The crisis of homelessness has exploded throughout cities of all sizes throughout the United States. It has escalated with cruel intensity in California. The Golden State’s finances are so strong that if it were a sovereign country it would rank as the 5th largest economy in the world. And yet, with powerful financial forces coursing through our State’s lifeblood, California has the highest number of homeless people in all of America.
Why is this? Based on data provided by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, a little over a quarter are Chronically Homeless. Veterans are about one 12th of the group. Unaccompanied young adults (18–24 years old) count for nearly 10%. But the biggest — -and most disturbing — -segment consists of Family Households, representing over half of the homeless.
Deeper analysis reveals that the Veterans and Chronically Homeless are mostly suffering from mental illness, but many of them, along with the unaccompanied young adults, are drug addicts.
Breaking the demographics down in a different way, 55.71% are family households, while the mentally ill and the drug addicts comprise 44.29%.
What can be done to save our population of homeless people, those most vulnerable parts of our society? Despite the Biblical injunction “For ye have the poor always with you….” (Matthew 26:11), many of the family households have on-and-off workers who, through excessive medical bills or loss of their jobs, have gone into poverty and can no longer live in a house or even an apartment. But we can save many, if not all, of them through government and private sector partnerships.
A Partnership For Us All
Common sense tells us that there are certain parts of society which require government involvement: the military, infrastructure, police, firefighting, education, taxes, and many other areas. However, the private sector is often better equipped to provide innovative solutions to problems which stymy the government. With that said, many people believe that a partnership between the government and businesses may provide hope for eliminating the homelessness crisis afflicting us today.
The Government’s Role
The government can help in several key ways. By passing appropriate laws, it can restrict the negative influences of “NIMBYers” (Not In My Backyard), people who do not want to make any kind of sacrifices to improve the quality of life for their less-fortunate neighbors. They don’t want homeless shelters, mass transportation, half-way houses, or any other form of aid to those in need of it (at least, not where they can see it). They rely on zoning laws and/or litigation involving CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) enforcement to keep the homeless out of their neighborhoods, thus forcing them to move elsewhere.
Zoning changes and restrictions on CEQA litigation can help. So can providing tax relief to private sector companies who reach out and try to help the homeless. And the government also employs many counselors who could be redeployed to assist private firms.
At present, the police are often the first, last, and only “counselors” that the homeless encounter. They cite the homeless, sometimes take them into custody, and see that their arrestees are soon back out on the street. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The bigger cities in some instances have started outreach programs with street counselors going to homeless encampments, administering medicinal drugs, providing limited housing assistance (occasional vouchers for brief stays in shelters), and sometimes offering counseling. However, the resources are few, and the needs are never-ending.
The Private Sector’s Role
There are three broad groups among the homeless: family households, mentally-ill, and drug addicts. It is suggested that businesses with a connection to each of these groups should be given the opportunity to contribute to helping overcome the homeless problems in their area of interest.
Humana, Kaiser Permanente, and many others can join forces to provide counseling and drug-therapy programs. They can help with the mentally-ill. They can provide support to others who have built shelters and half-way houses.
They can also work in tandem with social workers and counselors from city, county and state agencies to perform triage on the homeless.
Rather than lambasting and attacking Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and others, we should encourage them to provide job training and assistance in getting jobs for the capable homeless. Likewise, we should encourage them to provide funding for technologically-sophisticated yet simple housing for their workers in the community.
Additionally, the Big Tech companies can be given tax breaks if they provide funding for Green New Deal programs that will (A) help protect the environment, (B) create jobs, and (C) promote the creation of exciting new communities. In turn, the workers will have long-term, steady incomes; can live in decent housing once again, and help the resurgence of the Middle Class.
The construction industry has had a bad reputation for many years. A good way to repair the public’s perception is to participate in programs that will create great housing (especially low-cost, social housing) for the formerly-homeless, and to provide comprehensive infrastructure services that will help communities survive and thrive.
There are many technologically-innovative solutions for housing design, manufacture, and deployment. Just as is done with Habitat for Humanity, it would be a great idea to have the future occupants help erect their homes. It would and should be possible to organize neighborhood, citywide, countywide, and statewide “build-ins and build-ups” to restore these areas and create communities, often in areas where people have not met and bonded as we used to do.
Solving the housing crisis won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it’s a great place to start.