In June, 2022, the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury released a report on homelessness noting that despite increasing costs, homelessness has gotten worse countywide. The report cited lack of focus and accountability among a myriad of agencies as critical factors in failed efforts to manage the county’s growing homeless population. Stanislaus County is not alone in failure. Throughout the entire state of California, a major negative influence has been the willingness of state and local leaders to blame homelessness on the homeless, despite overwhelming contrary evidence. ed
Very early on, when state and local authorities confused a humanitarian crisis with an outbreak of stubborn loitering, there may have been reason to believe facts, research and simple inferences would prevail over dogma, fictitious memes and political dysfunction. Many years and billions of misspent dollars later, state and local leaders persist in failed tactics for managing homelessness. In fact, with few exceptions, they seem more committed to criminalizing it than ever.
There was time when a body on the sidewalk or the sight of a disabled person stranded on the corner of a busy city street would have evoked compassion, concern, and an emergency response. Today, such sights attract less attention than a speed bump. We have become so habituated to the sight of people in distress it no longer moves us.
California’s residents have become resigned to government dysfunction. In a chilling reversal of values, they’ve allowed authorities to punish sick, disabled, traumatized and destitute people for severe housing shortages, broken systems of care, and growing indifference to human suffering. During a winter featuring pelting rainstorms and freezing temperatures, more people than ever are spending their days and nights on the cold, hard ground.
…the claim that drug abuse and mental illness are the fundamental causes of homelessness falls apart upon investigation. If mental-health issues or drug abuse were major drivers of homelessness, then places with higher rates of these problems would see higher rates of homelessness. They don’t. Utah, Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, West Virginia, Vermont, Delaware, and Wisconsin have some of the highest rates of mental illness in the country, but relatively modest homelessness levels. What prevents at-risk people in these states from falling into homelessness at high rates is simple: They have more affordable-housing options.
Rather than admit we have a housing shortage and a severe deficit of health care professionals and infrastructure, state and local officials have offered no correction to misleading memes about “bad choices” and people who “don’t want help.” Instead of acknowledging that homeless numbers have grown despite billions of dollars spent on sweeps, congregate shelters and inappropriate law enforcement, authorities in Stanislaus County and elsewhere continue to repeat that help is available, “for anyone who wants it.”
The City of Modesto has a shortage of police officers so severe that it is offering a tiered hiring bonus for officers who join the local force that could amount to as much as $25,000 each. Part of the problem is the work burden imposed on law enforcement resulting from failed of systems of care for the mentally ill, physically disabled and addicted members of the homeless population.
One veteran Modesto officer has described himself as, “a social worker with a gun.” Unfortunately, the default option for law enforcement when dealing with homeless people isn’t assistance, and the reason is simple: Real assistance is too often unavailable. Instead, the usual response to a complaint involving homeless people is a citation, often for loitering, “refusal to leave the premises,” or some other misdemeanor.
No decent human being wishes to punish sick and disabled people squatting in public places when they have nowhere else to go, but that has become the “duty” of local police officers who thought they had signed up to fight crime and keep the peace. No wonder they’ve become demoralized enough to seek work elsewhere.
Homeless numbers continue to grow even as costs for law enforcement, sweeps, and jail time increase. Nonetheless, despite the costs and negative outcomes, the public has become habituated to criminalization even of the sick, disabled, and destitute:
As the situation has deteriorated, particularly in areas where homelessness overruns public parks or public transit, policy makers’ failure to respond to the crisis has transformed what could have been an opportunity for reducing homelessness into yet another cycle of support for criminalizing it. In Austin, Texas, 57 percent of voters backed reinstating criminal penalties for homeless encampments; in the District of Columbia, 75 percent of respondents to a Washington Post poll said they supported shutting down “homeless tent encampments” even without firm assurances that those displaced would have somewhere to go. Poll data from Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, among other places, reveal similarly punitive sentiments.
As the costs of criminalizing homelessness rise — billions upon billions of dollars — so does our tolerance for cruelty. Ultimately, the cost of cruelty is far more than any measure of dollars. When cruelty becomes the norm — and kicking the sick, the disabled, and the destitute when they’re down is nothing if not cruel — it represents a warping of the human soul and a descent into barbarity.
Humanity is more a practice than a catechism. When we stop practicing compassion, charity, and empathy in favor of cruelty, careless waste, and self-justification, the result is a loss of humanity and civic virtue, especially when the most vulnerable among us are demonized and objectified as something less than human.
