Commentary: It Comes Back to Vulnerability and Housing Insecurity

Photo by Toby Wong on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – On Tuesday night, I held my breath during public comment, bracing for the notion that community members would demand cameras, surveillance and a heavy police presence in the face of the threat of a potential serial killer.

It’s an understandable reaction to fear—reliance on a police state.  Cicero is often credited with saying, “In times of war, the law falls silent.”  In the modern state, it could be expanded to times of crisis—and this certainly is one.

As Vice Mayor Josh Chapman summed it up for just about everyone, “I’m concerned and I’m scared and I’m upset and I want answers. I want this to be over, much like everyone who has talked here this evening. This is not…something I ever thought that would happen in my time on city council.”

Bapu Vaitla noted a “very understandable fear that’s out” in the community.

Fear is a natural response when something threatens a community that generally feels itself to be safe, almost insulated.  My friend refers to it as the “Davis bubble” and there is no doubt that if the bubble did not burst in the last week, it at the very least has been deflated and warped.

There is of course a danger that comes with fear—overreaction and encroachment on rights and liberties, especially of those who are already vulnerable and marginalized.

In the wake of 9/11, we saw this at work.  Things like the Patriot Act, permanently expanded the police and surveillance state—in ways that even, more than 20 years, have not be rectified.  People who were of the Muslim faith and the Middle Eastern Ethnicity were subjected to generalized rather than individualized suspicion.

And that has had detrimental impacts across the board.

On Tuesday, I was gratified, however, to see that most of the voices calling for things like increased surveillance were actually relatively few.  And much of the response—much to my relief—came down with protecting vulnerable populations.

The police chief, while noting that the council has already authorized cameras in various public places, did not object to the idea of at least temporary added cameras and surveillance in the parks.  But at the same time, he pushed back on the need for a curfew.

“Curfews may be very important for keeping people at home so they can’t engage in riotous behavior,” he said. “What that would look like is basically shutting down our, our city, closing down our businesses, and requiring people to be at home at, at certain times. When you have circumstances like this, that’s very difficult to enforce, and if you don’t enforce it, people won’t do it anyway. And right now, I don’t think it’s a good use of resources to try to enforce a curfew.”

He added, “I would rather that people are out and about in number.” He noted, “The more that people are out and about, the more that they’re engaging in regular activities, the more that they’re seen and being seen, the less likely that any crime occurs.”

Meanwhile, Social Services Director Dana Bailey noted that they have “expanded capacity for people to come in to have more permanent supportive housing where people are not just housed temporarily, but we’re actually connecting them to more longer term housing.”

She also pushed back on the notion that they have “a capacity issue” though she did acknowledge, “The issue is the availability of services.”

This to me is the big tragedy of the situation.  In a way, with two of the victims being unhoused, we are all now paying for our inability to address housing insecurity and homelessness in our community.

This was a point that Councilmember Bapu Vaitla made even more urgently and eloquently on Sunday, talking about the tragedy of the death of David Breaux.

He said:

It pains me to say that I know there are individuals in this room that loved him and supported him very strongly, very deeply. And I’m not speaking about individuals. I’m speaking collectively because in the final analysis, we were unable to take care of David—and the outcome illustrates that. And all over California, right now tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the street. And some have been, don’t have access to shelter. They tried, they didn’t get access to shelter.

Others like David sometimes refused shelter because the shelter didn’t meet their needs for their wants or because they didn’t trust the system that was supposed to protect them. And that lack of trust comes from trauma. It comes from trust having been broken for decades.

So they sleep on the street and they put themselves in a great risk of violence. And frankly we think now David was a random victim. But it’s just a phenomenon of living on the street in California, increasing the other places you’re exposed to assault, you’re exposed to violence.

This gets down to the heart of the matter.  We have left huge swaths of people vulnerable to these attacks because they are housing insecure, because they are unsheltered, and because the cost of housing is such that people with a host of pre-existing problems—mental illness, substance use disorder—meet a bump in the road, and the cost of housing is so unforgiving that they quickly descend into homelessness.

