Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Right To A Permanent Solution

Hello Everyone:

It is a very lovely Tuesday afternoon and time to chill out and chat.  Sorry about yesterday, had to go with Blogger Mum to another appointment.  Sarcasm alert: always the highlight of my day.  Onward.

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Homeless in Orange County, California

Homelessness remains the most confounding problem in the state of California.  So confounding that state and local lawmakers are at a complete loss over what do about the thousands of men and women living in encampments.  The problem is particularly acute in big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Today, we are going to take a look at one possible offered by County Supervisor  Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacrament Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the co-chairs of Governor Gavin Newsom's Homeless and Supportive Housing Advisory Task Force.   The plan, if enacted, is a "legal right shelter" (latimes.com; July 21, 2019).

If put into law, "it would compel cities and counties to build enough large shelters to accommodate any homeless person who asks to come indoors" (Ibid).  Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Mayor Steinberg wand to go further.  They want to "require that homeless people be forced to accept shelter if offered.  How the state would enforce the second requirement is unclear" (Ibid).

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Mayor Steinberg, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Gov. Newsom

Good idea but neither one has a clue about how the right to shelter should be put into action: State legislation, executive order, or let cities pass their own ordinances.  It would signify a major philosophical shift in the way the state deals with homelessness.

Benjamin Oreskes writes, " In Los Angeles County, for example, close to 45,000 people [lahsa.org; date accessed Aug. 20, 2019]--out of roughly 59,000--live outside in tents or in vehicles" (latimes.com; July 21, 2019).  The most of 59,000 people live in the city of Los Angeles and represent a political liability for Mayor Eric Garcetti, who aspires to higher office.  Los Angeles has struggled to keep pace with never ending problems of the encampments that have residents up in arms (metaphorically).  Overall, 90,000 of California's 130,000 homeless people continue to live on the streets (Ibid).

You may think, who would not be in favor of a right to shelter requirement, if means getting rid of the encampment at your local park, right?  Not so simple when you consider the incredibly high hurdles this requirement would have to jump over in order to be successful.  "Large amounts of capital would need to be appropriated from the state budget to execute a plan like this.  Plus, residents--particularly in areas where state  environmental laws [Ibid; May 19, 2019] have been used to file lawsuits [Ibid] to block shelters and affordable housing projects--would need to be placated" (Ibid; July 21, 2019)

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas admitted that it was still early and that he and Mayor Steinberg had not worked out would be the best way of implementing the right to shelter policy.  He told the Times,

I'm not trying to worry myself into in action,... The status quo is simply unacceptable.  I feel rather strongly that we can do better. (Ibid)

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Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA)

Governor Newsom declined to speak to the Los Angeles Times, despite multiple requests for comment.  Mayor Steinberg hopes to use the task force, which he co-chair [gov.ca.gov; July 16, 2019; date accessed July 21, 2019] as a platform for a conversation on how to put the plan in place.  The next meeting is scheduled for sometime this month.  Mayor Steinberg told the Times,

We have a long-term plan to build housing for people who are unsheltered,..., but we cannot continue with the reality that while we fix this problem that we are OK with 90,000 people being on the street (latimes.com; July 21, 2019)

Mayor Darrell Steinberg first posited the idea in an op-ed that appeared in the Times (Ibid; July 16, 2019), illustrating New York City's plan to bring its homeless population inside.  Benjamin Oreskes writes, "...the mayor made clear in an interview The Times that he didn't want to just replicate that system.  Rather it could be a starting point as California's leaders consider how to respond more forcefully to homeless crisis" (Ibid; July 21, 2019).

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti's office issued a statement saying,

a state guarantee to a bed, with thoughtful shelter options, deserves our urgent consideration (Ibid).

Right to shelter requirements advocate say that "it saves lives by keeping the most vulnerable people off city streets, where..." (Ibid)  This is true of Los Angeles where sunshine and a mild climate can still lead to death by hypothermia-related causes.  Joshua Goldfein, a lawyer who works on the Homeless Right Project at the New York Legal Aid Society, told the Times,

The right to shelter itself is the most valuable aspects of the system,.... It means that there is always bed for someone, and that enables the city to engage with people in a way that they know there will be a place for them if they're willing to come in off the street (Ibid)

New York City's right to shelter policy was not implemented by choice.  The requirement came into being around 1981, two years after the city was sued for denying a homeless man shelter because of lack of space.  Both the city and state were forced to enter a consent decree, requiring officials to offer a bed to any homeless person who wants one.

