We’re still waiting for a report from Caltrans on how much it costs to sweep the average homeless camp along one of California’s freeways. We do know that last November, Caltrans estimated it would spend $36 million on homeless camp cleanups in this year alone.
Caltrans workers assigned to the sweeps, highway patrol officers who provide security during the sweeps, and neighboring businesses and residents all know that when homeless people are forced out of one place, they just move to another, often only a block or two away.
In those cases when there’s no nearby open ground, they infiltrate city parks, downtown, vacant lots, canal margins, riverbanks, and any other spot where there’s room for a shopping cart and human body. They stay at the new site until forced to move by city cops, county sheriffs, local business owners, or homeowners. Then the whole process starts again.
It’s not Caltrans’ fault it’s spending millions of tax dollars only so that millions more can be spent on futile attempts to sweep homelessness under the rug. Caltrans’ negative capability is just one more sign of government’s failure when responding to human distress with exercises in cruelty.
The sweep isn’t the only example of extravagant government waste in failing to reduce the harms of homelessness, but it may be the easiest to understand. Most everyone living in a west coast city of any size has seen the failures repeated many times over.
Imagine a wealthy state (the current California budget surplus is around $49 billion) where over 160,000 people lack consistent access to toilets, running water, and a place to keep their belongings. Further imagine many of these same people trying to form small communities for mutual aid and protection only to be forced again and again to disband and move along.
This is the natural state of homeless people in California today, where those 160,000 people live in a state of daily crisis, often even when in a traditional shelter, where their basic physical needs, and in many cases their illnesses — whether mental or physical — are disregarded or even disparaged as failures of character.
People who enter shelters today are not the same as in the past. According to Modesto’s Salvation Army Shelter Director, approximately 40% of the residents in Stanislaus County’s low barrier shelter are mentally ill; there is little to no likelihood they will become self-sufficient and there is no other place to put them than the shelter.
Another group is elderly, and/or physically or mentally disabled; they will not become self-sufficient, and even if they did, there isn’t enough housing to hold them.
Caltrans Sweep, Modesto, July 2022
While many of the state’s leaders have finally realized housing shortages are a major factor in rising homeless numbers, far too few understand that so-called “affordable housing” is not the answer to chronic homelessness.
In Modesto, city leaders boasted about approving a project that would provide 14 units of permanent housing for at-risk youth at a cost of $3.8 million, or $271,000 an apartment. In nearby Riverbank, a “tiny house” project has been advertised at a cost of $350,000 per unit. Costly units like these take too long and accomplish too little; homelessness is a crisis of humanity that needs to be addressed with emergency measures now.
Though there have been attempts to blame homelessness on the homeless, there’s more than enough factual information to discredit such theories. In May of this year, the Stanford Institute for Economic Research released “Homelessness in California: Causes and Policy Considerations.”
The Stanford study emphasizes “high housing costs, inadequate shelter spaces, deinstitutionalization, and changes in the criminal justice system” as major factors in homelessness. Among other things, it recommends, “more shelter capacity and increased investment in cost-effective housing.”
The quickest and most effective way to increase shelter capacity is to implement safe ground policies for permitted camping. Modesto and Stanislaus County did this in 2018 when they opened Beard Brook Park for camping. When campers in the park were relocated to a site near Modesto’s 9th Street Bridge, the on site population burgeoned to almost 500. Costs in maintaining the camp were estimated at $13 per person per day.
Most people think of congregate shelters when they hear the words “shelter capacity,” but permitted camping showed shelter can be provided far more quickly and inexpensively than traditional shelter options. Moreover, the majority of homeless people who have lived in congregate shelters don’t want to stay for numerous reasons, but especially because there is so little privacy and the chances of moving on are so slight.
Shelter options in addition to permitted camping are also available. When compared to the costs of sweeps, congregate shelters, lost property values, environmental damage and adverse effects on human health, alternative shelter options provide by far the best method for getting people off the streets, out of the dirt, and into humane and cost-effective living conditions.
One such option, Pallet Shelters, cost $6,995 each and can be set up in a day. Fifty such units could be put into service almost immediately for the approximate cost of one of Riverbank’s $350,000 “affordable” housing units.