It’s why in times of trouble, we rely on places like Paul’s Place to step up and provide the services and the shelter needed to protect these vulnerable populations.

But while in times of emergency we step up time and time again—what is really needed is what we have been calling for over and over again… housing.

“We don’t have enough housing,” Vaitla stated.  “Housing markets are broken, and we broke them. We broke them to protect the value of our single-family homes, to preserve the character of our community, to live our version of the American dream.”

Are we going to solve the problem of homelessness with a bunch of single-family homes on the periphery?  Of course not.

But what people forget is that right now, in order to get the type of housing we need, we need a large range of housing.

There are specialized projects like Paul’s Place where the community stepped up to support.  There is housing for vulnerable residents like Creekside, which finally came together two decades after the land was dedicated at Mace Ranch.

There are projects like New Harmony that house vulnerable and low-income people.

Each project that is being proposed will come with dozens if not over 100 low-income houses—each of those will ensure that vulnerable populations have housing that they can afford.

And then there is the day-to-day need to provide housing to families, to provide mental health services to those who need it, to provide treatment for those with substance use disorder, but it all starts with housing.  Housing is vital because it provides the stability needed to allow people to receive treatment and, without housing, we leave people vulnerable to be preyed upon.

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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19 Comments

  1. Ron Oertel

    What a disingenuous article.

    First of all, one of the victims was NOT homeless.

    Secondly, is it possible that the perpetrator is homeless?  And if so, would housing him in the community be a “benefit”?

    I recall a couple of years ago, a homeless man attacking a homeless woman in Davis.  Needless to say, the Vanguard ignored that.

    Encouraging more mentally-ill, angry people to reside in the community “housed”, or “not” will result in more violence and other crime, not less.

    And no, they’re not going to end up with free apartments – which again, isn’t the cause of violence in the first place.

    Mass shelters are the only way to deal with this.

    In addition, every government dollar that’s used to house homeless people in one community is then not available to any other community.

  2. Richard_McCann

    Encouraging more mentally-ill, angry people to reside in the community “housed”, or “not” will result in more violence and other crime, not less.
    And no, they’re not going to end up with free apartments – which again, isn’t the cause of violence in the first place.
    Mass shelters are the only way to deal with this.
    In addition, every government dollar that’s used to house homeless people in one community is then not available to any other community.

    Here’s a set of statements by an individual who knows absolutely nothing about how to address the problems of the homeless or the mentally ill, and has no demonstrated knowledge or expertise in subject. It’s all about his emotional, fearful rage.

    So if the mentally ill are not to reside in our community (and of course Ron O is not a member of the Davis community), where are they to reside? In which communities? And where are these mass shelters to be in put? In which communities? Are these really “prisons” with guards to prevent crimes?

    And the last statement about fiscal effects–if we’re not spending to help the least among us, what should be spending on? Golf courses for the wealthy?

    1. Ron Oertel

      Here’s a set of statements by an individual who knows absolutely nothing about how to address the problems of the homeless or the mentally ill, and has no demonstrated knowledge or expertise in subject. It’s all about his emotional, fearful rage.

      I have no rage or fear regarding this issue.  None.  There is also none to be found in my comment, so where you’re getting that from seems to be from within your own soul.

      But this is a population which (on average) causes more than its share of problems for others. Including violence toward other members of the homeless community (of which I already provided an example).

      You have no expertise (as in “none”) regarding either of these issues.

      So if the mentally ill are not to reside in our community (and of course Ron O is not a member of the Davis community), where are they to reside?

      Is Don Shor a “member of the Davis community”  How about Don Gibson or Matt Williams?  Both of whom were appointed to city commissions? If you answer “yes” to any of those, then you have no business telling me what “community” I’m part of.

      Where are “homeless” to reside?  I already suggested that shelters be provided to them.

      In which communities?

      All communities. Including those which actively clear-out homeless encampments. Though I’d situate them outside of neighborhoods. Woodland has (or is in the process of creating) an example of that, essentially outside of town (on Road 102).

      And where are these mass shelters to be in put? In which communities? Are these really “prisons” with guards to prevent crimes?

