Gone are the days when communities could speak from afar about homelessness and adopt an attitude of “not in my backyard.” The issue of homelessness goes beyond the streets and parks of downtown where individuals identified as chronic homeless, those with substance abuse and mental health issues, reside. It has entered the suburbs, where school districts are affected daily by children who are living in a homeless situation. With each passing day the problem of homelessness appears to worsen and become increasingly complex (“Faces of the homeless,” Forum, Feb. 9).
As a community, Sacramento has led valiant efforts to deal with homelessness. Most recently the City Council again set aside funding to work on this issue. However, when evaluated closely, those solutions merely address the surface issues of homelessness. The systemic challenges, trends and structures that make homelessness possible have not been addressed. In order to make true inroads into the issue of homelessness, community leaders must begin the difficult, messy work of long-term, systemic, sustainable change.
Here are some suggestions on how Sacramento can begin to address homelessness:
Focus on youth. Children and youth are one of the fastest-growing populations experiencing homelessness, according to national, state and local school reports. The local control funding formula provides opportunities for school districts to review resource allocations and how best to serve those students. School districts also have the opportunity to review how best to utilize community partnerships to assist youth with the transition to college and careers. Partnerships should include early exposure to all post-secondary options, including internships, apprenticeships, mentoring programs and college. Early exposure of all options will help youth with the successful transition into independence and adulthood.
Integration of mental health into overall health care. Sacramento has begun the process of integrating mental health into overall wellness and health care. This effort must remain as a top priority. Ongoing training for first responders, primary care physicians and social workers on how to identify and refer those who may have mental health care needs is a low-cost, highly effective means of providing intervention and support for those who may otherwise fall through the cracks into homelessness.
Affordable housing. Affordable housing is preventative in nature. Many instances of homelessness occur when low-wage earners have a change in income. The inventory of housing options and the current fee structure for developers must be reviewed for efficiency and effectiveness.
Review the current methodology for counting individuals and providing services. The problem of homelessness in the Sacramento region cannot be fully addressed until it is completely understood. Every service provider and advocate can provide anecdotal, qualitative information regarding homelessness.
An in-depth study must be done in order to:
• Capture the needs of the individuals experiencing homelessness from their perspective.
• Provide cost-effective and efficient programs.
• Clarify the breadth and depth of homelessness.
As the population of the homeless becomes more diverse, the need for the Sacramento region to implement lasting solutions becomes paramount.