Those who persist in demanding solutions miss the point. Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis that must be treated as an emergency, not as a problem requiring an immediate solution. We don’t refuse to treat cancer because we haven’t yet isolated a cause or causes for it; instead, we do our best to mitigate its effects while continuing to look for causes and cures.
The immediate needs of the sick, disabled and destitute on our streets are the fundamental needs of humans everywhere: a safe place to lay their heads, toilets, running water, and food. We have more than enough resources to provide people with safe ground camping and these fundamental necessities. What we lack is the willingness to face facts and admit the truth: We have thousands among us who need help now, most of them through no fault of their own. In their time of need, we have chosen to punish them, not because they’ve done wrong, but because they have far too few advocates and there is too little political or monetary gain to be had from helping them.
Humanity is one of the most fragile outcomes of civilization, much more easily abandoned than practiced. Once we become habituated and indifferent to the suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our own communities, we’re in danger of losing the better parts of human nature to its dark side.
The sick, disabled, traumatized and destitute need help now, not years from now when we finally have enough housing, enough qualified health professionals, and enough infrastructure. Thus far, we’ve failed, not because we lack sufficient resources, but because we’ve wasted those resources on repeated cycles of criminalization and punishment that do nothing to reduce the numbers of people with nowhere to go.
There’s time to recover from this period of cruel lunacy. The practice of charity covers a multitude of sins.
Kandra Wilson says
Hi my name is KAndra Wilson and I recently had a trailer travel trailer on the side of the road with a lock and my dog was inside a sheriff had went by and cut my lock off took my dog out of the trailer let her go and then took my trailer with everything I owned don’t do my food my clothes and they didn’t even run my name nothing you could tell my trailer was well lived and it was well clean and he didn’t even give me a chance to do anything he had a tow truck driver just start loading loading my life away he waited until I left and then proceeded to have my trailer towed no I’m on the streets with nothing in Riverdale on hatch and Carpenter they had everything of mine in my daughters now I don’t know what to do . I was never told prior to that or my trailer was never tagged like they’re supposed to give you 24 to 48 hours otherwise I would have had it moved it wasn’t registered but that was my home and they cut my lock my home track my dog out and I only had 3 minutes to get what I could but not very much blankets and find my dog
Grew up Modesto says
Are you aware of the local programs? Unfortunately, it’s against the law in Kings County to live in a Travel Trailor anywhere other than a canpground (no warning needed). It’s also against CA law to lock an animal inside alone (temperature can become unsafe). The consequences of you not knowing the laws is awful.
LOU VALERO says
GREW UP MODESTO:
IT IS ALSO AGAINST THE LAW TO TORTURE HUMAN BEINGS AND DOGS.
ESSENTIALLY THAT IS WHAT YOU DID WITH YOUR REPLY.
YOU KNOW KANDRA WILSON IS SUFFERING MORE LOSS, YET YOU STUCK YOUR ABUNDANT LACK OF COMMON DECENCY ALL UP IN HER FACE. THERE ARE NO DECENT WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOUR BEHAVIOR.
DID YOU THINK SHE DID NOT KNOW WHAT THE LAW SAYS? DO YOU THINK SHE HAD MUCH OF A CHOICE? EITHER CITIZENS WANT HOUSELESS PEOPLE OUT OF SIGHT OR NOT.
AS I SEE IT KANDRA AND HER DOG WERE SAFELY TUCKED AWAY, OUT OF THE RAIN, AND HER DOG WAS NOT GOING TO OVERHEAT IN THE DEAD OF WINTER. WHY SHOULD SHE HAVE SLEPT OUT IN THE OPEN WHEN SHE DID NOT HAVE TO? WHAT MAKES HEARTLESS PEOPLE SO EAGER TO RUB OTHER PEOPLES HARDSHIP IN THEIR FACES? YOU, GREW UP MODESTO, PROVED, ERIC CAINE’S WHOLE POINT.
IT IS COLD HEARTS THAT ARE THE MENACE TO SOCIETY. ALL WHO WALLOW IN THE MUD OF BAD THOUGHT OUGHT TO PRAY THAT HARDSHIP DOES NOT SNAP THEM UP INTO A RUDE AWAKENING.
MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE FOR KANDRA WILSON, HER DAUGHTER, AND HER DOG, AS YOUR’S COULD BE.