Important as they are, costs are not the most significant factor in our failure to mitigate the multiple harms of homelessness. The crucial factor — the element we continue to ignore at our own peril — is our failure to realize that homelessness is a humanitarian crisis during which we continue to treat people in distress with cruel disregard and callous indifference. That stain on our own humanity won’t soon be swept away.
Ally Best says
So true, therefore, so sad.
Lou Valero says
Eric Caine and Valley Citizens:
It is extremely hard hitting to read news about another Caltran Sweep. My thoughts and emotions are fragmented, and it is not even me experiencing, first hand, the trauma, in this desert heat in the midst of a drought.
Those involved in perpetrating these Sweeps are cold blooded killers. These are genocidal acts. Just as evil as when the colonizers moved against the indigenous people groups because they thought more about the value of land than the worth of human beings who inhabited the land they covered.
Stanislaus county took its name from an indigenous man who mattered immensely to his people, and, Almighty God who created him. “Vengeance is Mine” warns the creator of earth, and, mankind who were fashioned from it.
Nothing goes unnoticed. Evil comes with consequences. The land some pride themselves in owning has memories, Almighty God warns that “The blood cries out,” to Him, (intentionally spilt blood).
Not the Riverbank developer of $350K tiny homes that cost pennies on the dollar to erect is invisible when price gouging.
Not the county of Stanislaus, not the city of Modesto, nor others, are getting away with sins of omission, and commission.
Not the citizens, who view themselves, as more worthy than those without homes, or mental stability.
KCRA news did a piece on the high cost of living in California. They offered to show viewers the hourly wage needed to earn, in order to afford a 2 bedroom in each zip code. Randomly, in the 95358 zip code, $22.50 per hour is necessary, according to KCRA.
This is a zip code where slumlords rent to poverty stricken people by jacking up rents far above their mortgage payment. There each over priced rental has numerous people chipping in to pay monthly rent. Most of the buildings were built in the 1940s or earlier, when no insulation existed. The renters pay what the slumlord demands, or one day find themselves in a Caltrans Sweep, or worse!
These little slums hold heat in the stucco walls like ovens, so the slumlords advertise the central AC runs. Yet, the central AC only blows hot air because the 20+ year old HVAC system has seized up nonfunctioning AC parts, and/or the freon was banned years back.
The slumlords knows exactly what they are doing when they breach the contract before the unwitting renters even move in. Almighty God knows exactly what they are doing to the unsuspecting renter.
Try getting a judge in this valley to care that the slumlord advertised running AC with the rental. Unless advertised such a rental owner does not have to supply AC. But, the judge could care less for these tenants who pay the majority of their pay to suffer in these rentals. The general status quo is: “if you don’t like it, just move.” Almighty God sees it all.
I chose to include slumlords and judges into this reply precisely because I know of renters who fell victim recently and ended up houseless. Then the next renters got an ear full from the prior renters and asked for their rent back. Then the next renters got burned, so they are currently dismantling the slum, piece by piece. Almighty God sees it all.
“Why” may be asked, “does Almighty God allow this evil?” “What kind of God let’s this go on?” I invite you all to get to know Him. He will answer you. What I am willing to share is that people who claim to believe in Him are to gather themselves together and proactively resist evil. These Sweeps should not be happening. Countless houseless people should not be ignored and blamed for the conditions mankind lets befall them.
We are to blame. Almighty God sees each and every one of us. He warns: “Make no excuse.”
While I agree that something needs to be done and there needs to be a location for them to go just like Beard Brook park there also needs to be a responsibility from the homeless to clean up after themselves. The garbage that is left behind by them is unbelievable and I don’t want to hear they have no place to put it but they do. They go through dumpsters and there are garbage cans in parks there needs to be some responsibility from them to do their part not just be handed everything.
If I was seen leaving garbage somewhere or dumping garbage I would be fined, somehow someway it comes down to responsibility on their part. The people in this community that are working and struggling living paycheck to paycheck are the ones that end up with taxes being raise garbage going up everything and we take responsibility on our part so it come down to responsibility on their part.
keith LAW says
Homeless people are treated like garbage in the richest state in the richest nation in the world, and your main concern is the actual garbage left behind by the homeless people, really?!
Some moral priorities you’ve got there, not.
Sam Yanez says
Can we could ship the garbage to you?
