It wasn’t long ago that Modesto and Stanislaus County had managed to get more than 400 people off the streets, out of the parks, doorways and alleys, away from the banks of our rivers and into a controlled environment where outreach workers, volunteers, and law enforcement officers could provide supervision and services at an estimated cost of $13 per day per person.
One of the immediate results of permitting homeless people to camp in designated locations was a significant reduction in “quality of life” crimes associated with homelessness, including petty theft, trespassing, and creating a public disturbance. First at Beard Brook Park, then under and around the 9th Street Bridge at the Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter (MOES), Modesto and Stanislaus County offered a model approach to homelessness that brought observers from around the state. Then Modesto and the county shut everything down.
This January 19, roughly one year after Modesto closed MOES, the Sacramento City Council voted 8 to 1 to approve a new “safe ground” ordinance which would permit groups of up to 80 people to shelter in “tents, cabins, or similar structures” at designated sites throughout the city. Critics of the Sacramento plan, like critics of camping everywhere, argued that camping is “not a solution.” These same critics ignore two obvious realities: (1) Camping, permitted or not, is an ongoing and growing current event and (2) They themselves have no other “solutions” to offer.
Sacramento’s approval of sheltering in “tents, cabins, or similar structures” represents an acknowledgement of realities most cities and counties have yet to face. Among those realities is the acute housing shortage throughout the state. Another is the prohibitive cost of providing even so-called “affordable” housing. A third is the simple fact that no housing is affordable for people with no money.
Objections to permitted camping invariably focus on drug use by residents. What these objections ignore is that drug use occurs whether or not camping is permitted — it’s just harder to monitor and there’s less likelihood of treatment and recovery when camps and homeless people are scattered and on the move.
Some argue that when homeless people are permitted to camp they will become complacent and fail to “improve” and become self-sufficient. These kinds of arguments ignore factors like physical and mental disabilities, mental illness, advanced age, addiction and a host of other impediments to self-sufficiency that afflict homeless people to a much higher degree than people who are housed. They also ignore the scarcity of jobs that pay living wages.
Prior to the pandemic, authorities in Modesto and Stanislaus County were advocating a new homeless policy that included “accountability.” They were vague about the exact meaning of accountability, probably because no one had really thought about the problem of defining accountability for a homeless person, especially one who is disabled, mentally challenged, mentally ill, or elderly.
Most likely, accountability will include punishment for violations of city ordinances prohibiting camping or trespassing. Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini recently referred to homeless people as “bums” and said they should be in jail.
In fact, most homeless people have been in jail numerous times. Veterans of homelessness save their warrants, then turn themselves in when the weather gets bad; it’s a good way to get out of the elements during winter. They usually put on a little weight as well, because of regular meal times. When their jail time is up, they return to homelessness.
Jail time costs the public over $100 per day, does nothing to promote self-sufficiency, and adds another “crime” to the perpetrator’s record, making employment even less likely than prior to imprisonment. It does get people off the street, sometimes for as long as 90 days. It is not, however, a “solution.”
In fact, objecting to designated campsites because they’re not a solution is like objecting to applying a tourniquet to stop hemorrhage. For the homeless, sanctioned camping is a necessary step toward the graduated housing options that will at some time alleviate the homeless crisis.
The likelihood of sufficient housing for homeless people in the near future is near zero, especially for those with no income. Recent studies suggest a surge in homelessness due to the economic effects of Covid-19. Do local authorities really think they can continue objecting to camping while jailing people for the crime of poverty or job loss during Covid?
Terry Hughes says
Jim DeMartini calling the homeless “bums” shows no compassion, grace, or consideration of human beings (including children). That comment does nothing to work towards a resolution for these people. Common sense would tell you it’s better to spend $14/day in an environment that could improve lives is much smarter than spending $100/day in jail. There are too many benefits to ignore spending money on the camps. Jim DeMartini shame on you.
