Commentary: The Link Between Homelessness and Housing Should Be Obvious, but Some Want to Ignore This Fact

Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Is it really a coincidence that the homeless crisis in California is occurring simultaneously to the housing crisis?  For a long time, we have repeated a simple maxim: we know how to solve the homeless problem—permanent supportive housing, and the real question is whether or not we have the will to do what is needed.

A few weeks ago the San Diego Union Tribune ran an op-ed from a formerly homeless man, who is now an advocate: “I am living proof that ending homelessness begins with a home.”

This is not rocket science, but the homeless issue is fraught with misconceptions and stigmatization.

John Brady is the executive director of Lived Experience Advisors, a group of homeless and formerly homeless individuals who advocate for housing and improved approaches to solving homelessness.

“The end of homelessness begins with a home.  I know this from experience,” he argued.

As Brady describes it, “I have a master’s degree in business and decades of experience as a successful executive consultant and business owner. I also spent just more than a year without a safe place to call home in San Diego.”

In 2006, he was the victim of a hate crime and “never had access to the deep mental health treatment I needed. This led to a deep multi-year depression peppered with periods of self-medication.”

As Brady explains, “The experience of homelessness was traumatic, and the recovery was daunting. What I learned about myself and homelessness was powerful.”

Misperceptions about the homeless problem and homelessness pervade the system, infect, and make it far more difficult to solve.

“Prior to becoming homeless, I accepted the common belief that people had plenty of options but preferred living on our streets,” he writes, mirroring the reaction I often read or hear in the community to the homeless problem. “I soon learned that could not be further from the truth.”

He continued, “The physical and emotional toll created by living on the sidewalk quickly surpassed the meager resources that San Diego offered in terms of shelter and mental and physical health services. If fact, the one ‘services’ that was present above all others was enforcement. That was true six years ago and remains a constant today, but the balance is shifting rapidly.”

But Brady was more lucky than most.

As he describes his recovery, “I am living proof that ending homelessness begins with a home. While much credit goes to Voices of Our City Choir and others who believed in me when I could not, my real recovery began with housing.”

He explained, “My homelessness ended when I entered a San Diego Housing Commission’s rapid rehousing program and found an affordable apartment four years ago. But today we don’t have many affordable apartments like that one in San Diego, nor have we built enough housing that people can afford.”

He links the problem directly to the housing crisis.

As he explains, “We do not have housing that our first responders, teachers, nurses, small business owners and police officers — the people we rely on most to keep our community going — can afford and maintain. And we’ve built next to nothing for the single mom who cleans houses, the home health aide who takes care of our aging parents, the student buried in college debt or the person — like me — who needed some extra help.”

Many see the link between mental illness and homelessness and presume that the problem of homelessness is driven by mental illness and substance abuse.  As Brady’s story demonstrate, that is part of the problem.

But then why is California the place in the nation where homelessness is increasing at such a fast rate?

Brady notes, “In Downtown San Diego, the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased by 38 percent over the last 12 months to a record high of 1,939.

The linkage is to the rising cost of housing.

He writes, “The increase is no surprise given the rising cost of housing in our city. To rent an average two-bedroom unit, you have to earn between $42 an hour and $65 an hour.”

What that means is that there is little margin for error.  One bump in the road can push someone living on the margins over into homelessness, and once there, without programs and resources, it is difficult to recover.

As he explains, “The truth is that almost all of us are one paycheck, car accident or trauma away from needing some help.”

Brady adds, “When you are frustrated by people living on the streets, remember that no one wants to sleep on concrete or have all their possessions thrown out during a sanitation raid and — most importantly — remember that housing is the only thing that will actually solve the problem.

“If you want San Diego, and our country, to exist free of homelessness, we must act meaningfully to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home. In order to do this, we need to maximize middle-income and very affordable housing on public land.”

That may not solve all of the homeless problem, but it would likely make the remaining problem much more manageable.

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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2 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    Brady adds, “When you are frustrated by people living on the streets, remember that no one wants to sleep on concrete or have all their possessions thrown out during a sanitation raid and — most importantly — remember that housing is the only thing that will actually solve the problem.

    I have known this simple fact for over 2 decades. The unhoused are much more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators.

  2. Keith Y Echols

    The problem with this analysis is that it implies that you can privately build your way out of the situation.  In the past, I’ve exhaustedly tried to comment on how private market rate housing can’t be an answer for getting housing to become more affordable.

     “We do not have housing that our first responders, teachers, nurses, small business owners and police officers — the people we rely on most to keep our community going — can afford and maintain. 

    The answer is more PUBLIC HOUSING.  It’s time that local communities, states and the federal government become developers and landlords.  The problem is the longtime belief that public housing is just for the social-underclass (as this was the case with public housing in through the 70’s….as it became more and more underfunded and poorly administered).  The lower socio-economic class;  kind of people that everyone says needs housing but many with expensive homes (and most homes in this state are expensive) want to live around.  But PUBLIC HOUSING can include WORKFORCE HOUSING.  Cities should have public housing available for their employees.  School districts should have housing for their employees (and this is starting to happen in some districts in CA).  If public housing for public employees became the norm; then the face of public housing becomes Police people, firefighters, government employees, school teachers…   Who has a problem living near school teachers?  Public housing could even be a revenue generator for some cities and school districts.  They could build, own/rent and sell a mix of affordable housing and market rate housing to subsidize  the affordable housing and possibly even provide profit for the cities, state and/or school districts.

    On a grander scale, I’d say the answer to homelessness is guaranteed public housing which would probably have to be a combined federal, state and local solution. But I think the answer is the most direct one. The state will have to build lots of housing. I think it’s the most direct and effective solution compared to just throwing away money at various programs. Then of course you have to get the homeless to want to live in those homes.

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