Bruce Frohman says
The author hit the best remedy nail on the head. But such cost effective solutions don’t enrich cronies of the elected body. Better to let the unfortunate suffer than to deny a campaign supporter the opportunity to profit off the suffering of others.
Each expensive real estate transaction enriches someone. Thus, it is the best obvious explanation for the failure to use the most cost effective and humane solutions.
Those who express their disdain for homeless people are the ones who stand in the way
of what the author suggests. Unhappy in their own lives, they relish in the cruelty and suffering of others. Seeing others more miserable than themselves makes them feel better. And when they are believers in God, they give no thought to what HE would advocate.
Lou Valero says
Excellent reply, Bruce!
we should be funding housing projects not funding cal trans clean up , most of the campers are long time state residents and should have access to the state’s unused resources ( freeway right of way ) … just like the ranchers grazing cows on public land.
Lou Valero says
Agreed, joep, funding needs to be prioritized for the dignity and wellness of those who need a home
After working with and being with the Homeless for over 10 years now, I must say that most folks only have stereotypical views of who they are. Not to pick on Lisa but the issue of responsibility in reference to cleaning up is one such view. Sure, we all should be good citizens, moral, ethical, law abiding, etc. BUT we’re not nor have we been. Can we accept those failings? We sure do for some folks don’t we. As Bruce suggested, maybe it makes us feel better and at a higher status when we can look down on others. Do we all do that to some degree? Of course we do; it’s built in to the survival brain of the species. Becoming civil is learning how to manage those emotions so we can live together in a modicum of peace. We don’t do that well either but each of us should do our best. But when we’re in survival mode, like most homeless folks always are, they aren’t worried about esthetics, they are worried about living another day.
On the topic of housing, I wrote this on another post: It’s an absolute travesty that we keep spending my and your tax money on these (includes 9th st, James st. and California st.) super costly units! We must pivot the whole local low-income housing industry to factory built units. To that end we have to establish new small housing unit communities of 50-100 units that range from 400-900 sq ft. Here is one such unit, The Freeman, I’m tracking that’s available now, for $59,626 delivered! https://ld.parkmodelsdirect.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIrtyiw7ym-QIVjBCtBh1BPgunEAEYASAAEgJVmPD_BwE… This is the only way we’re ever going to provide real affordable housing for the least of us!!
Lou Valero says
Excellent reply, Bruce!
Bruce Frohman says
I was under the impression that the Beardbrook Park camp was kept clean and orderly.
The problem with litter in the camp seemed to be under control.
But the powers that be wanted more public money. So, was the dismantlement of the camp intended to deliberately make the problem worse? I don’t know, but a logical explanation exists for the seemingly illogical decision.
If the camp cost under $14 per night per person to operate, that seems like a comparative bargain to the present expenditure system.
I doubt a number of the homeless mentally ill understand the importance of proper litter disposal. An advantage of the camp was the availability of others to provide supervision.
Over the last 2 years there have been a huge influx of foreigners coming into out country that have no means to take care of themselves other than living off of our welfare system mine and your tax dollars pay for. Those who are not eligible for aid are homeless. If we stopped letting every tom,dick and Harry have a free pass to California them those tax dollars could be spent more on housing instead of paying for foreigners babies . You can say im being resentful, I’m being logical. Democrat,Republican .it doesn’t matter .for anyone who lives life with their eyes open can see that $ 100,000 can go towards helping 40,000 people but it cant help 80,000.wouldnt it be better to close the borders,all of them,and use our resources to assist the ones here than leaving them open and not be able to help any of tbem.thats cruel.have a good day ev1.
Bruce Frohman says
Perhaps you can visit some homeless encampments. Then report back to us how many you met were foreign born.
How many undocumented aliens have you met? If there is a flood, surely you have met many.
Do you have any real data on the number of foreign born on welfare?
I worked for the Social Security Administration for 32 years. An undocumented alien cannot receive any benefit from the agency while in the United States. Oddly, the myth persists, repeated by the misinformed.
I have not found Fox News commentators to be a reliable source for accurate information.
The opinions you expressed are similar to those I have heard many times before. That does not mean that the underlying facts used to formulate the opinions are true.
Truth is not partisan. But politicians want us to believe that only one party knows and tells the truth. Lies are built on half truths.
