This week is National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, but do Californians really need to be reminded?
Tattered tents along sidewalks, beat-up recreational vehicles parked on streets and panhandlers are common. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development documented that California is home to 22 percent of all the homeless in the country.
Those of us working on the front lines want to get the homeless into rental apartments, but many cities are experiencing surges in rents. Sacramento leads the nation at 9.5 percent. As landlords continue to raise the rent, renters with fixed incomes or with low-end jobs are unable to pay – and homelessness increases.
Adding to the crisis are natural disasters, including the recent wildfires that wiped out 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa. And San Diego and other cities are struggling with a hepatitis A epidemic among the homeless population.
With a housing shortage, the worst fire crisis in the state’s history, a scary health epidemic and wages that cannot keep up with surging rents, what is the answer to California’s homelessness crisis?
Many cities are responding with quick fixes – erecting large shelter tents, setting aside land for encampments and providing temporary toilets on the streets. While these moves will help alleviate street homelessness in the short term, they are not long-term solutions and do not address the root causes.
Instead, we need to begin investing billions of dollars into affordable and supportive housing, specifically for the chronically homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. Shelters and tents will get people off the streets for the night, but permanent apartments will give them a home for the rest of their lives.
Californians do not need to be reminded of homelessness, but we need to be more aware of the real long-term solutions. Perhaps it should be called Homelessness Solutions Week.
Joel John Roberts is CEO of PATH, a homeless services and housing development agency with 26 locations in California. He can be contacted at JoelR@ePath.org.