Are We Making a Dent in Homelessness
Are We Making a Dent in Homelessness
Ruth Ann Angus
Around eleven years ago towns like Morro Bay and Los Osos began to see an increase of people living on the streets. In Morro Bay, some set up camps in a creek bed near a city park. Compassionate individuals decided to try and help the people and began to bring meals to the park to hand out. Out of that effort the mayor put into place an initiative to establish the Estero Bay Alliance for Care and assigned two city council persons to attend. Others who joined were from civic organizations, church members, and citizens who wanted to be involved in helping. EBAC, as it is now referred to has been operating ever since and has grown to include other humanitarian and social service groups as well as County Social Services, the Food Bank, the Morro Bay Police Department, Los Osos Cares, Morro Bay Lions Club, and Yes We Can Peacebuilders. While much work has been ongoing with weekly community dinners in Morro Bay and Los Osos, donations of clothing and other personal items, housing assistance, distribution of food stamps, car giveaways, laundry assistance, and more, the question remains as to whether we are making a dent in decreasing homelessness in our area.
Morro Bay Police Chief Jody Cox stated that since the pandemic they have seen an increase in homeless people in the area and that many of them are more aggressive than usual. He is glad that there is help once a week from Jason Holland from Transitions Mental Health Association as that has made it possible for some homeless individuals to be sent for appropriate psychiatric treatment. This has occurred in place of having individuals like this being arrested and sent to County Jail for transgressions such as drunkenness, drug use or causing fights. So far, a program like this, where a TMHA trained technician is available to area law enforcement to go out on the streets and encounter the problems, does not exist in every city or town on the Central Coast. That there is a need is obvious.
Homelessness in California rose by 46% from 2014 to 2020. In other areas in the country, it has decreased by 9%. There is no doubt that California is an attractive place to live, even if one is homeless. For one thing the climate is not severe and fully one third of the state enjoys mild temperatures throughout the year. While mental health, addiction, poverty, and job loss are major reasons for homelessness, the overriding reason more people are living in their cars or on the street has to do with lack of affordable housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition there is no state in the country that has an adequate supply of affordable housing.
California recognized 116,548 unhoused people by a point in time count in January 2020. These are people living on the streets or in shelters. In a special count taken, 113,660 people in California were identified as unsheltered making this state home to half of all the people in the country who are unsheltered. It is the only state where 70% of the homeless population is unsheltered as compared to the state of New York where only 5% of homeless are unsheltered. Still New York City has the highest number of homeless people. This asks the question as to what is meant by sheltered? If one lives in their car, is that considered sheltered?
Local organizations such as the resource offices in Morro Bay and Los Osos grapple with this problem on a daily basis and while some progress is identified, both offices say we are a long way from solving this problem.
California is home to the most billionaires in the country; it is the fifth largest economy in the world and has a budget surplus. Regardless of programs put into place by the governor and legislature, California has not found a solution to match the homeless problem. A shift in value-based thinking on the part of the public is needed. Homelessness will continue to rise unless we are all willing to share the wealth for as the song says, “There but for fortune, go you or I.”