Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Commentary and Opinion by Samuel Strait

There is an old saying that when you fail to solve your problem one way,
it makes no sense to try and solve it by using the same way over and
over again then expect a different outcome. California has employed
billions of dollars just in the past three years in a vain attempt to
house it’s homeless population only to see that population increase from
25% of the nation’s entire homeless population to 26% in the Spring of
2023.  When it comes to homelessness our policy makers at both the State
and local level have fastened on this problem with the idea that once a
homeless person is housed, the issues that forced them into becoming
homeless will magically disappear.

One would think after decades of housing, as the first choice of our
leaders, spending billions of dollars to house a tiny fraction of that
population only to see the numbers continue to climb that it would dawn
on someone in that leadership role that housing first wasn’t working. 
As the numbers of homeless continue to climb, perhaps it would be a wise
move to try some thing different first.  Granted there is little that
the State and local governments will be able accomplish for much more
than the meager results that have been successful for the few, but the
many remain unhoused and their issues where possible, unresolved.

Homelessness is not something “new” nor unusual.  It has existed since
mankind first walked on this place we call Earth.  As societies have
come and gone, none have been fortunate enough to solve the problem but
for the few.  Our local leadership has elected to solve the issue first
through the purchase of a local motel now being called euphemistically
“the Legacy” situated along the main thoroughfare, Highway 101 South. 
Since it’s inception over two years ago now, it was intended to house
the local homeless population through a State funded program “Project
HomeKey” with “Temporary Housing”.  The goal was to transition
successful residents from temporary housing into a more permanent form. 
The problem being, a lack of permanent housing for those transitioning
in the County.  Low income housing, even heavily subsidized through HUD,
is extremely limited;  hence, the Legacies’ population that moved to the
motel in 2020 are still in residence, unless evicted for some transgression.

In the interim, the housed, once numbering 50 adults and children in May
of 2021 has dwindled to 27 adults and children in May of 2023.  Fourteen
of the Legacy’s 30 rooms are vacant and the project is being converted
from transitional housing to permanent.  It seems that the occupants can
continue to live in the Legacy as long as they wish to abide by the
rules.  No transitional housing here.  Some work, although the County
wasn’t willing to divulge how many.  Once the current residents are
converted to permanent housing the project costs will be partial covered
by HUD vouchers.  In the meantime it costs the County $300,000 per year
to pay for the utilities, water, sewer, electricity, and cable TV, plus
staff and maintenance.

This unit when occupied by a business more in line with its location was
a net gain for the County coffers that has now become a liability.  The
County has admitted to there being criminal drug activity, violence and
destruction of property on site. Conversations with the City’s Police
Chief revealed initially police responded to calls two out of every
three days.  Currently that kind of activity is reported to have been
substantially reduced, likely due to the reduced population more than
actual reduction in criminal activity.  One thing should be clear from
the numbers, is that even if the Legacy was fully occupied, its effect
on the over all homeless population is minimal and as the population of
homeless in the County increases it further reduces its effectiveness as
a tool to combat homelessness.

Moving on.  After spending initially $3.5 million in the first version
of homeless housing, plus $750,000 to operate the Legacy since November
of 2020, the project once expanded to permanent housing will in all
likelyhood consume yet more millions to house currently 27 homelessness
and in the future perhaps as many as 50.  Not a lot of “bang” for the
dollars spent when the current estimate for the homeless population
could be as high as 800 to 1000.  But wait for it, the County is
entertaining the notion to go a bit further by becoming landlords to a
“tiny house” village on Williams Drive, $7 to $8 million more dollars
for the village infrastructure and an currently unknown figure for
utilities, maintenance and staff per year, all grant funded of course. 
Maybe thirty more added to the rolls of the newly housed.

While the millions spent and the problems the County has acquired in
their “housing first” attempt is unlikely to solve the problems of
County homelessness, according to Supervisor Dean Wilson, a member of
the County’s ad hoc committee on homelessness, it “will give law
enforcement the tools to clean up local homeless encampments”.  Of
course, there are a number of problems with that statement, the first
being that the three steps towards housing the homeless is missing one
important ingredient, affordable permanent housing.   Not to mention an
already beleaguered Sheriff’s Department’s inability to accomplish the
already full plate of duties in place.  And the other niggling detail,
that it in no substantive way addresses any of the issues that made
people choose homeless in the first place.

Bottom line, the County’s efforts to solve our homeless problem will
fall just as short as the obsession with housing first has become as
obvious failure.  It just comes down to “how much will it cost to house
a tiny fraction of the homeless population?” Likely a breath taking
amount.   Then there is that old saying, “You can’t teach old dogs, new
tricks”.  They just seem to continue to make the same mistakes over and
over again.

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