Token Gestures

Posted: April 13, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Mental Health, Politics

A little over a week ago I wrote a post titled, Genuine Solutions or Temporary Fixes?

It was about the dismantling of the tent city in Sacramento which had garnered national and international media attention after having been spotlighted on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Because of public outcry (and criticism), Sacramento’s Mayor, it’s city council and California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went into overdrive to find a way to house those homeless who would be displaced due to the dismantling.  

Governor Schwarzenegger went so far as to offer to try and find state funding to increase the number of available shelter beds. His offer certainly gave the appearance of a leader who was truly concerned about the welfare of the tent city’s residents. To me, however, it seemed to be nothing more than a public relations ploy.

As a result, in my post I openly questioned their motives:

"Are they really interested in addressing homelessness? Or, are they just trying to wriggle themselves out of the media spotlight through perfunctory actions?

As for Governor Schwarzenegger’s visit there last week to ‘survey the situation,’ I have to wonder if it was more for appearances sake than anything else?"

Based on something I read in yesterday’s Sacramento Bee, I have become more convinced that their actions were nothing more than token gestures.

The editorial, Cuts in homeless funds shortsighted, made reference to the state’s most recent budget:

"In the last state budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blue-penciled $4 million in Emergency Housing and Assistance Program funding. EHAP funds provide operating assistance to 100 emergency shelters and transitional housing programs in every county in California.

In his veto message the governor said the $4 million in emergency shelter funds he had cut was needed to build a rainy-day fund for the state. But as advocates point out, the governor’s message ignored the reality that homeless in this state ‘are already in the midst of a torrential downpour.’"

Adding 150 shelter beds to a community only because they are under the spotlight of public scrutiny, while cutting EHAP funding which will adversely affect 100 other shelters is nothing more than a shell game. Offering a few crumbs with one hand, while taking away with the other is the worst form of hypocrisy.

This is not the first instance of Governor Schwarzenegger cutting funding for the homeless and other underprivileged persons.

On August 24, 2007, he signed the state’s 2007-2008 budget.

Among the funding which the legislature had asked for, he vetoed $54.9 million from the Integrated Services for Homeless Adults with Serious Mental Illness Program.

The program provided funding to local mental health agencies and organizations statewide to assist homeless and other adults with serious mental illnesses.

It isn’t enough for politicians and bureaucrats to talk about the need to address homelessness. Moreover, it takes more than introducing legislation without providing the adequate funding to make those programs effective.

Sadly, elected leaders don’t seem to be able to recognize that it is the lack of resources which is one of the reasons why so many homeless find it difficult to transition back into society; or why there are so many who are sleeping on our city streets. Yet, even when they do see the correlation, they seem to be unwilling to put forth the funding.

Instead, they are content to offer short term "solutions" which do little more than reduce the visibility of homelessness without actually remedying it.

The last paragraph in the Sacramento Bee editorial makes this statement:

"The governor should make this issue a priority, not just by showing up at homeless encampments but by doing the hard work of coordination and planning. That work helps to sustain and expand the kinds of programs that transformed Liana Luna from homeless vagrant to taxpaying citizen."

That statement can just as easily be applied to every elected official nationwide.

Until they do, we can be sure of one thing: the numbers of homeless will continue to increase.

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