      All communities.  There would need to be on-site security (for the sake of those occupying those shelters).

      And the last statement about fiscal effects–if we’re not spending to help the least among us, what should be spending on? Golf courses for the wealthy?

      Potholes?  (That seems to be the overriding concern for some – not me.)

       

      1. Walter Shwe

        But this is a population which (on average) causes more than its share of problems for others. Including violence toward other members of the homeless community (of which I already provided an example).

        You have no expertise (as in “none”) regarding either of these issues.

        Since I know Richard’s wife personally, your assertion that Richard has no expertise about mental illness is completely false.

        Mass shelters are the only way to deal with this.

        In addition, every government dollar that’s used to house homeless people in one community is then not available to any other community.

        Overall, based on its assessment, the committee finds that PSH holds potential not only for reducing the number of persons experiencing chronic homelessness but also for improving their health outcomes, although much additional research is needed to determine the effectiveness of PSH and to clarify for whom and in which circumstances it is most beneficial. Chronic homelessness and related health conditions are problems that require an appropriate multidimensional strategy and an ample menu of targeted interventions that are premised on a resolute commitment of resources. More precisely defined and focused research to refine the menu of needed interventions and a materially increased supply of PSH are part of the multidimensional strategy. The committee hopes that this report will stimulate research and federal action to move the field forward and advance efforts to address chronic homelessness and improved health in this country.

        National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Permanent Supportive Housing: Evaluating the Evidence for Improving Health Outcomes Among People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25133.

        Permanent supportive housing is the only long-term evidence-based solution to deal with the issue of the mentally ill unhoused. Shelters are only temporary and frequently people have to leave in the morning and can only return at night. Most only allow people to stay for a limited number of consecutive nights. I know of one Davis shelter where the limit was at 1 time only 30 days.

        Since you repeatedly proclaim that basically government can’t spend a dime on housing the unhoused in any community, you strongly imply that government can’t spend any money in any community on this vital issue. If you are saying that only the private sector or that no one should intervene, please come right out and say that.

        An estimated 20–25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from serious mental health issues, compared to only 4–6% of the general population.

        https://smiadviser.org/knowledge_post/what-are-the-statistics-regarding-mental-health-and-substance-use-issues-of-individuals-experiencing-homelessness#:~:text=An%20estimated%2020%E2%80%9325%25%20of,6%25%20of%20the%20general%20population.

        This is to demonstrate that the vast majority of the unhoused do not suffer from serious mental health issues.

        Some of your other assertions about yourself on this page are also false, but the moderator says I can’t delve in to those on this page. That’s all for now folks.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Since I know Richard’s wife personally, your assertion that Richard has no expertise about mental illness is completely false.

          Is Richard’s wife commenting on here?

          Since you repeatedly proclaim that basically government can’t spend a dime on housing the unhoused in any community, you strongly imply that government can’t spend any money in any community on this vital issue. If you are saying that only the private sector or that no one should intervene, please come right out and say that.

          The opposite of what I’ve said.  Do you even read comments before commenting, yourself?

          I have stated that there’s not enough money to provide all homeless people with free apartments, and that any money used in Davis to shelter homeless people is then not available to other cities.

          And that shelters should be located away from neighborhoods.

          I would also add that funding for such services should not be borne on a specific-city level, since this would allow some cities to completely avoid costs. (The type of city which would then “ship off” its homeless population to cities which are willing to pay for and house them.)

          Some of your other assertions about yourself on this page are also false, but the moderator says I can’t delve in to those on this page. That’s all for now folks.

          None of what I stated about myself is false.  Then again, I’ve made few assertions about myself in the first place, because (despite the repeated efforts of folks like you and McCann), none of the topics in Vanguard articles are about “me” in the first place.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Is Richard’s wife commenting on here?”

            This is a good example of where you should just stop instead of responding because you really don’t know the background.

        2. Ron Oertel

          David:  Maybe you, Walter and Richard claim expertise of other family members for yourself, but I don’t.

