A Relevant Difference

Posted: February 26, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Morality

This morning after I had bought my hot chocolate, I happened to walk past one of those "newspaper" type boxes that are filled with real estate magazines. Those things are all over the place. I didn’t really give it a second thought – until late this afternoon while I was watching the news.

At one point during the broadcast, the current state of the real estate market was brought up. It mentioned that the number of foreclosures were up 50% from last year. So for every two foreclosures last year, there are three this year. Not good news.

When I heard that, I thought about the real estate magazines that I had seen this morning. It seemed almost obscene that with as many foreclosures occurring that there were so many of these real estate magazine dispensers littering the sidewalks of the city.

So, I decided to jump online and take a closer look at the prices of houses for sale in my community. Average price: around $600,000. Ridiculously high, especially when you take into consideration the annual median family income which is only around $58,000. Not exactly "the land of opportunity" for upward mobility. What makes it worse is that there is an extreme shortage of affordable rental units.

With the number of foreclosures going up and the number of low income housing units going down, it seems to me that there are going to be quite a number of people who are going to be scrambling to try and find a place to live. In the end, some of them will inevitably find themselves at the local homeless shelter.

Of course, the SLO Housing Authority will try stepping up to the plate to try and ameliorate the situation by approving and issuing "low income housing vouchers" (commonly referred to as Section 8 vouchers). The truth is however, it will not matter how many vouchers they pass out, it won’t make the slightest difference. They don’t have the financial wherewithal to back them and there aren’t enough places that will accept the vouchers.

Last winter, they held a "raffle" and issued approximately 100 vouchers for the local area homeless. The basic premise was that by providing these vouchers to the homeless, it would help get them off of the streets – thereby reducing the overall numbers of those who are "residentially challenged."

All I can say is that it was a good theory, but in actually practice, it was a failure. Only a small fraction of the homeless were able to avail themselves of the vouchers and get off of the streets. The majority of them are still on the streets. There are two reasons for this: one, the lack of places that were willing to accept Section 8 vouchers; two, the overall budget for funding the Section 8 program was reduced by the Federal Government.

Quite frankly, the majority of the vouchers weren’t worth the paper on which they were printed.

A high number of foreclosures. An extreme shortage of affordable housing. SLO County is getting ready to implement a 10 year plan to end "chronic" homelessness, but is not going to approve any funding to expanded existing homeless services.

Is it just me, or does anybody else see something wrong with this picture?

Unless the community steps up and forces local government to take drastic corrective measures, there are going to be more and more of our friends and neighbors who are going to find themselves without a place to live and out on the street. And, it’s going to take a lot more than just enacting foolish ordinances that penalize and criminalize the homeless.

Nothing less than providing the funding to implement and maintain programs that create a method for the homeless to become self-sustaining, productive members of our community will work. Nothing else will make a relevant difference.

We can do without flower pots on every street corner. We can do without all of the superficial and cosmetic changes. We can do without the banners and flags hanging around town announcing this function or that function. What we cannot do without is a way of helping our community’s homeless find a way of helping themselves.

Perhaps instead of shaking a fist of contempt toward the homeless, we should be extending an open hand of help.

We need to get our sights focused on doing what’s right – not what’s popular. And, that’s the key – we need to start doing and not just talking about doing.

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