Backyard are typically a small but highly vocal minority whose concerns are mostly based on unsubstantiated and unfounded assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes. The important point made is that the concerns expressed are exacerbated, not avoided, by failing to offer the supervision and supports of programs like the proposed respite center.

    I hope the Council has the courage and conviction to do what is best for the City as a whole in the face of what will no doubt be a loud but small segment of the community whatever sites are considered.

      1. Craig Ross

        I find your position illogical.  People are far worse off unsheltered.  It can become a gateway to get other services.  On the other hand, leaving people on the street waiting for resources and services is foolhardy.  I think you need to re-think your position which is based as I understand it on personal incident rather than science or research.

        1. Alan Miller

          My recollection of your post where you described how you tried to help a homeless person and got burned

          I don’t recall that.  Not that something like that didn’t happen, though I wouldn’t use the H-word, and don’t recall a specific incident.  Years ago, I allowed an old acquaintance with drug issues to camp on my porch for a few days in his guise of ‘cleaning up’, and the he took advantage and then took advantage of my neighbors — typical addict behavior.   Maybe that was the story you were thinking of.

          More has to do with my ‘view of the world’, values, etc.  Certainly my views didn’t come from that or any one incident.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Craig…

          My recollection of your post where you described how you tried to help a homeless person and got burned

          Two things… you might be recollecting one of mine… and I didn’t “get burned”, but after twelve weeks of fairly intense effort, I did get “burned out”… big diff… I was playing ‘the engineer’, thinking (confident?) I could analyze and solve a problem… then found out that it was a ‘constellation’ of problems… and I forgot that the only one who could “solve” the problem was the one I was trying to assist… the most I could do was be a ‘tool’, a facilitator… hard lesson, to be sure… but I believe I’m a better person today, because I tried…  even if there was no immediate success, or “joy”… I may never know whether I made a positive difference, in the long run… sometimes you have to do things “on faith”…

          It is said, “God answers all prayers”, but sometimes the answer is “not yet”, or “not in the way you’re thinking”, and sometimes, the answer is “no”… but if you don’t try, there is no chance of succeeding…

          Just an opinion…

  3. Bill Marshall

    Generosity is one thing… compassionate, logical, practical behavior is another…

    It may be generous to give a panhandler money… but to what purpose?  Feed?  Feed an addiction?  Reinforce/enable destructive behaviors?

    But compassion, logically, practically, applied is another…

    I believe the latter is the right course… yeah, nuanced…

    We need to attempt (we cannot succeed, unless a person is willing) to provide shelter, food, other basic needs, as a path to changing behaviors… getting off substance abuse, taking personal responsibility for supporting themselves (with tools to do so)… [note that it requires a commitment from the individual ‘in distress’]… that’s a good “enabling”… beyond generosity, beyond charity… the latter two can be ineffective, and/or counter-productive…

    But you can’t help a person who doesn’t want/can’t accept help…

    Just an opinion…

      1. Bill Marshall

        I’ll push this a bit, Alan… gets to definition of “wet” shelter…

        Constantly “wet”, am on same page… accepting of folk who are willing to get “dry”, even if they can’t stop “cold turkey”, but if they make demonstrable progress?

        Curious… no judgement… my spirituality is that we are all ‘works in progress’… but my opinion is we need to be committed to ‘progress’… not be static… seek healing, get support from compassionate, but realistic others, but can’t expect magic wands, unicorns, cute puppies, to do it for anyone…

    1. Richard McCann

      Not everyone will be able to take the responsibility that you wish for. And as a society we will have to step up and figure out how to address that group.

      1. Adam Eran

        A certain portion of the population will have untreated (or untreatable) addiction, mental illness, etc. What do the opponents of humane treatment propose for them? Cattle prods? Concentration camps? Or just neglect.

        What’s really offensive is the whiff of moral superiority coming from the opponents. It’s almost as if they believe they deserved their sanity, and what little mental capacity they can muster. They “earned” those things with their superior behavior.

        Most will cite some financial shortfall as the reason public policy doesn’t do more…but other jurisdictions (e.g. Finland) have demonstrated it’s be cheaper to house the homeless than hassle them with police, or take them to emergency rooms.

        But then the moral superiority wouldn’t get much traction…

         

  4. Sharla Cheney

    The County Board of Supervisors voted recently to ban tents on County property in an effort to shoo away the people camping at the old courthouse in Woodland.  They could sit there, but not put up a tent.  Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis was the only one to vote against this, saying with the cold and rainy season approaching, “there is no place for them to go in the daytime … and if they need to pitch a tent to stay out of the rain and the cold, I think they should be able to do so.” (Davis Enterprise)   It would be helpful to have somewhere for people to go, be sent or referred, instead of having them camp downtown or elsewhere.  It is an idea and should give it a try.

     

    1. Alan Miller

      I disagree with Provenza on this, but he still gets my endorsement (if he wants it — maybe he won’t come out and say how much he appreciates Alan C. Miller’s endorsement like he did with Reisig, maybe he’ll delete my name from his website).

