June 6, 2020 Your Source for Brentwood News

Brentwood Beat: Needed Shift in Our Thoughts on Homelessness

It feels like the pendulum is starting to move in the direction of sanity.

For the longest time, it has been almost impossible to deal with questions regarding homelessness because it was viewed as politically incorrect to say or suggest anything that might be interpreted as taking away one’s “civil right” to camp out on the sidewalk.

But as the years have gone by and the numbers have climbed — and as health and trash and other public safety issues mount — people seem to be willing to think this through a little more clearly.

The first big shift was when people started saying, “Well, we really can’t force them off the streets if they have no place to go.” Fair enough.

So let’s build big, temporary shelters on the outskirts of town — tent cities, if you will — and centralize healthcare, mental healthcare, food, bathrooms, showers, job training, etc. there.

That’s a start.

If there are big parking lots of industrial properties going unused, that would be OK, too.

But it seems like an exercise in pure futility to seek suitable areas in residential areas. The land is too expensive and the truly mentally ill homeless people have a way of becoming too menacing to law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who live nearby.

Don’t the non-homeless have civil rights, too?

A few years back, citizens taxed themselves $1.2 billion to build housing. But very little has happened since. So asking for more money at this time isn’t the answer. The authorities and our elected officials can’t spend what they already have — at least not in a timely manner.

There are 58,000 homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles County. At the rate authorities are adding housing, many of these people will die on the streets. Jails and hospitals have become de facto shelters for many who really need serious help.

That ends up costing a lot more than providing shelter.

Building tent cities — as offensive as they are to many — at least gets us started. When you think about it, it’s allowing the status quo to persist — thousands and thousands of homeless living on the streets — that is the cruelest policy of all. People are dying out there. Daily.

There are 58,000 homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles County. At the rate authorities are adding housing, many of these people will die on the streets. Jails and hospitals have become de facto shelters for many who really need serious help.

And the idea that we will spend nearly half a million each on nice new units for the homeless as terribly flawed, in that if you take $1.2 billion and divide that by $500K per unit, we will build only 2,400 units. But there are 58,000 homeless out there. The numbers just don’t add up and nobody wants to discuss this.

At some point, push really will come to shove. So let’s start talking about it now. If we build tent cities – nice ones, with room enough for 300 individuals, in bunk beds — there will still be quite a few homeless people out there who are referred to as “service resistant.”

That is, you can offer them a place to go, with food and healthcare, and they still won’t want to go. So the next big mental leap we need to be prepared to take is this: If we don’t mandate these people into shelters, once built, then the problem of homelessness will never go away.

If these were our underage children and they didn’t know better, as adults we wouldn’t hesitate to go out there, grab our kids by the hand, put them in the car and drive them home. We need to think of many homeless in the same way.

Many are so mentally ill they can’t really help themselves. We need to act like adult parents and get them into shelters and provide them the services they need. This won’t just magically happen on its own.

We can start with the easier cases — those willing to accept shelter and help voluntarily — but the numbers are now just too huge. The “service resistant” population has got to be quite big by now.

But it starts with tent cities that aren’t in the middle of our residential areas.

Nice housing will come when it comes. But building a few units here and a few units there will never really solve the problem — not in our lifetimes, anyway. This is a massive challenge that requires massive solutions. That will take massive courage.

The people are ready. Are our elected officials?

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