As California politicians declare their commitment to dealing with homelessness, they should also acknowledge that it originates in the state’s chronic shortage of housing that shows no signs of abating. Dan Walters, 23 January, 2023
According to Lauren Lowry, Director for Housing and Community Development at the National League of Cities, “chronic homelessness costs the public roughly $30,000 to $50,000 per unhoused individual each year.” In 2019, when the City of Modesto and Stanislaus County permitted camping at the Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter (MOES), the cost per camp resident was estimated to be $13 per day. That’s less than $500 per month, or under $6,000 per year. According to one Stanislaus County Supervisor, the benefits of permitted camping far exceeded the costs:
Chairman Terry Withrow of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors said it is much more expensive to let people live on the streets, which he said includes the cost — in time and money — of police officers and firefighters responding to calls involving homeless people and their visits to the emergency room or jail.
Given the savings gained from permitted campgrounds, you would think state and local governments would have rushed to permit camping years ago, but that’s not the case. Instead, with few exceptions, the default tactic for managing homelessness throughout California has been law enforcement, mostly in the form of periodic sweeps that do nothing more than move homeless camps from one location to another.
There are many reasons why homeless numbers continue to grow despite billions of dollars spent trying to manage them, but one critical factor is the failure to accurately define the problem. From the beginning, authorities everywhere have blamed homelessness on the homeless.
Recycling Ronald Reagan’s oft-quoted claim that people are homeless, “you might say, by choice,” state and local governments have taken the former President’s unsupportable claim to mean homeless people have options for shelter other than homelessness. They do not.
Though California’s severe housing shortage is a widely recognized reality, it’s almost never acknowledged as a major causal factor in homelessness. In fact, according to recent research by Dan Walters, housing shortages are the driving forces in the state’s rising numbers of people with nowhere to go:
The economic laws of supply and demand mean the housing shortage results in high home prices and rents. As those costs, particularly rents, filter down to the Californians on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, they result in California’s having the highest rate of poverty of any state, 13.2%, when the cost of living is included in the calculation.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began offering grants to communities with coherent plans for reducing homelessness. HUD grants recognize that critical factors for success in managing homelessness include “short- and long-term rental assistance, case management and housing navigation to transition people from unsheltered settings and interim housing to permanent housing.”
The most cost-effective forms of “interim housing” are permitted camps like MOES. Permanent housing in the form of stick-built apartments, condominiums and “affordable” houses is years away, but a growing menu of timely transitional options includes Pallet Shelters, community centers like Alameda’s Dignity Village, and Conestoga Hut micro-shelters.
Despite these cost-effective options, most state and local authorities have remained committed to congregate shelters as the only alternative to sweeps and life on the streets. Stanislaus County’s low-barrier shelter in the City of Modesto offers a telling example of why shelters fail to reduce homeless numbers.
The county shelter was supposed to offer a better alternative to MOES, Modesto’s permitted tent encampment, when it shut down in 2019. With 182 beds, the shelter was obviously inadequate to serve the almost 500 residents of MOES. Moreover, people who moved in began referring to traditional congregate living as “jail with key,” mostly because of the regimented exit and entry times, ambiguous and arbitrary rules, and dim prospects for permanent housing. Some residents had to wait for years before finding housing of any kind.
After the shelter filled, some previous residents of MOES began camping on the dead-end street adjacent to the shelter. They were soon chased away.
Today, local homeless numbers continue to increase, local shelters are full or near full, and the vast majority of homeless people prefer encampments to shelters in any case. Nonetheless, with few exceptions, state and local authorities seem committed to futile exercises in harassment, as they continue to enforce sweeps and citations as their only options for managing homelessness.
During a winter when drenching rains and freezing temperatures have resulted in warnings about the danger to plants and animals, there has been little to no widespread concern for the tens of thousands of people among us who are huddling under tents, tarps, plastic bags and building overhangs while waiting for the next order to move along.
Rather than recognize the plight and humanity of people who’ve been driven into the dirt by circumstances beyond their control, we’ve chosen instead to objectify, dehumanize, and demonize the most vulnerable among us with a campaign of extravagant cruelty, treating human beings like trash and then wondering why they won’t just go away.
You are speaking the heartbreaking truth. However, there is a shift in conciousness happening on this planet and I am working on a program that will turn hopelessness into self empowerment and self empowered people are productive members of society.
I keeping asking myself the question: why are our leaders taking these cruel options. Is it because:
– they don’t believe they are ‘human’ and worthy of assistance
– they are human but not worthy of assistance
– they may be worthy but don’t want to spend the money
– that the pain inflicted by punishments will force them to change and make them worthy
– it’s someone else’s problem
– something else
devonna cook says
The homeless these days are homeless for unfortunate reasons, out of their control, like mental health, the housing crunch, the pandemic then inflation; this is all matter of fact. It’s not going away it’s just going to get worse, shunning them, treating them like they’re lower class people, degrading them pushes them into numbing themselves, but really who’s the fools get smart take care of your people in the long run it will come back positive in many ways.