      The City should do as the County did and ban unauthorized camping on public property.  This would solve a lot of the issues the police have in getting [offensive terms used to describe categories of people deleted] to not take up residence in places that cause problems for nearby residents and businesses.  The 10-day rule, if that’s even the current rule — it seems to have been extended — is a f**king travesty. The county voted in a 24-hour rule, which is reasonable.

      [Alan Miller is an insensitive blah, blah, blah; where are they supposed to live blah, blah, blah; NIMBY blah, blah, blah — oh save it]

    2. Sharla Cheney

      Sorry that you were offended. But I wanted to point out that there is not a lot of support for finding a location for people to be during the day, out of the rain. Most legislation just shoos them away.  Jim raised a point, but was overruled.  I wonder if you all seem to be steeling yourself against anything that is remotely campaign-ish, so won’t be interested in anything that mentions Jim Provenza.  Hopefully, the County will work to find a location for these people to go during the day.   The comments coming across Nextdoor suggest that the respite center be placed on vacant property near downtown.

      1. Alan Miller

        The comments coming across Nextdoor suggest that the respite center be placed on vacant property near downtown.

        Any particular vacant property near downtown?  Or just one of the “many”?

  5. Moderator

    Hi folks,

    Posts are going into the spam filter for no apparent reason. We’re releasing them as soon as we see them. Sorry for the delayed posting and the notices you’re getting.

     

  6. Rik Keller

    Let’s keep in mind that part of the backstory of this issue is that the City of Davis is pushing for this respite center so that it can legally ban homeless person activity on City property that it considers “disruptive.”

    Rather than a “generosity of spirit” that is lacking though, some things that seems to be lacking in this effort are a clear vision about what this respite center is actually going to be, how it will be managed, and the key siting criteria that should be considered. What typed of models for such facilities around the country has the City considered? Why did the City rule out 4 of the 5 sites to be considered early on in the process?

    We need a focus on the practicalities of what is trying to be accomplished and how exactly this will be accomplished, rather than generalized finger-pointing about supposed deficiencies in “spirit”.

      1. Alan Miller

        the City of Davis is pushing for this respite center so that it can legally ban homeless person activity on City property that it considers “disruptive.”

        Cool.  But I hope they’ll also ban homed-person activity on City property that the City considers “disruptive”.  Not fair to discriminate against the so-called “homeless”.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Color me skeptical. I am curious as to the legal theory the city could use to assert that the existence of a respite center would in any way limit anyone’s right to conduct otherwise lawful activities on public property or the city’s right to address “disruptive” behavior.

      1. Rik Keller

        “The panel hearing the Boise challenge said it agreed with the ruling in the Los Angeles case and reiterated that the homeless may not be held criminally responsible for sleeping on government property when no alternative shelter was available.

        https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-homeless-9th-circuit-20180904-story.html

        The flip side of this is, of course, that jurisdictions are then moving forward to establish “alternative shelter” so that they can legally remove people from government property.

        Is this a “bad” thing? It really depends on the results and the plan. If a jurisdiction is just doing something that is really poorly thought-out just to “do something”and could lead to even worse problems in the community and for the targeted population that is supposedly being helped, then yes. For example, I haven’t seen any evidence that what the City of Davis is attempting has a clear vision or that it is based on best practices and case studies from other similar efforts (maybe it is–someone please post links if so).

         

         

        1. Eric Gelber

          OK. The Boise case was fairly specific to denying people a place to sleep when no alternative was available. That’s not broadly banning activity the city believes to be disruptive. As you say, the city should be encouraged to develop quality alternative services and supports—emphasis on quality. At this point in the process, I have no reason to question their motivation or intentions in that regard.

        2. Rik Keller

          Eric Gelber: Given the massive increase in the local homeless population, it’s probably fair to say that the limited number of (winter-only, overnight-only) shelter beds are not sufficient and that there is de facto no “alternative”. And we can see right up the road in Woodland where a local government is trying to boot people off of government property.

          As far as the term “disruptive,” I was just mirroring language in Partida’s article: “No matter where we point to for placement of this center there will be someone that will find it disruptive.”

        3. Rik Keller

          More info here: http://olympiawa.gov/~/media/Files/Executive/Homelessness/H-boise-interpretation-memo.pdf?la=en

          “New federal court rulings have further interpreted the Boise ruling and what it means for cities balancing the rights of the unsheltered with the responsibility to manage public spaces for the use of all citizens.

          • On November 28, 2018, a federal court rejected a request to stop removal of an unauthorized homeless encampment on city property in Miralle v. City of Oakland. The federal court rejected an Eighth Amendment argument based on the Boise ruling because Oakland made efforts to offer shelter beds and resources to homeless individuals before and during the closure, as well as offering assistance with moving personal belongings.”

    2. Don Shor

      Let’s keep in mind that part of the backstory of this issue is that the City of Davis is pushing for this respite center so that it can legally ban homeless person activity on City property that it considers “disruptive.”

