News, Policies, & Trends Opinion

Does Declaring a Homeless Crisis Mean Calling in the Cavalry?

By | Oct 22, 2016

20160311_143508Sally and her husband, and two kids, moved into their neighborhood on the west edge of Los Angeles County a handful of years ago. They were willing to pay a premium on their new home because they were attracted by the good school district, the ocean air, and the fact that they were insulated from typical urban issues like crime, poverty, blighted neighborhoods, and homelessness.

A year ago, while accompanying her children to school, Sally saw a few tents pitched along the sidewalk of the boulevard they walked each school day. Thinking nothing of it, she simply crossed on the other side of the street staying away from the peculiar people.

After a few weeks, however, the few tents became an encampment of a dozen temporary structures filled with people who were homeless. She brought up the issue at the school PTA meeting, but after a few months of no one responding, she called up her local city councilmember. It was the first time she had ever interacted with a city official.

Sally is one of thousands of constituents within cities and counties throughout the State of California who are clamoring for local and regional governments to respond to the growing numbers of people who are homeless in their neighborhoods.

The increasing visibility of people who are homeless living in tents and RV’s has turned even the most liberal and compassionate residents and business owners into neighbors calling for local government to respond, and respond quickly.

With budgets still tight after a devastating recession, local governments are calling on the state to provide resources. Their strategy has been to ask the state to declare a state of emergency on homelessness, with the goal of receiving $500 million dollars of funding to address their homeless issues.

Such a response certainly makes sense. When Hurricane Matthew recently threatened states on the Southern Atlantic Coast, the President declared a state of emergency, releasing federal funds and emergency response teams.

But some communities have other definitions of what an emergency response should be toward the crisis of homelessness. In California’s Orange County, one of their communities indeed declared a crisis on homelessness.

But rather than fund more resources to house and assist people who are homeless, the resources were geared toward public safety patrols, lighting and other responses to prevent people from sleeping on the streets. A total of $730,000 was allocated.

The temptation to simply use law enforcement, security patrols, or other means of pushing people out of a neighborhood is certainly an enticing ‘quick fix”. Most people in neighborhoods inundated with homelessness would probably prefer such a response.

But calling in the Cavalry to address homelessness simply does not work. Being homeless is not a crime. Any action that might criminalize a person’s state of homelessness simply attracts a civil lawsuit that essentially shuts down a community’s ability to actually help those who need housing, and prevents a community from dealing with those on the streets who are actually breaking real laws.

Basically, if a community responds to homelessness as if it is a criminal act, it will actually increase homelessness.

Instead, calling on local and state governments to consider homelessness as a state of emergency, and allocating significant resources to build housing and provide services, is the most prudent response to homelessness.

Such a declaration may not decrease the homeless encampments near Sally’s home next week, but in the long run, enough housing and services will reduce, if not end that encampment.

5 Comments

  1. Posted Oct 24, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Helping poor community is your duty and you will make this earth more beautiful with this. I think they are doing very well in this way with helping homeless people.

  2. Posted Nov 15, 2016 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Not at all, it is life, it happens. Help homeless people, because God will see all things on this earth. You are in safe hands. They are doing excellent Job for helping homeless people.

  3. Paul Archambault
    Posted Nov 22, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I did homeless operations/abatements for five years in Los Angeles County for COPS Bureau LASD. The formula was simple. Their was no reason to add new taxes. The encampments you said in the 10/16 article are popping up everywhere. Most police departments have an abatement team to address this. I'm retired now but I'm hoping President Trump will hire me to address this problem nationally.

  4. Posted Jan 5, 2017 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this very useful list. I am looking for more nice from you soon…thanks again!!!

  5. Posted Feb 20, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this. I think too often we just cross to the other side of the street to stay away from the problem. We need to really figure out how to deal with the problem and where to start.