Many are homeless due to the cost of housing, rentals , Inflation , providing these lit’ houses , is not the solution to the problem, We need to build and make housing more affordable for many to live a decent life style that everyone deserves ” … and treat these ones as real humans beings that they are ” …🙏🙌
California is the most regulated state in the US. All of the building regulations become more and more restrictive . The Building code changes every 3 years and it is always more restrictive. “California Green Mandatory code requirements” Title 24 energy requirements, California Residential Code”” California Building code” California mechanical Code” California Electrical Code” ” California Fire Code” California Plumbing code”California Administrative Code” City Municipal Code” County Codes” Zoning Codes. School Fees, Americans With Disability Act (ADA). All of these code requirements contribute to the costs of construction. Permit Fees for single family houses often exceed $20,000 dollars.
These continual more and more requirements cost more and more money. In order to
make a profit the building industry must cover the additional cost . Yes, people are being priced out of the market. I am all for more efficient, more accessibility, Cleaner environments , but there needs to be some latitude in order to control the costs of housing. The Codes have little to do with compassion.
Terry Losh says
There are some that prosper from this tragedy; That’s a fact.
The homeless are a threat to themselves, obviously, but also to all of us in terms of the real costs as enumerated in this well written series of essays. There must be something done!
My recommendation is a new “Civilian Conservation Corps”, an FDR style program wherein we take them all, by force if required, “triage them” and treat those we can while they continue to be in “transitional housing”. Once they are able, put them in vocational training programs best suited to their capabilities.
We build micro-housing complexes that are “Clustered” around professional services support centers as well as commercial convenience businesses designed to accommodate this market.
Some will require long-term treatment; We must accept that and build for it..
We separate them by the conditions that are immediately treatable into suitable
Amanda Lungi says
There are some of us homeless that don’t need treatment. I work two jobs and have two dogs. Even with two jobs I can’t make enough to cover the rental rates here.
Furthermore it’s not cheap for us to live like this either. Just staying warm is expensive. Not to mention food because we don’t have proper ways to store food we have to buy food every couple days and ice every day. Then there is being able to stay clean or shower. Most of the time I have to pay to take a shower. Truck stops cost $15 to $20 bucks each time. Gym memberships are $50 or more. I don’t have a car . So I walk everywhere some of these places aren’t within walking distance. That’s not even half the costs of living like this.
There is the pricy loss if self esteem and hope as well. Things you can’t put a price tag on. Covid ruined my life and I’ve spent this last year going through hell being homeless for the first time in my life. I’ve been beat, raped, and yelled obscenities at from people who don’t even know me but judge me anyways. The abuse and discrimination. Wow. I was turned away from church services because I was homeless last Sunday. Not all of us are on drugs or committing crimes. Most of us are just trying to make it from one day to the next.
Julie J. says
So you are all for forcing people that have already been walked on and degraded and forced (yes forced)to the streets into what? You whomever you are, are clueless. I truly hope you never ever have to face even one single day homeless because you will never be able to adapt to your new reality. People like you make it impossible for those less fortunate to actually get any help. You are so busy blaming the unhoused that you can’t see the reality of their struggles. Nor do you care. I believe you to be a true Karen. I really hope God sees past your handicap and forgives you your ignorance. Not everyone is on drugs, and with the way this world is going these days and the crappy way our economy is being ran and the greedy politicians and the greedier people that no one can seem to shake and of course it’s all fueled on by more Karen’s like you with no compassion or thought for those that just can’t get a hand up, not a hand out, a honest hand up. Until we truly start to really wake up and see the facts it’s not going to get better. It’s just going to get worse. I tell you what I’ll be all for forcing your plan when someone forces people like you to wake up.
While most of this is correct, the root cause is primarily substance abuse which unfortunately is not addressed at all. When the POTUS recommended passing out crack pipes? None have addressed Addiction or the reasons behind it. The states with the highest percentage are controlled by Political hacks hungry for power. https://psydprograms.org/the-places-with-the-most-and-least-homelessness-in-america/
Eric Caine says
Ken: It might be difficult to show how drug use “causes” housing shortages, and even more difficult to explain why high drug use in some states does not lead to as much homelessness as it does in others. Rush Limbaugh, Keith Richards, Ray Charles, and other famous drug users were never homeless.
The first time someone touched on the truths of the matter . The fact ,in numbers makes it obvious…something is wrong. Later Thx
I would like to make a statement. This being that we can fund and help a country on the brink of total collapse. Giving billions of dollars for medical food weapons and relocating housing ect.
The show of support on a ridiculous level. Then allow the statement by President zalinsky of Ukraine referring to American sons and daughters , “will have to die with the cause next if we dont do more for his people.
I’m done with my hard earned money going to a people who when it’s all said and done will become librared and free of threat impart by The US being a nato giant. Then let Nato allies pay for it. The majority of homeless people in this country will play that tragic event card has caused there problems and they got a bad deal in life.
