Commentary: Council Candidates Tackle the Homeless Issue

Photo Courtesy of Yolo DA

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – One of the issues of biggest concern to many in Davis, especially business owners and the Davis Chamber, has been homelessness.

New point-in-time data released recently shows that the homeless population in Davis and Yolo County has stabilized.

The candidates don’t vary widely on this issue, but there are some differences.

Dan Carson pushed the notion that the council “has taken very strong actions to address this issue.”

He points out “the new point-in-time counts for homeless, not perfect data, but at least some data have just been released that showed that the numbers in Davis have actually gone down slightly. I would really characterize it as flat. And, and it’s interesting because other surrounding communities have seen 40 to 70% increases in their homeless population during the same time period.”

He argued for the effectiveness of the Respite Center.  He said “we have data that’s showing that we’re starting to get folks moving into mental health treatment, drug abuse treatment, permanent housing, full health benefits, trying to move them on, up and out of that life. We helped provide money for Paul’s Place, and I voted for the land use decision to allow that place to be built there on H Street.”

The incumbents point to things like the Respite Center, Paul’s Place and the homeless corridor.

Gloria Partida during the Chamber Forum pointed out that “our Department of Housing and Social Services—and this was developed in part to address this problem.”  She added, “And the Respite Center which has connected people to some of those services that mentioned to VA services, if they are qualified for those services. The whole point is to get people to not become entrenched in homelessness. You have to present those services in order to get them moved on from that. The city partners with Davis Community Meals, we partner with community care.”

Bapu Vaitla noted, “We know what works. It’s to get people into permanent supportive housing.”

He noted, “There’s a fraction of our houseless population that if you have the ability to do the outreach, if you have the housing to provide them the case management, social worker services, they’ll avail themselves of those services. In city after city, that upfront investment in permanent supportive housing has paid great dividends over time.”

He added, “There’s also a fraction of our population that will not voluntarily accept services or go into housing. And the only solution that’s really worked in other cities is to develop an outreach program where you have folks whose only job is to develop relationships of trust with that community, and over time build this kind of acceptance of the services and housing to which they’re entitled.  Again, that’s worked in other places. We can make it work here.”

Kelsey Fortune added, “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here.   Other communities have programming that works and what works is getting people into housing. So we can start there and then we can make sure that we’re offering appropriate services.”

Adam Morrill probably had the biggest points of difference from the other candidates.  He favored closing the Respite Center and pushing away from the city providing social services, and toward non-profits.

He said that “the city shouldn’t be in the business of social services. The city does public works, public safety and parks. And we’re spending a lot of money hiring expensive management, the Respite Center. And these efforts are already duplicative of what the nonprofits have already been doing.”

He added, “Davis Community Meals was particularly irked by the opening of the Respite Center. We have the county that provides these services. “

He argued that “a nonprofit is going to stretch that money way farther than the government can. Government is not efficient at spending money.”

At another forum he argued, “We opened the Respite Center to help with the homeless situation, but we had nonprofits and faith-based organizations within the community already providing a lot of these services. Paul’s Place being an example. What the city should have done is sat down at the table with all the stakeholders and say, you know what? We have some money. Can we help you? Because a nonprofit is going to be able to stretch that dollar a lot better than government. Government is not good about spending money and nonprofits are.”

One thing not discussed was Project Roomkey.  That was a project of using rooms in hotel and motels as shelter for the unhoused during the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, homeless advocates in Los Angeles called “on city leaders to purchase the L.A. Grand Hotel, which has served as emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, to convert into permanent housing.”

The LA Times reported that Project Roomkey, a federally funded program that launched in spring 2020, “allowed cities and counties to provide emergency shelter for medically vulnerable unhoused people in the middle of the pandemic. But it eventually became interim housing for a broader range of homeless Angelenos.”

While Housing First approaches remain a source of some dispute, most housing advocates believe that providing permanent housing is the first step to helping stabilize lives and allow people to access resources to help with issues of mental illness, job training, and substance abuse.

Relying solely on non-profits is probably not the answer.

As Gloria Partida noted, while non-profits are willing to help, providing permanent supportive housing is often beyond their ability, “because they don’t have the infrastructure.”

As a state, California leads the nation in unsheltered homeless population and should be looking at states like New York—which have a very low percentage of its homeless population that is unsheltered.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Richard_McCann

    He favored closing the Respite Center and pushing away from the city providing social services, and toward non-profits.

    This sounds just like Reagan’s “solution” on mental health care that failed first in California and then the US, and Bush Sr.’s “Thousand Points of Light.” The facts are that non profits do not have the capacity to scale up to the necessary outreach levels, and do not have the fundraising resources. Non profits serve very important roles here, but managing the large scale of capital investment required probably isn’t one of them.

    And why shouldn’t the city be providing social services? That division is arbitrary, and the available revenues are more constrained for county governments than for cities under state law.

    1. Ron Oertel

      And why shouldn’t the city be providing social services? 

      Could have sworn that the city was facing fiscal challenges, already. That might be one reason.

      Did they suddenly find a bunch of money?

      The first responsibility of a city (any city) is to look at how much money they have, and not spend more than that. And yet, they repeatedly ignore that responsibility.

      In fact, that’s probably their number one responsibility.

      Not sure why that’s so hard for them to do. Even a “non-economist” should be able to accomplish that.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Here’s the type of thing I’d consider, if I ended up homeless.  $180 for seven months’ rent.

    Apparently, a significant number of people do this (e.g., during the cooler months – in that particular location).  Then, they travel using the money that they saved.

    Certainly more appealing than “camping” in an urban environment.

    I like watching these type of videos, as it opens up entirely different worlds that you otherwise might not know about.

    Also, lots of people making straight-out travel videos, and supporting themselves with that. (Hopefully, without ending up on the news for an entirely different reason – as a certain young couple did last year.)

    In any case, the travel videos remind me of what Huell Howser did, years ago. And, anyone can do it these days (though I suspect it’s challenging at first to gain followers).

      1. Ron Oertel

        Odd, but not entirely unexpected that you would view it that way.

        As already noted, this is something I might consider doing if faced with this situation.

        I can easily envision myself doing so.  It’s essentially camping in a comfortable manner, something that non-homeless people do “for fun”.  The only difference is that (in the referenced video), they’re earning money as well (but not wasting it on expensive rent).

        Though I’d probably depart that particular site, before it got too hot.

        I don’t know how many of these “long-term visitor” campgrounds exist, but I understand that there’s lots of opportunities to camp on BLM land in particular.

        Some people also become “campground hosts”, which I assume includes a long-term (probably “free”) place to stay.

        Personally, I think these options are vastly preferable to most other options that homeless people have.  (In fact, I wouldn’t even call those who partake of this option “homeless”).

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