          Would you allow yourself to be operated on by the spouse of a surgeon? Or have your taxes done by the spouse of a tax professional? Perhaps have the spouse of a pilot fly you to your next destination?

          Now, I know that it doesn’t take much expertise to run a blog, and present selected “evidence” as fact. Or to allow a mean-spirited, personal pile-on (by your increasingly small peanut gallery) for those who challenge what the blog puts forth.

        3. Walter Shwe

          Do you even read comments before commenting, yourself?

          I read every single comment posted by both Keith and you thoroughly.

          Is Richard’s wife commenting on here?

          No, but both Richard and his wife are in sync and have a family member with mental illness. Do you completely understand the concept of marriage Ron?

          I have stated that there’s not enough money to provide all homeless people with free apartments, and that any money used in Davis to shelter homeless people is then not available to other cities.

          For one thing, there is no such thing as absolutely free apartments. Apartment rents are typically tied to the tenants’ income levels. The standard is 30% of their income to allow people to afford their other living expenses and retain their housing. If residents are likely either mentally or physically disabled,  they may qualify for either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI are for individuals with prior work histories. 

          None of what I stated about myself is false.  Then again, I’ve made few assertions about myself in the first place, because (despite the repeated efforts of folks like you and McCann), none of the topics in Vanguard articles are about “me” in the first place.
          I recommend that no one disclose any personal information on here, as it’s a public website.
          Comments should focus on subject matter (rather than individuals) in the first place. There are no “personal disclosure rules” on here.

          I am compelled to remind you about one of your prior comments that I believe rises to the level of doxxing. Since you have violated your rule/guideline in the past, I hereby anoint you a hypocrite.

          Also, there is a residential address which appears to be just outside of Davis city limits in a house worth almost $1.5 million. Some sources state that you currently live there, while other sources show that it is a former address.

        4. Ron Oertel

           

          I read every single comment posted by both Keith and you thoroughly.

          You apparently don’t, because you’ve attributed comments to me which I haven’t said (even remotely).  You did the same thing with Todd, yesterday.

          No, but both Richard and his wife are in sync and have a family member with mental illness.

          And that makes him an expert on homelessness?

          Do you completely understand the concept of marriage Ron?

          Yes – do you?  There’s a reason that they don’t give degrees, for example, to “spouses” of students – unless they themselves also “do the work”, as they say. Same thing with jobs – employers don’t provide “double pay” just because you’re married to someone.

          I am compelled to remind you about one of your prior comments that I believe rises to the level of doxxing. Since you have violated your rule/guideline in the past, I hereby anoint you a hypocrite.

          Pot meet kettle.  Also, they’re not “my” rules/guidelines.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Sometimes not responding is better

          I noticed that you “modified” your (initial) response regarding the comment, above.

          Making it “softer” does not change it.

    2. Richard_McCann

      Ron O

      Your comment is full of rage and fear, even if you try to claim otherwise. As for me trying to claim expertise, I’m not doing so. I’m pointing out that you have absolutely no expertise and what you are proposing has fatal internal consistencies. Again, where are you proposing that they reside? Saying “shelters” only means that they may sleep there. What about the remaining hours of the day? They aren’t causing trouble while they’re sleeping.  Are the shelters to be set up with guards to keep them inside?

      You could have said in a much more compassionate way that we should be opening more shelters, which I wholeheartedly support as a “housing first” solution. But saying that we should open shelters but then saying that we shouldn’t spend any money on housing because somehow it takes away from spending elsewhere is an obvious logical contradiction. This isn’t the opposite of what you said–each of us came to the same conclusion so obviously the problem is with how you said this, not our reading of it. We’re left puzzling what you’re really trying to say and what your motivations really are.

      BTW, the federal courts have ruled it unconstitutional to force people to live in such shelters–it must be voluntary or its involuntary incarceration in violation of the 13th amendment.

