Is Bridge Housing the Answer to California’s Homeless Crisis?

It’s become more and more apparent that transitional shelter units such as tents, Pallet Shelters, or tiny homes are the only humane options for California’s ongoing homeless crisis. Predictions of another wet winter forecast even more hospital time and deaths for people with nowhere to go, especially the sick, elderly and disabled.

Many shelters are full even before the arrival of wet and cold weather. A rising influx of homeless elderly people has put the lie to claims that homelessness is a choice made by indolent malingerers who have chosen life on the streets to avoid honest work.

The most common determinant factors for these newly homeless are fixed incomes and rising rents. The elderly, disabled, ill and traumatized members of California’s burgeoning homeless population aren’t homeless by choice; they’re homeless because they have no choice. Even if they were able to work, almost none could earn enough to afford the state’s exorbitant rents.

Pallet Shelter Village
Pallet Village

In the San Joaquin Valley, one of the more affordable of the state’s regions, median home prices can be a little over half the price of comparable Bay Area homes yet still far out of reach for people on fixed incomes. Rents in the City of Modesto, well below the coastal mean, average $1644 per month. That’s for an apartment size of around 785 square feet.  The average hourly wage is $28.58. Almost no one among the city’s homeless population is capable of earning even $20 an hour; a great many are too old, disabled or ill to even put in a 40-hour workweek.

Some cities have begun to recognize that traditional housing options are too far into the future and far too expensive to alleviate the state’s homeless problems. In Sacramento, Governor Gavin Newsom is sponsoring tiny home villages that will feature Pallet Shelters as alternatives to beds in congregate shelters. Last year, Chico purchased 177 Pallet Shelters in response to litigation that forbade sweeping homeless camps when alternative shelter was unavailable.

In San Diego, city officials recently approved 400 more tents for its safe sleeping program. San Diego Police Captain Shawn Takeuchi said in response to those who would criminalize homelessness that, “We cannot enforce our way through homelessness; it’s not the proper way to address homelessness.”

Streets of Modesto, October, 2023

Downtown Modesto, October, 2023
Streets of Modesto October 2023 two fix
Jimmy 4th Street Park, 29 October 2023
Downtown Modesto, October, 2023
South 9th Street, 29 October, 2023
Streets of Modesto, 29 October, 2023
Downtown Modesto, October, 2023 Streets of Modesto October 2023 two fix Jimmy 4th Street Park, 29 October 2023 Downtown Modesto, October, 2023 South 9th Street, 29 October, 2023 Streets of Modesto, 29 October, 2023

The problem with rousting homeless people from sleeping sites on public property isn’t just with laws that prevent “cruel and unusual punishment.” Sweeps and rousts are expensive and there is no return on the investment as homeless people who are forced to move just find another location, often across the street or down the block. California’s homeless population has not diminished nor have homeless people gone away, even after the expenditure of billions of dollars on sweeps and rousts.

Consistently mischaracterized as a self-inflicted result of bad choices, drugs, and moral depravity, homelessness in California won’t be mitigated until it’s recognized as a humanitarian crisis. Recent movement towards providing transitional shelter and housing options, also known as bridge housing, represents recognition on the part of state and local leaders that full shelters and housing shortages leave no other humane alternatives. With a wet winter looming, bridge housing and shelter options are the only timely way to protect homeless people from the elements.

The alternative, criminalizing homelessness, not only doesn’t work, it’s cruel, and when cruelty becomes the law of the land, civilization itself is endangered. California can do better.

Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. Eric Caine,

    San Diego Police Captain Shawn Takeuchi
    gave the most logical and reasonable response to the stubborn majority of Modesto City Council members who remain staunch adherents to wasting tax payers’ money by criminalizing the homeless. I suspect the majority of Stanislaus county Board of Supervisors shared enough of their own woeful advice which helped to bring about the recent “no” vote outcome.

    Goes to show how much effort the majority put into seeking the facts about successful safe encampments. If they REALLY cared about the unhoused they would have known what we know. They take us for fools. They did not even try to help get the unhoused onto safe ground, their excuses were so lame. This, even after the publicized assault and batteries of the unhoused. They must get updated rundowns on all the other injuries and fatalities that befall our unhoused, also.

    “We cannot enforce our way through homelessness; it’s not the proper way to address homelessness,” is wise thinking, from the San Diego Police Department.
    I believe this clarity of thought, also, went into the 9th District Court decision, that has California cities so dissatisfied. The Superior court calendar, jail cells, and court clerk windows are congested enough, without the unhoused being hauled before judges.

    Modesto City Council and Stanislaus Board of Supervisors want to shift the blame off themselves. A lot late for that.

    We offered Modesto City Council the expedient temporary solution. They thought they could proceed without more brainstormers in the mix. Now look what they did. And, yes, more cold, inclement weather is on its way to Stanislaus County, soon. But the naysayers will be tucked in, warm and cozy. They will not fail their own self-interest. Til election day comes around anyways…

    Hope someone is able to see to it all of the above get a personal copy of what ever it was that San Diego Police Captain Shawn Takeuchi gave his personal response in, along with a copy of this post. I am convinced they read each Valley Citizen post. Yet, just in case! Hint! Hint!

    Thank you, Eric, for all your thorough and consistent effort.

    • Eric,

      For those who might misconstrue my use of the word: “offence,” in my comment further below, I assure you and all who see the word I used, I mean absolutely nothing criminal. Rest assured…


      Can someone fill us in on what took place after the first hour of the Modesto City Council Meeting, held 11/07/2023? It cut off, during the 3 minute comment of a speaker, as many may know. Did we miss something we were not privy to hear? And, we watching over the internet were also not able to view the Agenda items being voted, for or against, plus, any closing comments were lost.