Sleepless in Sacramento says
Try calling 211. Try posting this on Nextdoor app – your story is compelling Kandra Wilson. It could garner the assistance that you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get but nowadays, you do. I’m sorry you’re going through this, sorry this happened to you and sorry that it forever changed who you are because it has. I did for me when it happened to me, too. Repeatedly. But you know what? That was about 3yrs ago and I’m writing this from my lil tiny cottage, about to have a very late dinner, then go to sleep and go to work in the morning…I work as a Housing Coordinator for homeless folk. I got offered to work for the company I work for through the Nextdoor app! I posted a community project idea benefiting the homeless and one of the many responses was from the CEO of the company I still work for today.
Nextdoor or a similar app could be life changing for you.
I gets better. Life gets better. I promise you.
Lillianna Givans says
Thank you for blessing us with this information and testimony. It does makes the day worth fighting for.
Modesto has policy of seizing and towing any unregistered/unlicensed vehicles. It’s a a tow yard and correcting the registration and paying the police paperwork fee can retrieve car/trailer from tow yard but very very few people are able to fund this. Tow yard might let you get your stuff though keep the trailer .Find tower
Angela HUERTA says
Please tell me your location so I can outreach to you Thursday
Kathy Rupe says
If there is no rent control more people will be homeless. At least 2-3 incomes are needed to afford an apartment, or home in Modesto. Landlords who have only one rental have no restrictions on what they can charge and how often.
The community needs to show more compassion for people experiencing homelessness. It’s not all due to drugs & mental health. Other reasons include loss of family, death, divorce, loss of job or physical health problems to name a few. What happened to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!
Richard Anderson says
So good to see your comment here. Are you the Kathy Rupe that John Lucas and I intervieiwed for the 2018 “Homeless in Modesto” video documentary?
If you are, will you please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, because our video Team is doing a big update on the last 5 years of progress we (County/City) have made as the result of the Fall 2018 Martin/Boise Decision. Thanks, Richard Anderson
Dwayne Burns says
For another example of how far our society has fallen one only has to look to the so-called “Christians” in America who cling to a political party that is only concerned about whether they can get out of having to pay some taxes. The sad thing is, most of them hardly pay any at all.
R.T. Losh says
This writer does an excellent job of describing a problem but offers nothing as a solution.
Almost every person experiencing homelessness suffers from some sort of substance abuse and/or a mental illness that, for the most part, has been untreated. Accommodation of their condition is not an answer to it.
A true “solution” is to reverse the condition that affects each one of these people. We cannot accomplish this without an overt effort to do so. Homeless individuals must be “triaged” [i.e., conduct a preliminary assessment of (patients or casualties) in order to determine the urgency of their need for treatment and the nature of treatment required.]
To perform this we must remove these individuals from that “homeless” environment for a time sufficient to conduct this assessment.
We then must not only ‘treat’ them but also ‘rehabilitate’ them [i.e., to restore (someone) to health or normal life by training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness.] to a point where they can care for themselves as productive members of our community.
We must find a venue where we can perform this function for extended periods, if necessary.
Eric Caine says
Mr Losh: It’s usually a good idea to read a passage before commenting on it. You missed several points, including the one about the lack of comparable homeless populations in states with higher rates of mental illness. You also missed this one: “Those who persist in demanding solutions miss the point. Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis that must be treated as an emergency, not as a problem requiring an immediate solution. We don’t refuse to treat cancer because we haven’t yet isolated a cause or causes for it; instead, we do our best to mitigate its effects while continuing to look for causes and cures.
The immediate needs of the sick, disabled and destitute on our streets are the fundamental needs of humans everywhere: a safe place to lay their heads, toilets, running water, and food. We have more than enough resources to provide people with safe ground camping and these fundamental necessities. What we lack is the willingness to face facts and admit the truth: We have thousands among us who need help now, most of them through no fault of their own. In their time of need, we have chosen to punish them, not because they’ve done wrong, but because they have far too few advocates and there is too little political or monetary gain to be had from helping them.”
Almyra Simon says
Hi , you are very correct in saying that all homeless people are not homeless by choice.
I had a son , who was disabled a diabetic on insulin.
He was homeless , but not by choice. He a nd his live in companion , wanted to move to another state.
His companions daughter lived where they wanted to move to. So she said they could move in with her and her family. Until they could find a place of there own.
My son has a foot that had got so infected . That he had to go to hospital with it .
