We Can End Street Homelessness by Holding Everyone Accountable
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By: Matt Mahan
Too many politicians in California seem to have given up on actually solving our homeless crisis and instead have resorted to desperate, and losing, attempts to manage it.
And what’s even worse is that too many politicians have essentially given up on the people living in our streets, creeks and parks – allowing them to suffer outdoors even when decent shelter is available.
San Jose shouldn’t pay more on homelessness so cities like Palo Alto can pay less. Sign our petition and make sure every city is doing their fair share on homelessness.
We need to be bold enough to hold ourselves accountable for results on homelessness, starting with a real plan to end street homelessness in the decade ahead. I have proposed that unless San Jose leaders are making progress towards reducing street homelessness, we should not get the nearly automatic raises we receive now. And as we hold our government accountable, we need to hold our residents accountable for using shelter when it is available and requiring those who are a danger to themselves and others to enter treatment.
Right now, our county is spending our tax dollars building “affordable” homes at more than $800,000 per door and calling this a response to homelessness. They will never build these homes fast enough to even hold our homeless rate steady and even if they could, we would be bankrupt before the problem was solved. The answer to ending street homelessness is not constructing homes approaching a million dollars each – it is safe, decent, individual units that can be prefabricated and placed on government owned land for a fraction of the cost of our current programs.
What the county is not doing is investing in the comprehensive mental healthcare system we would need to actually end street homelessness. Experts say communities need 50 mental healthcare treatment beds per 100,000 residents to adequately serve a community. By population, Santa Clara County needs almost 1,000 beds. Santa Clara County now has 246.
The county found money for bonuses for high-paid workers, a million-dollar book praising themselves, valet parking and numerous other examples of wasteful spending. But not to create the treatment we need to end street homelessness. Homelessness is driven by many causes, but street homelessness, the most visible and damaging level of homelessness, is all too often caused by mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction. We ignore this fact at everyone’s peril and a real solution includes focusing on treatment first.
Many people say homelessness is caused by lack of economic opportunity. In some cases that is true. I have fought to create a program in my city, San Jose, that allows our homeless residents to work their way off the streets by earning cash payments for cleaning up our city and I believe we should expand this program to include setting aside additional stipends that allow the homeless to accumulate first and last month’s rent along with credits for job training through their work.
In San Jose specifically, but the Bay Area generally, we see more than our fair share of homelessness because we are acting compassionately. Our compassion is praiseworthy. But every county in California should share the burden of ending street homelessness and every city in Santa Clara County should be doing their fair share – but we need to be bold enough to fight to make that happen.
There are solutions. But right now, what we are getting is largely excuses.
Let’s demand an end to the excuses and hold ourselves, and everyone, accountable for results.