It irritates me to no end when I read that some local government comes to the consensus that homelessness is an issue which should be addressed in their community, but then do nothing.
Such is the case in Merced, California.
Last week, the Merced City Council held a "special session" to discuss the city’s goals and priorities.
According to an article in the Merced Sun-Star, the cities top goals were,
"… keeping the public safe, fighting gangs, reducing graffiti, reviewing the city’s organization structure, negotiating new contracts with the four unions and looking for ways the city can reduce its energy consumption…"
Homelessness was also discussed at the "special session." It was, in fact, given more discussion time than any other issue.
Council members agreed that "something needs to be done." All the same, it’s "priority rating" was not "formally elevated" and it remained low on the list of issues to be addressed.
To justify leaving homelessness as a low priority issue, Councilman Bill Spriggs said,
"We’re not a social services agency and it becomes tricky when we try to be."
Other members of the city council concurred with Councilman Spriggs’ sentiment.
However, in order to give the appearance that they were going to eventually get around to addressing homelessness, the City Council said they would,
"… take the lead on helping the area’s homeless people with the caveat that other governments step up their efforts as well."
The article pointed out that John Carlisle, the city’s Mayor Pro Tem, had introduced a plan for using an apartment building which is currently owned by the city and converting it into temporary housing for the homeless. There was, however, one stipulation to the plan: it would "require" local non-profit groups to help in caring for the homeless.
There are a number of things I find hypocritical and disingenuous about the Merced City Council’s approach to homelessness in their community.
First, their agreement that something needs to be done to address the issue, but then not giving it a higher priority.
It grates loudly in my mind that in Merced, "reducing graffiti" ranks higher than reducing homelessness.
According to HUD’s latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report To Congress, Merced County has a total homeless population of 2641. Of those, 2420 are "unsheltered" – meaning they literally live on the streets.
It also bothers me that the Merced City Council is willing to "take the lead" in assisting the area’s homeless population, but only providing that "other governments step up their efforts as well."
By stipulating such a provision, it gives the appearance that Merced’s elected leaders are trying to find a way to let themselves off the hook. After all, they could conceivably make the assertion that no "other government" else is helping the homeless; so why should they?
It’s that type of twisted logic which is partially responsible for the lack of adequate resources being made available to assist the homeless. Consequently, the numbers of homeless are increasing faster than those who are being helped back into permanent housing.
But, what rankles me the most is Merced Mayor Pro Tem John Carlisle’s "plan" and the stipulation that local non-profit organizations be required "… to lend a hand in caring for the homeless people."
Perhaps Mayor Pro Tem Carlisle needs to make a closer examination of what is happening in his city.
The Merced County Rescue Mission has trying to provide services to the homeless since 1991.
In addition, the Merced County Community Action Agency has been engaged in trying to help the homeless since 1987.
Basically, "non-profit groups" have been striving to address homelessness in their community. Which begs the question: When is the City of Merced finally going to get on board and do its part?
The article quotes the Mayor Pro Tem as having said,
"If we don’t take the lead we’ll go around in circles and accomplish nothing."
I’m making a guess – but I’m willing to bet that when the Mayor Pro Tem used the word "we" he was referring to the Merced City Council.
There were a number of thoughts that went through my mind when I read Mayor Pro Tem Carlisle’s statement.
First, based on what I’ve been able to research – when it comes to addressing homeless – the Merced City Council has already been highly successful at accomplishing nothing.
Second is that they don’t need to worry that they’ll be going in circles. They’re already doing that.
And finally, with regards to helping the homeless, if the Merced City Council does indeed "take the lead," it will be the "blind leading the blind" and falling into a ditch.
For assigning the reduction of graffiti a higher priority than helping and reducing the numbers of homeless in their community, the Merced City Council has earned themselves the SLO Homeless Stuck On Stupid Award.