From the Homeless Corner: The Board of Supervisors Will Discuss Shelter Needs at Tuesday’s Meeting
Robert Cox: I’m not just a squishy liberal. I’m an ex-marine, a retired educator with a Ph.D. in philosophy and literature, a senior activist with a nice little government stipend, which gives me the freedom to do the important work of a citizen. I have no agenda beyond a desire to reduce the suffering caused by homelessness. I believe we should spend more time on healing our communities, and less time on figuring out how to take them back. Law enforcement has its place, but it’s not the solution. Ask any cop.
Here’s an important update: On Tuesday, the County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the “need for adequate shelter resources in the County to serve the needs of individuals in the unincorporated areas of the County….” Issued under the signature of Supervisor Mile Wilson, dated December 21, 2017, and released late last week, the indication is that the Board is directing staff from “affected departments to report to the Board whether there is statistical documentation indicating that the volume of individuals is greater than the shelter resources currently available in the unincorporated areas of the County….”
Hopefully the Board will concede that there are many more homeless people in the unincorporated areas of Humboldt County and come to a decision about next steps. The memo from Mike Wilson suggests that in future the Board will be calling on County staff to make recommendations “based on the statistical data” in making a decision on declaring a shelter crisis. One has to wonder if this is just another evasion of directly addressing the issue; any cursory look at existing numbers or direct observation would quickly establish that there is a considerable gap between the number of homeless people and shelter for them in the unincorporated areas of the County.
For me the telling detail will be revealed in whether to follow the suggestion made in a recent petition delivered to the Board, which calls for “county-wide Task Force that includes representatives from all the stakeholder groups to develop services and land access to successfully relocate all homeless people into multiple legal sanctuary camps to tiny house villages … or other available areas UNTIL there are adequate and accessible and accessible beds or low income housing available for these persons.”
As I suggested in my last column, the Board has been given a second chance to work on homelessness solutions. In their first attempt, a study was commissioned, and a recommendation to adopt a “housing first” approach was adopted. But, evidentially, because the study team lacked local knowledge, the recommendation failed to address the fact that there isn’t sufficient affording housing available to even begin to meet the need. Fortunately, however, the shelter crisis declaration, if signed, presents the County with a second chance to get it right—to sit down with local people whose expertise and lived experience could open the door to finding solutions based on a shared intention of simply trusting in a democratic process aimed at promoting the general welfare. Moreover, it could turn out that we will all re-learn the important lesson about why democracy is superior to other forms of governance. After all democracy is about more than just voting. And outsourcing responsibility for addressing the homeless problem was essentially anti-democratic. But, fortunately it’s not too late to give democracy a chance.
California’s Department of Housing and Community Development and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are looking at counties to see who’s supporting solutions for their communities. There’s a broad spectrum of potential support; many lenders and foundations want to add to and contribute to county supported efforts. County support, via this declaration, will be used in grant applications to federal, state, local public and private lenders. Staff interpretations of rules and regulations that might otherwise bar a project will be viewed under a different light. A declaration gives clear direction to all decision makers about what projects and programs to support.