Had his leg amputated, was with girlfriends family about 2 toe weeks after amputation. Then put out on the streets , both him and girlfriend.
He hadn’t even healed yet . He had no car no nothing except a few clothes.
He was on SSI, which is not enough to get a place to live.
It’s impossible to rent anything , unless it’s very low rent.
Waiting list for low housing is so long , almost impossible to get one.
My son was also on insulin, being homeless and no way to keep it cold . He couldn’t have the insulin he needed so bad.
A year being home less , he goes to a doctor , as he’s not feeling good . He had heart problems , that were getting worse.
The doctor did some tests on him , then told my son to go home , there was nothing more he could do for him. Bus heart rate was e2 and his end gion fraction was only only 10 . Surprisngly he lived almost 4 years like that. All the time being homeless . He finally got a van came to where I am. But since I don’t have a place of my own. I couldn’t let him live with me.
I tried the whole time he was here to get him a place to live.
With no help from any place. Except for putting him in a shelter.
Which he couldn’t do, as he was amputee ,and no prosthetic . So he need help to get around. . He also had a very bad back from falling on his rear so many times. The vertebrae in the middle of his spine looked like stairsteps.
It killed me knowing how sick he was . And not having access to a bathroom or water to clean up with..
Van going out in him and not having a vehicle to get around in ,absolutely horrible. Wonder if any one knows what it feels like to not be abel to empty your bowels when you need to .
Or have water to drink or clean up with . No way to keep anything you have , if you don’t have a vehicle of any kind.
If you can’t take it with you she you have to go to store or anywhere. It won’t be there when you get back.
He went through hell out there being sick and getting covid several time and sleeping on the street . In the cold , windy weather. Got a little pickup , be and girlfriend slept in the seats. It was a very small pickup. And his older brother who was homeless also , through no fault of his own
Got kicked out of nieces house during covid summer of 2021.
He slept in back of pickup.
This was the winter of 2021, when it rained everyday for two weeks or longer . And very cold , got down into low 30s.
Oldersin had no jacket or rain gear. Needless to say he got wet and suffered frost bite on both feet . His brother , even tho he was in the pickup , also had frostbite on his foot. That pickup killed my son.
Because he couldn’t lay down , and no bathroom to use when needed . He started gaining water weight .
Because his kidneys and heart were giving out in him.
He continued putting on more and more water .
And having severe pain . Someone gave him a pain pill , that was to strong for his heart. He died and was resuscitated 3 times , brought back to life. Spent several days in hospital and released. Went to nieces house, was there 3 days and told to leave.
He could barely move, he was in so much pain. Ribs cracked from chest compressions . A very bad back a year under his privates . And so much water weight . He spent the last month in that van we were finally able to get . Not being able to get out at all, and suffering in pain. Not being able to breath, because of water gain.
I know he had to have gained at least 100 pounds of water or more.
I’m still having trouble dealing with all be went through. And no one caring if he was suffering or not . Or whether he had a place to liv. He didn’t count , no kids and did street drugs to help with the pain and mental hell knowing how bad off he was medically. Even got told how much longer he had after going to hospital for help. He was told he was a candidate for a heart transplant in six months. And that is how much longer lived.
And I didn’t even have enough money to pay for cremation, let alone a funeral .
Is so hard dealing with his loss.
Can’t tell you how much it hurts to see your child go through what he did . With no help or understanding from any hospital or agency.
LOU VALERO says
Dear Almyra Simon,
I am so sorry for the loss of your son, Almyra, and for all of his suffering.
I am so grateful that you shared with us the painful existence of the lives of your family: your two sons, one girlfriend, and your own. I am able to sympathize with all you revealed. Your emotions reached out and spoke deeply to the core of my being.
There is not one excuse for the way people have suffered, while most others do little or nothing.
It is a crying shame that greed has had it’s evil way in the lives of so many.
People who think they are getting away with their brand of greed, are not. What goes round, comes round. It makes no difference, in the long run, that “everyone else is doing it” as children often point out as their reason for parents to give in to them. People who are greedy, especially, as adults, certainly cannot hide behind bubble gum logic.
I say to greedy real estate investors, landlords and their lawyers, activist eviction judges, and anyone else who supports graft in our society: have you no shame?
Thank you, Almyra, I believe you will see your son, again, when this wicked system draws to an end, and there is no more pain, tears, sorrow, suffering, or heartbreak.