Is permanent housing the real solution for the homeless?
By Tom Elias, Columnist
The ultimate goal of city and county agencies trying to address homelessness in California is to bring this transient population into permanent housing.
But it turns out that many homeless people don’t want the kind of permanent units that are becoming more and more available as local, state and federal governments spend more and more money to get them off the streets. .
No one knows exactly how many of the state’s approximately 161,000 homeless people prefer to continue sleeping in tents and tarps, as do about two-thirds of California’s homeless people every night. But managing the encampments so common along sidewalks and under highway bridges can often seem like playing with silly putty: When authorities rush encampments by chasing occupants and cleaning up the mess they leave behind, camps often reappear. somewhere else in a few days, like dumb putty oozing out. through the spaces between a child’s fingers.
Meanwhile, homelessness agencies continue to build, buy and rent more housing for the homeless. Short-term housing has appeared in several parts of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and other cities. Permanent housing is becoming more and more available.
The other day, the mayors of the 13 largest cities in California demanded $ 20 billion to create more of each.
But much of the permanent housing – some in older buildings and hotels bought by governments – can go begging. In San Francisco, for example, 70% of homeless people who were offered permanent places in renovated neighborhoods reportedly turned them down in mid-April.
As a local newspaper reported, that was also the drop rate at an old hotel bought by a San Francisco city agency for $ 45 million and converted to 232 units. This building has shared bathrooms. Homeless people pay 30% of their income in rent.
The cause may be the shared facilities or the rent, but most of those who have offered these neighborhoods have instead chosen to stay in open hotel shelters for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rooms often have private baths and provide meals, but this is temporary.
Meanwhile, some other programs are only free for those over 65 and Covid-negative.
Some homeless advocates lament the alleged poor quality of the permanent housing offered, claiming that poor ventilation as well as a lack of Wi-Fi and other amenities explain many move-in refusals.
Yet homelessness agencies seem bewildered by the rate of rejection of permanent housing they are now able to offer, which is only recently available. Did they expect a population plagued with instability and a high component (about 20%) of severe mental illness to turn overnight into planners interested in delayed gratification?
Said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, acting director of the San Francisco anti-homeless agency, during her report to the city’s watchdog, “We have never had a shelter in many ways anymore. pleasant ‘than the permanent accommodation available.
In some places, homeless people who move into new temporary or permanent housing must undergo psychological counseling and adhere to a drug-free lifestyle, rather than the freewheeling, sometimes criminal, life of the streets, where stolen goods are often fenced off in settlements where percent of the homeless suffer from drug addiction.
Meanwhile, thousands of brand new permanent units with extensive equipment are in the works.
These cost on average more than $ 400,000 per unit, paid mainly with local bonds. But when the money from one of those bonds, a local $ 1.2 billion measure adopted in Los Angeles in 2016, is gone, it is likely that it will be difficult to pass new bonds.
Because the authorities have alienated themselves from several thousand local voters who never expected housing for the homeless to appear near them. Moreover, this problem never seems to diminish, no matter how many new homes are built, with arrivals from other states joining families newly hit by financial hardship to replenish the homeless population.
If there is a solution, it may be to address the underlying psychological and economic factors leading to homelessness, rather than investing more and more money in housing development.
Is the answer to reopen or rebuild mental health facilities closed by the then government. Ronald Reagan in the 1970s? Is it about erecting new cities in the currently vacant desert regions of the state? Maybe both? So far, no one has a solution that everyone likes.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected] His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a fourth edition in softcover. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net