On more than one occasion I’ve stated that homelessness is a community issue.
There are some similarities regarding the types of services offered by many cities to their area homeless. Generally, these services do not come from the local governments themselves. Most often they are provided by one or more privately run organizations. However, since they rely heavily on donations from members of the community, there is a lack of funding to provide more than just the most basic of services: a meal and a bed.
It is the lack of comprehensive services and programs which prevent many homeless from being able to rebuild their lives. And, as difficult as it is for single person to escape homelessness without access to adequate resources, for families it becomes an even greater struggle.
Due to a shrinking affordable housing market and other economic factors, homelessness among families has been on the rise over the last two or three decades. Sadly, because of the economic downturn of the past couple of years, the numbers of homeless families have increased to an all time high.
A recent news article from WCBSTV.com, Christmas Low: Homelessness In NYC At Record High, reported that on Christmas morning, there were 9,700 families in New York City shelters – an increase of 40 percent from last year.
Michael Kimber, a supervisor at one of NYC shelters said,
"We’re in a recession and everything is closing up, everybody is losing jobs. I was looking at the news the other night and they were talking about the families that are homeless now, we’re not talking about the individuals no more."
New York isn’t the only city which is seeing an increase in the numbers of families who are seeking refuge at shelters. Numerous news media across the nation are issuing similar reports.
Considering the increase of homelessness, one would think that local community leaders would recognize the need and engage in proactive measures to address this issue in their communities. But, that’s not the case. From the numerous headlines I’ve been seeing, local governments are still relying on the old tactics of harassing, rather than helping the homeless. Their goal, of course, is to get the homeless to go elsewhere – preferably to some other town.
To quote ACLU legal director for Southern California, Mark Rosenbaum, from a recent Boston Globe article, Suit says artsy California coastal enclave harasses homeless,
"Yet city leaders have chosen to attempt to eliminate the homeless, rather than eliminate homelessness."
Mr. Rosenbaum’s statement was in reference to the Laguna Hills, CA., practice of ticketing the area’s homeless for sleeping out of doors even though the city does not have a shelter which operates year round.
It should be mentioned, however, that they aren’t the only city which uses this method to address homelessness. Many cities throughout the U.S. have either adopted new ordinances or strengthened existing laws as a way of "dealing" with homelessness.
In defense of this practice, Laguna Hills City Manager, John Pietig, mentioned that the City Council had thought to revise an ordinance from the 1950′s which prohibits people from sleeping out of doors. In the end, however, they decided to postpone its revision pending additional review of the matter.
Now, let me see if I can follow the perverse logic of the Laguna Hills city council, and its ridiculous manner of addressing homelessness in their community.
They don’t want the homeless sleeping out of doors. But, the shelter doesn’t operate year round. In addition, they’ve made no mention of making the shelter a year round facility. They had a chance to amend the 1950′s ordinance, but have put it off until they can "review" the matter. Subsequently, this gives local law enforcement the "authority" to punish folks – by ticketing and fining them – for engaging in one of the most basic of human needs: sleep.
No wonder the city is facing a law suit in U.S. District court.
And to further show the lack of insight on the part of the Laguna Hills City Council: this legal battle will probably cost more to defend than it would cost to provide adequate services to their area homeless.
Guess what Laguna Hills City Council?
You’ve just been awarded the SLO Homeless Stuck On Stupid Award.
On the other hand, there are some local governments which are at least trying to find a proper solution to homelessness. Take for example Simi Valley, CA.
I came across a type of "help wanted" ad in the Ventura County Star: Homelessness group needs representative.
To quote directly from the "ad,"
"Simi Valley is accepting applications for a representative who has experienced homelessness to serve on the city’s Task Force on Homelessness.
Applicants will be selected by a subcommittee and appointed by the City Council to serve in an advisory capacity. The applicant may be homeless or formerly homeless, city officials said."
Kudos to their City Council for recognizing that a person who has experienced homelessness "from the inside" will be able to bring much needed insight and perspective to their efforts to address the issue. Hopefully, other members of their task force will be open to the suggestions from whoever is appointed.
It may not bring about an immediate reduction in the numbers of folks who are homeless in their area. But, it is a step in the right direction.
As I stated up top: homelessness is a community issue. If we want to reduce homelessness in our communities, every one of us – whether housed or homeless – must become an active part of the solution.
And, when it comes to the types of solutions we use, we can follow Laguna Hills’ short-sighted "reactive" example and get nowhere. Or, we can emulate the proactive measures of Simi Valley.
Guess which one is doomed to failure?