Sam Yanez says
“there have been a huge influx of foreigners coming into out country that have no means to take care of themselves” said the native American to the pilgrim.
Damon Woods says
I don’t usually like to ‘chime in’, but I wonder about Bruce’s comments about what occurs at a social security office. When I applied for Social Security, I decided to start at the Modesto Social Security office. It was packed. I went to pick up a form, not one of the forms on the table was in English. I asked a worker -what are all these people doing here- oh, these are relatives of people from another country, here to apply to receive free money from our government. I then asked, why are they using my Social Security $$? The response, well, it is not from my account, it is from another source- well- my response was- if it is from another account, why are they at the social security office. I was then told to shut up and sit down.
Damon Woods says
One last comment on Homeless folks. Most of these do not choose to be there. Circumstances brought them there and they are doing what they can to get back to a normal living option. My nephew runs a homeless program in NYC area- individual counseling and help with housing, showers , interviews , etc will be the best option- but, some require more intensive help…and since the government closed down most of the mental hospitals around the country (due to some abuses) 50 years ago, well, this is something that should be re-visited. I just wonder- this is to Mr. Caine and Mr. Frohman- how much money has the local , state and federal governments wasted on homelessness every year? I suspect the total is in the range of $20 Billion to $100 Billion. Let’s just say it is $20 Billion per year (thus, every single state, county, city, and federal government agency expense for homeless solutions). Thus, just since 2000, this would close in on a range of $400 Billion to $1 Trillion. And the problem is worse now than it was 22 years ago. Clearly someone has benefited from all that spending, but it wasn’t the homeless. They are still here and there is a lot more of them.
Eric Caine says
You are exactly right, Mr. Woods. All that money spent and things just keep getting worse.
LOU VALERO says
SOUNDS LIKE AN “AWFUL LOT” OF GOVERNMENT PEOPLE HAVE AN AWFUL LOT OF EXPLAINING TO DO.
keith LAW says
And this is just the beginning. As the megacities in the deserts (Phoenix, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, etc.) become ever more uninhabitable due to excess heat and depleted water it is safe to assume that many of their poorest will wind up homeless right here.
Sobering thought, we all will need to move over and make room, and expect to be sharing vital resources with more displaced human beings.
We could be learning, now, how to do such, by our sharing more, of what we think of as our own. Personal space, otherwise known as personal property, may be up for grabs, or we could lighten up and stop being so possessive.
Hard pill to swallow, yet, it is very apparent that the major reason that we have not solved, at least, the local homelessness tragedy is that too many of us are self-centered.
Unfortunately, for the many afflicted by our selfishness, their personal problems are mounting, while we seem content on pointing the finger and gossiping.
Like-minded government bodies could do right by those currently homeless and about to be homeless by getting out of their own way (a very vital and necessary change), then thoroughly researching why and how HOUSING FIRST performed so well in a double-blind study, and, what they are doing that has gained the model such popular notoriety, not only in the USA, but in another country and/or countries.
The HOUSING FIRST, housing model for the homeless, whether they be mentally ill, on drugs, addicted, dual-diagnosed, or otherwise troubled, has already shown a way for community to achieve a very high percentage of success.
Why re-invent the wheel with boutique-type models that have thus far only (essentially) wasted far too much of taxpayers and donors money, yet have not made a dent in the lives of multitudes who are trying to survive without safe homes.
Obviously this is not only a local problem in need of a solution. Concentration and focus, maintained, in our county, is what we all are required to utilize, IF we are ever going to implement more than make-shift temporary housing. This localities lack of housing has not been temporary nor will the vital solution be temporary.
We must get our head out of the sand (none of us are an ostrich), and face the hard facts. We must build permanent housing for our homeless and apply a working plan that already has a proven record. The HOUSING FIRST model houses people first, and provides wrap-around services for their needs as they heal.
There are plenty of HOUSING FIRST successes to learn about and books and on-line material to research. No excuses!⁷
Sam Yanez says
There are many good-hearted people at the end of their wits for having to live with the myriad problems the homeless cause. Many of them, including myself, have gone out of our way to help. Comments such as “they relish in the cruelty…” are so undeserved and disrespectful.
Eric Hoyt says
I am one from an encampment in Stockton CA and they treat us like shit. Move along to here a week later move again 2 days later move again then same day move back where we were 1 week ago. WTF