Charlene Boeh says
Ronda James says
How do I find that Jim guy How dare him talk God’s children like that just because there homeless don’t mean there bums us being on fixed income and elderly we can’t afford rent and utilities
Lawsna Soto says
We need to open mental hospitals again. We need government programs for the homeless elderly. We need more programs for disabled to live and work. We need funded places for addicts to live, work and recover. If a person refuses help or is able bodied and just plain lazy send them to hard labor camps. Get them off the streets.
Augusta Farley says
As usual, you nail it.
And the “jail” and “no tolerance ” approaches to homelessness also put a burden back on the community, individuals and government when beloved family pets are left behind.
Ironically, using a client-centered, safety-net approach the animal sheltering community is progressively working toward a home for every pet and keeping them with their families. Care for humans is lagging, mired in bias and politics.
I came across this quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
This breaks my heart so much . I was homeless at age 12 in Los Angeles ca, My mother overdosed on heroin and was left .. to make a long story short I was admitted to the “system”.. It changed my life .. I do believe in my Herat we can make difference,BUT not all at once unfortunately.. If we had somewhere for homeless to go to rehabilitate it will work.
That last comment about there homeless because of Covid like they lost a job..they are here because are gov-newsome invited them here. Piles of s—t,human feces and the garbage is not sanitary they should be in mental hospitals and are government both federal and local should pay for it ..because you caused IT.
Homeless individuals are humans as we all are! Sometimes they need a helping hand I have worked closely with the homeless population for the past 7 years and in my opinion if we would all take a min to place our selves in their shoes we would be a bit more understanding! We should all just try out hardest to meet them where they are at they all have a past and we don’t know their story until we get to build a relationship with them then we maybe able to understand how they got here
CHRIS MURPHY says
It is a sad fact that we consider this a good idea. But having designated camping areas, in a place like the MOES is the one of ways we have to deal with this in the near, (next couple of years?) future. This camping situation is a fact of life right now and not everyone will/can comply with the directions to get into permanent dwellings. An emergency camping area allows the city/county to target services and donations, clean up and social service resources and allows an available location so that we can clear out along the freeway, streets and along the trails and creeks. It is better than the current situation of letting everyone exist everywhere. PLUS, if we had mail services with a real address, then people could explore job offerings, get mail, and start to connect with the jobs/support while they are in the Emergency Shelter area.
De Lanya Davis says
This homeless issue is getting very bad. The virus is doing the same! There should be a safe place for the ones who need it, like I was living in Santa Cruz years ago and the had the perfect scenario. There was a large field where the homeless could pick a spot to stay, than you’d have to ( in the morning about 9 a.m) they had to just take the poles down. (Flat) and in the early even I GS about like 4:30 they could put them (tents) back up. There was a drop-in station there where they could take showers, wash their clothing, make phone calls, etc. That helped the homeless out tremdously. Also, they had employed a some of the people to do varios to be jobs on site. Like security, cook. Manager to oversee the homeless during the day, THAT place was very helped, I was homeless there, and I thank Jehovah that they were there.
sam mar says
The homeless issues is a direct result of progressive policies. Looking at all the data that focus on causes of poverty lead to the same factors; barriers to equitable education, barriers to business opportunities for both workers and potential employers. CA politicians only makes things worse with lame programs and policies that wrecking the economy. How will these people get out of being homelessness, when CA politicians create an environment in which people won’t start businesses, builder’s can’t build affordable housing and emergency rooms can’t manage care for the homeless population?
Many good ideas and suggestions, however not one of the commenters explains how to PAY for implementing them. I do not claim to have an answer but do know the costs of programs championed by Governor Newsom and Sacremento’s mayor cost taxpayers millions of dollars and have not, IMHO, improved the lot of the homeless or the general public.
I agree with this article 110%!!! So true to our current situation. I use to be one of those that said no way to live in a tent. But he’s right what other solution do we have. ?! None! So now look! Tent city was and is way needed. They need to improve there life (jobs counseling etc)but first they have to have the tools to do so. Like mail, showers, access to do laundry, phone if you have ever been out there you know these things are outta reach the way we have it now! I