Anyone who walks or drives in a major California city knows that homelessness has become the moral and humanitarian crisis of our time. An astonishing 135,000 people – one-fourth of all the homeless in America – live on our streets without basic shelter, services and human dignity.
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In the popular imagination, most of them suffer from severe mental illness or addiction. But a closer look shows that they’re also the working poor – people who can’t afford rent or face a medical emergency while trying to survive paycheck to paycheck, those leaving the foster care or criminal justice systems without a safety net, or veterans returning home from war with psychological trauma.
Half of California’s homeless live in the state’s 11 largest cities – and many thousands more are finding temporary shelter in suburban communities.
California recently grew to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, home prices are continuing to rise, and the state’s coffers are flush with a $9 billion surplus. We must do more to address this seemingly intractable issue, and we can afford it.
Gov. Jerry Brown proposes spending $250 million on emergency solutions to get people off the streets. We applaud his recognition that the state must do more, but we implore him and the Legislature to make an investment large enough to make a meaningful statewide impact, such as the $1.5 billion plan championed by Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat.
The solutions to help end homelessness must be carefully tailored to reflect the needs of each community’s population. Because the needs vary so much, local governments are in the best position to find solutions that work.
State money could be used for emergency housing vouchers, rapid rehousing programs for the recently homeless and emergency shelter construction for the tens of thousands who sleep on our sidewalks and under freeway underpasses. Short-term investments like these provide immediate relief to communities by getting people off the streets and connected to supportive services. San Francisco’s Navigation Centers, San Diego’s Bridge Housing, Sacramento’s Triage Center and Long Beach’s Multi-Service Center are proving to be a necessary bridge to get people who have been homeless for decades into permanent housing.
If we recognize that solutions are best tailored by cities, we can demonstrate that homelessness does not have to be hopelessness.
Darrell Steinberg is mayor of Sacramento and wrote this article on behalf of the Big 11 Mayors of California, representing Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland and Bakersfield. He can be contacted at MayorSteinberg@cityofsacramento.org.