      The degeneration of how the Modesto City Council Meetings are handled is worthy of an incisive indictment of negligence and complacency. How are we to arrest the breakdown of our city if we are not fully allowed to be updated by weekly meetings in entirety?

      I do know we are in dire need of a turnover to a heroic leadership, and, radical reform. I grow exhausted waiting for something exciting to arise. Even a genuine smile would be more upbeat…yet not nearly enough. The body language lacks any enthusiasm. The tone cries out “Do we really have to be here, folks?”

      For anyone willing to share their thoughts on the meeting, I am eager to know.

      Thank you much, ahead of time…

      • Lou: Much of the meeting was devoted to the usual dull issues like rezoning. You can read our current story for a summary of the vote on proposals from city staff for small pallet-like villages. Overall, the council was one big happy family, seemingly united in letting homeless people face another wet winter chasing, citing, and condemning from local law enforcement.

  2. I think that homelessness comes about partly from your upbringing. Kids learn from their parents, see how their parents live their lives
    If the parents are making bad choices their kids will learn the same. Unless they are taught that they choices other than the choices their parents chose. When you are growing up you learn from the people you are around. If mom and dad are doing drugs and living that life style , unless someone teaches them there are other choices they have to live a better and different life other than the life they know then that’s when they have limited choices of either sink or swim. So if they choose the life style their parents live then the unstableness. Unhappiness and the fear of the future and what it holds becomes overwhelming people will turn to drugs or they will find a way to succeed and have a good life that comes with success, the spouse the kids and career. Family….
    Some people are stronger than others mentally and can handle it. Some just gave up along time ago cause they chose the drug life the life they grew up in which is filled with unstableness, anger hostility, despair and hopelessness. Not all homeless people are on drugs. Those people are homeless but lacked guidance and settled for a life of poverty because that’s all they know.

    Their is alot of different reasons that people are homeless. I feel help the ones that want and need help. I know of a man that is on drugs but homeless. He’s not mental and has had alot of good jobs in the past. Unfortunately life’s unexpected situations occur and he gave up a producted life, lost his family and wound up in a homeless encampment. Now they gave him housing and he said it makes the world of difference. But being an addict the addicton will not allow you to have a normal life. So he has abused the rules and uses his hotel room for entertainment allowing other drug addicts to do and sale drugs at his place. Now he’s in jeopardy of losing his place for the 3rd time.
    I feel everyone should be drug tested on a regular basis
    This way the people that want a better life and are drug free are deserving of the help. Giving drug addicts their own pads when having a roof over there heads its on the top of their list if needs how to get drugs is there main priority everyday. It doesn’t matter if they have a place to stay what matters is getting to get high they can lay their heads anywhere.
    The people that test dirty those are the ones that should be placed willingly or forcefully at State hospitals getting treatment. Homeless people need to meet society halfway if they can’t put them in a camp where they stay until they show signs of wanting help. The ones that don’t don’t have anything coming so keep them out of our communities. At the end of the day I’m the drive in the driver’s seat only I am responsible for the way I live no one else but me. Sink or swim. Right is right and is wrong.

  3. This is the answer to homelessness help those who help themselves. And help the ones that are homeless but drug free. The ones who continue using put them back into an environment that they are use to an encampment away from communities
    The people who are living the good life should not be subjected to the type of people who only care about their addictions and don’t want help. The drugs are causing mental instability like drug induced psychosis and schizophrenia. Not all but the majority of them.

    • Doris, Yes drug takers are addicts. That’s why they will lie, steal etc. to get it. They are a small percentage of the homeless but get the biggest publicity. Some with real help will kick habit and some will never do it. Yes the people around you do influence you. That’s why its so important to get those who have lost jobs, don’t make enough money even with 2 or 3 jobs for rent. Add medical bills out of sight and even more are out there. that’s why just HOUSING ISN’T THE ANSWER. Many different issues require real thinking and planning. Hiding the unpleasantness fixes nothing except maybe someone’s conscience and provides a favorable data collection to show how much money spent to fix it, though it hasn’t. The fellow you talk about is a good example. One thing homelessness does is provide lots of money to those there to take it .It’s a very lucrative business to be in but not necessarily well run.

      look at what you live on per month and ask what could I lose that causes me lose my house or?. Many of us are 1 loss away from dire trouble, such as homelessness. Families with children are on the streets. The children learn early how bad things can get. So between “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “what do I do now?” a middle ground to stop actual suffering they have even if too drugged to acknowledge it must be found. Transitional living, whether in tiny house, tents, cabin tents it must be done so vetting, finding out, circumstances, abilities , problems and be found and addressed till solved. Stay Safe

  4. Please stop co-signing there B.S they don’t care about themselves and they don’t care one way or the other about anyone else but their habit
    They choose the life they live unfortunately there is no retirement plan. People on drugs don’t usually grow old
    Their life style takes them when they are not quite old. Don’t coddle them. When they get sick of being tired rhats when they’ll ask for help.
    Only the strong survive the weak are by choice.
    I’ve been on both sides of the fence.
    I got help only when I felt I wanted it and not before.
    You have to fight for your life if you want one it’s your choice

  5. Doris,

    You are shoveling coal into the stereotype fire. Good parenting and moral decision-making are not condoms against mental illness. Jesus doesn’t seem to be curing the disabled either. We ask veterans to fight and then conveniently disregard their PTSD – which they didn’t choose.

    I appreciate your desire to make helpless people earn your empathy, but I’m not sure that would do them any good either.

  6. We can’t simply take, “no” for Modesto’s answer to safe ground encampments. We must push back against their useless beligerance. They were ignorantly applying a feckless firstline of defence.
    We must apply the winning offence. This is no time to tuck our tails under.

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