      As for community stakeholders, I’ve already defined that universe and it isn’t limited to voting citizens of the City. Business owners, local employees, students at UCD, residents of neighboring community service districts served by City utilities and even those who aspire to live in Davis are legitimate stakeholders. Those who left Davis entirely or reside outside of the community with no discernable connections are not legitimate stakeholders. For someone who constantly questions the underlying motives of stakeholders, its hypocritical to hide one’s supposed connections in an apparent attempt to shield one’s motivations for commenting on Davis issues.

       

      1. Ron Oertel

        Your comment is full of rage and fear, even if you try to claim otherwise.

        Again, I have no rage or fear – especially toward the homeless, themselves.

        As for me trying to claim expertise, I’m not doing so.

        Walter did so on your “behalf”.

        I’m pointing out that you have absolutely no expertise and what you are proposing has fatal internal consistencies.

        Such as . . .?

        Again, where are you proposing that they reside?

        Shelters.

        As far as where to reside “permanently”, that’s a decision that each of us is responsible for.

        Saying “shelters” only means that they may sleep there. What about the remaining hours of the day?

        You’re stating that it’s up to “me” what others do during the daytime?  Really?

        They aren’t causing trouble while they’re sleeping.

        Actually, “anyone” can cause trouble with the choices they make regarding sleeping locations.  For that matter, even national parks don’t let you just sleep “anywhere”.  Nor do they do so without charging you.

        There are vast numbers of folks traveling around in vehicles (e.g., making travel videos) who also aren’t allowed to park just “anywhere” to sleep.

        Are the shelters to be set up with guards to keep them inside?

        To keep them “inside”?  No.

        But any “virtual city” requires security, and even more so with a troubled population.

        You could have said in a much more compassionate way that we should be opening more shelters, which I wholeheartedly support as a “housing first” solution.

        I did say that, though I don’t think it’s wise for cities to be paying for this on an individual level.  The reason being that some cities will choose to do “nothing”, thereby shifting the responsibility to cities that choose to take this on.

        I said nothing about “housing first” (e.g., allowing open drug use, onsite).

        But saying that we should open shelters but then saying that we shouldn’t spend any money on housing because somehow it takes away from spending elsewhere is an obvious logical contradiction.

        Again, not what I said.

        This isn’t the opposite of what you said–each of us came to the same conclusion so obviously the problem is with how you said this, not our reading of it. We’re left puzzling what you’re really trying to say and what your motivations really are.

        I said exactly what I meant.

        BTW, the federal courts have ruled it unconstitutional to force people to live in such shelters–it must be voluntary or its involuntary incarceration in violation of the 13th amendment.

        The court has ruled that if shelters are available, cities don’t have to tolerate camping in illegal locations.

        As for community stakeholders, I’ve already defined that universe and it isn’t limited to voting citizens of the City. Business owners, local employees, students at UCD, residents of neighboring community service districts served by City utilities and even those who aspire to live in Davis are legitimate stakeholders. Those who left Davis entirely or reside outside of the community with no discernable connections are not legitimate stakeholders. For someone who constantly questions the underlying motives of stakeholders, its hypocritical to hide one’s supposed connections in an apparent attempt to shield one’s motivations for commenting on Davis issues.

        Provide evidence that I question the underlying motives of stakeholders.  The fact that I choose not to discuss any personal connections that I have to Davis is not “evidence” that I don’t have such connections.

        And again, who assigned YOU as a gatekeeper of what’s to be disclosed on here? These articles address subjects/topics that have nothing to do with individuals.

        I have found that sharing personal information on here exposes oneself to personal attacks.  Even when that information is not shared in the first place.

         

  3. Matt Williams

    Let me start this comment by noting that because Ron Oertel has already added his customary vitriol, I seriously considered not adding my comment, but in the end I guess I can simply pretend his vitriol doesn’t exist.

    With that said, there is something missing from the following comments in the final five paragraphs of the article.

    But what people forget is that right now, in order to get the type of housing we need, we need a large range of housing.

    There are specialized projects like Paul’s Place where the community stepped up to support.  There is housing for vulnerable residents like Creekside, which finally came together two decades after the land was dedicated at Mace Ranch.

    There are projects like New Harmony that house vulnerable and low-income people.