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Homeless person on a subway platform
New York City, New York

 This past January, New York City volunteers conducting a point-in-time count documented 3,588 unsheltered individuals (www1.nyc.gov; date accessed Aug. 20, 2019).  On an any given night, there about 58,000 (Ibid) homeless people who sleep in shelters, hotel room, or run-down apartments (latimes.com; May 25, 2018; date accessed Aug. 20, 2019) paid for by the city.

This is an expensive way to address the problem.  Mr. Oreskes reports, "In the latest fiscal year, which ended June 30, the city spent $3.2 billion on services for homeless people, including $1.9 billion on shelters, according to the city comptroller's office [comptroller.nyc.gov; May 22, 2019; date accessed Aug, 20, 2019].  Those figures have doubled since 2014, while the number of people in shelter has increased 11%" (latimes.com; July 21, 2019).

Mayor Steinberg, while noting that New York City spends a large amount of money to keep people indoors, pointed out that "California is already spending tons of money to transform how the state's homeless population lives" (Ibid).

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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg
Mayor Steinberg told the Times,

We are spending untold tens of millions of dollars now ineffectively addressing symptoms of homelessness, through law enforcement budgets, through public health budget, through public works budgets just cleaning up a lot of the messes,.... There is no reason why we can't convert some of those resources--a lot of those resources--together with more investment for the state, which is what it's going take (Ibid)

Others wonder about the wisdom of going the extra distance to mandate the homeless come inside.  This expectation has not come into fruition in New York City.

Instead, the city has established a new type of shelter--"safe haven" (nytimes.com; May 30, 2019; date accessed Aug. 20, 2019).  Shelly Nortz, the deputy executive director of the New York Coalition for the Homeless, described the shelters that take people where they're at (latimes.com; July 21, 2019).  Ms. Nortz said "there are more than 1,000 beds in these safe havens citywide in addition to more conventional shelter set-ups" (Ibid).  She said,

New York City has done a very good job of building a different shelter model,... To require the homeless to come into shelters is just going to push them deeper underground and into hiding.  It's the wrong thing to do (Ibid).

Another concern is that creating a sprawling shelter system will lead to homeless people cycling in and out of emergency shelter without entering into a permanent housing situation.

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New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio

New York City Mayor and presidential candidate (still), also announced that he wants to build 15,000 permanent supportive housing units over the next 15 years, but progress is slow (nydailynews.com; Apr. 24, 2018; date accessed Aug. 20, 2019).  Ms. Nortz said,

We have people who lived in shelters for years and years and years.  It's not what anyone envisions as a proper fate,.... People don't thrive living crammed together (latimes.com; July 21, 2019).

Rightfully, some Los Angeles homeless advocates are wary of the spending so much on a temporary fixes when there is a real need for something more stable and secure.

Tommy Newman, the director of public affairs for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said "that if California is going to get into the business of creating new rights and reshaping government budgets, it should create a right to housing--not to temporary shelter--and work from there" (Ibid).  Mr. Newman added,

Anything else is a distraction from the true causes of--and solutions to--the crisis we face (Ibid)

Mr. Newman worked on Proposition HHH, the bond measure approved by voters in 2016 to build more homeless residences.

Peter Lynn, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, cautioned "that the legal environment in which New York City's shelter system exists is completely different than what exists in California" (Ibid).  In the current climate of limited resources, creating more temporary places without building more permanent solutions will just change the situation, fix it.  With a shortage of affordable housing in California, homeless people will just cycle from place to another. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in June, Mr, Lynn said,

If I don't have enough housing resources to move people through the shelter inventory, then people will live in the shelters.  That's what happens in New York,.... That's not a good use of resources.  If we sheltered everybody, there wouldn't be any money left over to house people" (Ibid)

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