Homelessness needs practical solutions

Contributed by Ugly

Homeless is a problem for a rapidly increasing number of people. It is brought about by the extreme rise in rentals and house prices over the past couple of decades. Added to this scenario is the falling job security and the increase in casualization of jobs, workers cannot get enough hours per week to meet rent and other living costs.

This failure, both in political and financial terms, of our society to adequately provide work for all who need it results in huge numbers of people living in poverty.

The result is that there are a growing number of homeless people some of whom we see under bridges and in various parts of our cities and towns.

The questions of what is to be done is a very vexed one.

Some prefer the legal approach. Toss them out, fine and/or goal them. That is a poor approach which gets us nowhere. Perhaps we should remember the words of Anatole France who very succinctly said, “The law, in its majestic impartiality, punishes alike the rich and the poor for begging alms, stealing bread and sleeping under bridges”.

Perhaps we can learn from other large cities where the governance has taken a different path. In West Oakland, California, USA instead of trashing homeless camps the city is providing the camps with rubbish and sanitary pick up. This change to helping the homeless in the camps is new for the city of West Oakland and is a very positive move.

Matt Tinoco writes about this new approach. He writes for ‘Mother Jones’ and is editorial fellow in San Francisco.

This approach is unique, especially as many cities double down on anti-camping laws and controversial “sweeps,” often conducted under the guise of protecting public health. The process is familiar: Homeless people set up a camp, bringing with it trash, human waste, and sometimes crime. Neighbors complain, and before long the local government serves the camp’s residents with a notice to vacate. The camp is cleared, but it either moves or returns after a few weeks.

San Francisco’s municipal authorities cleared out a large camp of 250 people from beneath one of the city’s freeways earlier this year. In November, the city’s voters passed Proposition Q, which prohibits assembling a tent on a public sidewalk. As Supervisor David Campos explained in a September statement, “encampments are not a solution to homelessness. They are unhealthy for homeless people, and they are unhealthy for residents and businesses around them.” Yet homelessness advocates note that clearing out camps is often little more than a cosmetic solution.

Like Oakland, other cities have experimented with an approach that moves away from simply removing homeless people. Though sweeps still occur in Seattle, the city has set up a partnership with religious organizations that allows some homeless people to live on the organizations’ property. (Nevertheless, a 2015 motion that would have authorized city services like waste pickup at encampments died after Seattle residents objected.) Santa Barbara, California, has a “safe parking” program that allows people who live in vehicles to park in public lots without threat of citation.

The Oakland pilot project is based on the understanding that if unsheltered residents have, at the very least, a reliable and sanitary place to pitch their tents, they can devote more time and energy to finding a more stable place to live. “Breaking camps apart takes them farther away from permanent housing,” says Alex Marqusee, a legislative analyst for City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the chief sponsor of the project in Oakland. “It’s opposite of the direction we want to go.”

“It’s like, where am I going to go?'” says Harrison, a black woman in her early 40s who lives under the MacArthur Freeway. “When I have to move, it messes everything up. I get them people up in their nice houses not wanting to see any of this. I don’t want to see this. But I need to live, and it’s not like I want to live here.”

It is good to look at what they are doing in West Oakland.

It seems there are quite a few possibilities councils and all of us may think about. We need to think “outside the box” as they say. Think both for short term solutions for peoples’ health, well being,  safety and the longer term of permanent housing. It is easy to write about these things, but it is more difficult to do something worthwhile. It requires a whole of community approach involving government, councils, residents, businesses, and of course, very importantly, the homeless people themselves. Let us open our minds to the possibilities as a community and see what we can do.


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