    Each project that is being proposed will come with dozens if not over 100 low-income houses—each of those will ensure that vulnerable populations have housing that they can afford.

    And then there is the day-to-day need to provide housing to families, to provide mental health services to those who need it, to provide treatment for those with substance use disorder, but it all starts with housing.  Housing is vital because it provides the stability needed to allow people to receive treatment and, without housing, we leave people vulnerable to be preyed upon.

    The first paragraph makes an assertion that never gets explained or supported.  It doesn’t explain what “the type of housing we need” is, nor does it explain what the “large range of housing” is.

    I assume that the second and third paragraphs appear to (but I could be wrong in that assumption) be examples of “the types of housing we need.”  The housing listed in those two paragraphs are very much what I personally believe our community needs.  They were specifically created to address the needs of low income families and the homeless.  We need more of these kind of projects, and the City and the community should be working diligently to identify and procure funding from the State of california and the US Government and private donors to add more such housing to the community.  That is what Paul’s Place did.

    The fourth paragraph makes no sense.  We know exactly how may units of housing that Paul’s Place and Creekside and New Harmony have provided, so why use the vague wording “dozens if not over 100 low-income houses.”

    The final paragraph is also incoherent.  How does $1 million per unit housing provide mental health services to those who need it?  How does $1 million per unit housing provide treatment for those with substance use disorder?  The people who need the services/treatment (and many other social services) are never going to live in $1 million new homes.  We need to be pursuing housing for them that they will actually be willing to live in.

     

    1. Keith Olsen

      Let me start this comment by noting that because Ron Oertel has already added his customary vitriol, I seriously considered not adding my comment, but in the end I guess I can simply pretend his vitriol doesn’t exist.

      What’s the purpose of this?  If you ask me it’s Matt who added the vitriol.

      Some advice, if you don’t like someone’s opinions then don’t read them.

      Problem solved.

      1. Matt Williams

        Keith, I simply called the cards as they are.  All eight of the paragraphs in Ron’s 8:23 am comment are vitriolic.  If you don’t see that, you are blind.

        Ron is correct in his 3:02 pm comment when he points out Richard McCann’s personal vitriol toward him.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Like you have suggested I ignore McCann’s personal attacks on Ron when they happen … largely because Ron could put them to an end with a simple disclosure, but he chooses not to do so.  The expression “physician, heal thyself” applies.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Keith, I simply called the cards as they are.  All eight of the paragraphs in Ron’s 8:23 am comment are vitriolic.  If you don’t see that, you are blind.

          Maybe you’re the one who’s blind, Matt.  Since neither Keith nor I see it that way.

          Ron is correct in his 3:02 pm comment when he points out Richard McCann’s personal vitriol toward him.

          Two wrongs don’t make a right.

          I’ve made no personal vitriol attacks against Richard or anyone else on here.  This is all on Richard (and the choices made regarding allowed comments), not me.

          Like you have suggested I ignore McCann’s personal attacks on Ron when they happen … largely because Ron could put them to an end with a simple disclosure, but he chooses not to do so.  The expression “physician, heal thyself” applies.

          The “perpetrator” of personal attacks is the one that bears responsibility for them, not the recipient. And yet for some odd reason, you focus on me – the one who has made no personal attacks.

          Also, you are sadly mistaken if you believe that “disclosures” put an end to personal attacks.  If anything, that encourages more attacks. I recommend that no one disclose any personal information on here, as it’s a public website.

          Comments should focus on subject matter (rather than individuals) in the first place. There are no “personal disclosure rules” on here.

           

          1. Moderator

            Ron has the last comment on this digression. Please stick to the topic, folks.

  4. Ron Oertel

    Let me start this comment by noting that because Ron Oertel has already added his customary vitriol, I seriously considered not adding my comment, but in the end I guess I can simply pretend his vitriol doesn’t exist.

    You and McCann either need to:

    1)  Specifically point out the comment(s) you define as “vitriol” (and the reason for your view), or

    2) Stop claiming this.

    Your choice.

    And perhaps you can explain why you consistently ignore the constant vitriol that McCann directs at me, unprovoked.

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