Robert Stepp: A balanced and rational approach to homelessness
Housing for the homeless is not the solution — it is a perpetuation and expansion of the fundamental problem. Root causes need to be identified and corrected.
The recent article defending the use of funds to build housing demonstrates the short-sighted and distorted thinking on the issue. The author quotes data (which is dated) that supports their position that the homeless in Grass Valley/Nevada County are either from here, or have family here which apparently justifies the need to house them.
A number of the “homeless” are hungry, but in fact do have places to live. How is it they can smoke, have pets, have cell phones, etc. but can’t seem to make ends meet or get essentials like food and housing or more critically, get a job?
Will Phase 2 of this support process be daily maid service for the newly housed? The camps and the conditions they create are unacceptable, and yet they provide no effort or contribution to cleaning up the messes they make — that’s left to volunteers or responsible citizens to address.
The homeless in San Francisco (Los Angeles or Houston, or Chicago or …), are for the most part not natives of the city. They don’t go there for the weather or the scenery — they go there because of the myriad of services and programs provided for them and the irrational tolerance the city shows for their bad behavior and sanitary and social disregard. San Francisco’s double digit increases in the past year were not due to people becoming homeless; it’s because they relocate.
Look at the mess that is spreading to Sacramento, Modesto, Stockton, and the Delta. Recent news cites the issue of grounds keepers in Sacramento wanting to be able to defend themselves against aggressive homeless. A report from San Francisco cites a property owner being held accountable for not keeping the sidewalks clean when the problem is due to homeless trash, debris and waste.
Another distorted justification for the “need” for public housing is high rent/housing costs. Local government has fueled that fire by applying exorbitant permitting fees to build or expand existing housing — it’s not a matter of slumlords, it is a matter of governmental greed and abuse (how much of that money ever makes its way back into housing and support services to make any quantifiable and meaningful impact to achieve affordable housing?). If we really want affordable housing, let’s start by eliminating astronomical permit fees.
So yes, if you build it, they will come — it may not be the next day, but it will certainly happen once word gets out and the availability exists. Every area of the country has experienced this problem, but where is the fix?
When do we stop enabling and begin effecting change? Why not create jobs for the homeless? It doesn’t have to be a six-figure income, it just needs to provide focus, value, self-respect, paying back, and regaining or achieving self-worth. Why not give them purpose and self-respect? Why not hold them accountable? Why not give them skills, training, education?
There are too many excuses and rationalization for why people are homeless and hungry. Not all are victims — many have chosen the lifestyle. Give them the opportunity to be part of the solution and not cave in to the “woe is me” dynamic. If we stop treating them as victims and provide opportunity to change and contribute, we all win.
There have been effective programs in the past, such as the WPA. Indian nations have turned what had been a hopeless situation in tribes into meaningful and productive circumstances by establishing businesses for tribe members to flourish in (they get trained, mentored, educated, jobs, and income — but they also have to earn all of those benefits by actively engaging and participating).
There are some who have emotional and developmental problems that need attention. They need to be identified and appropriately helped. Housing does not address those issues and will not make them better or stronger.
There are some who are substance abusers. They need help, but ultimately, they need to change that behavior. Housing does not address that addictive problem.
There are some who simply don’t want to work or have any level of responsibility. Housing will not improve that or change it — they have to consciously and intentionally change that mind set.
There needs to be a balanced and rational approach to this problem — not just throwing money at a situation that will only keep getting worse by failing to recognize and address the root causes.
Robert Stepp lives in Cedar Ridge.
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