      The city council members that I have spoken to on this issue are trying to help the people who are living homeless, exposed to the elements, and often in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. That is their primary motivation. Unless you have evidence, in writing or based on actual conversations, that their goal is to evict them from city property (“so that it can”, to use your phrase), I’d say this is a dubious assertion.

      1. Rik Keller

        You should definitely dig a little bit deeper, Don. Maybe ask a friendly neighborhood “community watchdog” “news reporting” organization to look into it.

        Here’s what the City of Olympia (link cited above) stated about their efforts. Being able to legally remove homeless camping from City property was part of the “backstory” there too:
        “In early September, the City of Olympia temporarily paused its efforts to remove unsanctioned camps and take other enforcement steps to fully review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Martin v. City of Boise, which addressed the rights of the homeless….

        The City is committed to treating unsheltered people with respect, dignity and compassion and to striving to minimize harm and trauma as we assist them. The City will work to provide unsheltered people with a safe and legal shelter option, while we manage city property for its intended use and balance the needs of the unsheltered with the impacts on the community.”

         

        1. Don Shor

          Don:

          Unless you have evidence, in writing or based on actual conversations,

          Rik:

          You should definitely dig a little bit deeper, Don.

          What the city of Olympia is doing is not evidence about the intentions or motivations of the Davis city council. I don’t doubt the sincerity or motives of the council members in trying to address the situation of the Davis homeless population.

          1. David Greenwald

            I would just suggest if this were the city’s motivation they have hidden it well. There has never really been a discussion of clearing city-owned property and they have not put the law as laid out here into a staff report. That doesn’t mean it might not be a hidden motivation, but if it is, the city is a better poker player than I would have thought

        2. Rik Keller

          Don: in your view then and in your conversations with City officials, the City is completely unconcerned with the homeless population sleeping and camping on City property and they have no desire or motivation to do anything about that?

        3. Eric Gelber

          in your view then … the City is completely unconcerned with the homeless population sleeping and camping on City property and they have no desire or motivation to do anything about that?

          I would certainly hope the city is concerned with the homeless population sleeping and camping on City property and is taking steps to develop alternatives to obviate that need.

        4. Rik Keller

          Eric Gelber: that is my point.

          Maybe the City of Davis is less straightforward about this than the City of Woodland: https://www.cityofwoodland.org/Faq.aspx?QID=268

          “What is Woodland doing to solve the issue of homelessness?

          …we are equally focused on managing the impacts of homelessness and, in so doing, maintain a high quality of life for our residents and a welcoming place for visitors.  A significant portion of our citywide Homeless Action Plan is specifically focused on managing homeless issues by reducing impacts on the community.

          …Review and update of City Ordinances to include: Illegal Camping

          …Hiring private security to monitor activity in and around the Woodland Public Library

          …Installing surveillance cameras at selected locations throughout the City

          …While many of the illegal activities sometimes associated with homeless individuals are currently classified as misdemeanors (and amount to little more than a citation), the Woodland Police Department and Yolo County’s District Attorney’s Office are working to ensure that individuals who are repeatedly cited for offenses, have outstanding warrants and/or have accumulated excessive “failure to appear” violations are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

           

        5. Alan Miller

          What is Woodland doing to solve the issue of homelessness? . . .

          All the bullets listed of how Woodland is approaching this sound incredibly . . . sane.

        6. Rik Keller

          I would suggest that if the Vanguard wants to know, that it actually asks elected officials some questions.

          Here’s a free idea for an article: ask elected officials  and City staff how the Boise decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals potentially affects or has already affected their enforcement of the City of DavIs anti-camping regulations that are set forth in Davis Municipal Code section 27.03.090: 
          “No person shall camp in any city open space area, except in areas established by the city and/or if granted a special permit by the director. Camping is defined as erecting a tent or shelter, or arranging bedding, or both, for the purpose of, or in such a way as will permit, remaining overnight. This section shall be applicable to camper-style trucks, camp-trailers, or other similar vehicles.”
           

           

        7. Craig Ross

          Seems like a lot of wild gooses with no real evidence that the city is thinking this way.  In fact, I was at a few meetings in public where they rejected the notion of attempting to expel homeless.  Focus has been on housing first, the homeless coordinator and improving services.

        8. Craig Ross

          BTW, if Rik had attended public meetings, he would know that the stated position of the Mayor and Police Chief is that the city isn’t going to arrest its way out of the homeless problem.  In short, his question is irrelevant because unless the person is creating a nuisance – covered under other recent laws – they aren’t using an enforcement approach.  But hey, let’s just keep spinning the ill-informed conspiracy yarns.

  7. Rik Keller

    City of Davis Mayor Pro Tem Partida states [my emphasis]: “Generosity the Biggest Barrier to Solving the Homeless Dilemma”

    Also City of Davis [my emphasis]:
    “On July 30, 2019, in preliminary findings presented in a feasibility report potentially suitable city-owned locations… Council did not allocate any funding toward the pilot program….”
     

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