Well let me tell you this I have experience as a public Safety Officer that works in a California county system. I was there at the beginning of the homeless MOES shelter project. This is the truth on it. There were millions of dollars allotted for this program. But millions of dollars weren’t spent visibly on the physical project it’s self so where then was it spent? The city should be held responsible to provide a transparent and itemized doc program. The next issue was poor planning then even worse was the execution. It was more like a round up then a holding pin for cattle. They were place and confined on a flood plan very little sanitary conditions for over 400 people security was 1 to every 100 or more occupies. I can tell you that the majority of residents only used it as a hand out and place to continue the drug abuse violance there lack of need to follow the laws and rules of society. Tell me why is it ok to promote this behavior and allow it to spread like cancer in the communities. Encouraging there blatant dis respect or commitment to be a better person and self help. They felt more like an entitled citizen. I watched as free health care dentistry veterinarian care food assistance financial assistance laundry service pharmacy expenses cover by taxes paid by people like me middle poor class. Housing utilities phone services internet it goes on and on. While I work two jobs my wife work two jobs and I watch all the assistance given to those cause while I get evicted utilities get to point of shut off no fuel to go to work my medical bills reach a ridiculous amount my children go without food dental help and clothes falling apart. The stress of financial collapse destroy my marriage slowly because of economical influences happen right in front of me. While theses transient people spend there aid on herion and other drugs buy speakers and non essential products. Steal destroy and trash the communities properties and essentially take advantage of the help. This program was a wasted financial and poorly executed alotent of taxes payers money. They don’t work contribute to the benefit of community follow are codes a laws. Like the working class people face there allowed to dedicate urinate expose them selves creat disturbances consume drugs in public devalue private property and own business burn down structures create environment challenges all while its allowed excused overlooked by the city officials police having a lack of comment towards enforcing the law. And a lack of education of the city ordences and laws rights . This is the truth from 7years in the trenches .I do want to elaborate on the statement that this applies to the majority of homeless people there were cases of truly tragic circumstances whereas the people effected were working the programs to get out of there sistuation and better there selves and children’s lives. Those cases they do deserve the full capability and financial help that the program was mentioned to fix. With the amount of funding sent to the Ukraine we could fix and implement programs and fix this cancer of our society. These snakes we elect to responsible represent our desired ideally voted upon plans of bills and laws will never effect where they live or cause them economical hardships there watching us slowly become extinct. The poor middle class work force are the ants of this nation we make it work and yet we suffer the burden Carry the load and steadfast the storms. This is my opinion. Thanks for your time
GERRY BRUCE says
Feel better 😌 you have most of
That wrong by the way
Julie J says
I’m truly sorry you feel that way. Although you are 100% correct about the city needing to account for all that money that did absolutely not get spent on helping the homeless. I was one of those residents you speak of that was “using” the resources that was actually offered. And just for the record all that so called help was just a bunch of crap. I pulled myself out of the streets after Moe’s closed. We was forced out of there after being forced to go there in the freezing cold and rain. God forbid we take our tents with us that was donated to Moe’s to be given to us. Mine was taken from me after I moved from Moe’s by the police and destroyed leaving me in the freezing cold and the rain. I was alone and struggling to just get a hand up, and the “staff” and police there wasn’t there to help me. As a matter of fact I rarely ever got a straight answer. I helped myself. None of those people really cared about helping anyone there. I told everyone that shelter was a joke and it was and still is. By the way I still have my dogs that the staff kept trying to make me get rid of and I live in a nice place now ofy own and even though I am between jobs at the moment I’m going to find another one soon. I’m never going to subject myself to that kind of so called “help” again.
Amanda lungi says
I’m homeless, I’m not on drugs or our committing crimes. I work two jobs and I’m a good person. I know many people like me who not only had to lie about their living situation to gain employment but also barely make what the cost of a months rent if they make that much working their butts off for crap wages that aren’t even fair considering the cost of living. Then to make matters worse they cut the food stamps benefits. I have two dogs; one is a senior dog. They don’t allow dogs in homeless shelters. I won’t leave then in a pound to be put to sleep when they’ve been mine for over 8 years. I’ve only been homeless for a year. I’ve been on the section 8 housing list since January of 2022. I’ve always worked. But I’m not college educated and the only jobs I seen to get pay barely minimum wage. I have to work two jobs just to live and
eat. Some have it easier than others. I was denied access to church service last Sunday because I’m homeless. I’m treated like trash by a lot of people.
Lisa W. says
Yes if you want to look at homelessness at that angle then it’s a lack of housing but if california wasn’t a sanctuary state and every tom ,dick and Harry weren’t allowed to freely clog up out cities then city planners would find a solution for housing our homeless with vacant buildings that already exist. NO new development would be needed only modification of existing structures to allow the homeless ,who have little to no income to be able to live with dignity.
Start by closing our borders and deporting the ones who can be and then work on finding a solution. You will then see that the amount of homeless in modesto has dropped to a manageable amount we can work with.
To say someone is homeless by choice is ignorant. I was homeless for a year and 11 months. I became homeless because my family had to sell my mom’s house (where I was living rent free) so she would have money to pay assisted living rent. I was working full time minimum wage and couldn’t afford to rent a room somewhere.
Moving from somewhere to nowhere was a bit difficult and took a while to do it. I eventually lost my job too.
I ended up at M.O.E.S. In February 2019 and was there until November 2019 when Salvation Army finally opened the long stay part of the shelter.