In a recent op-ed in the Pacifica Tribune, Dan Walters from CalMatters opined on causes of homelessness. I suggest alternative insights. I believe California critically lacks low-income and supportive housing. We don’t need reduction of environmental and community control, we need policies and incentives that create what we, again, desperately need: low-income and supportive housing. Here’s why.
We cannot afford to repeat tragic mistakes from the past. In an article titled, “Homeless and Helpless: How the United States has Failed Those With Severe and Persistent Mental Illness,” Ashley Gorfido describes how “the modern era of homelessness began in the early 1980s … (with) (g)entrification of the inner city, deinstitutionalization of people suffering from (mental illness), and other major forces that contributed to the complexity of homelessness … (a)n inadequate supply of affordable housing options, and deep budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and social service agencies in response to what was then the country's worst recession since the Great Depression.”
Gorfido provides additional thoughts: “In 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted the most extensive survey ever undertaken regarding homelessness, and found that, at a minimum, 25 percent of Americans are homeless. Of homeless Americans, 45 percent are mentally ill. Americans endorse holding stigmatizing beliefs regarding people who have mental illness — (s)pecifically, beliefs that mentally ill people are dangerous, incompetent, punishable, commit crimes and that they are shameful and blameworthy. With these beliefs in combination with the overall American perception of homeless people being deviant, it is no surprise that the United States does not have or has not chosen to implement better policies to help this population.”
So, the past, including our recent past, contains errors like deinstitutionalization, failed systems and American perceptions that remain potential barriers to solutions.
Let’s take a look at the present. The COVID economic downturn has disproportionately impacted the poor: Legal Aid reports evictions are 60 percent higher than pre-COVID numbers, the president of the Pacifica Resource Center reports a 418 percent increase of Pacificans served as compared to 2021, the One Day Homeless Count showed an increase of Pacifica’s unhoused living in cars and vans, and a recent National Association of Mental Illness survey relays concerns from aging caregivers for their children with serious mental illness.
Our state has identified funds for homelessness, and our county stands committed to functional zero homelessness. Individual communities have stepped up to the plate and collaborated with the County to create both interim and permanent housing as well as a homeless navigation center. Our communities are in the process of drafting Housing Elements that could reflect ways to protect against displacement, preserve existing low-income housing, and build low-income and supportive housing.
What remains resistant to change is public opinion — of the unhoused, of those with mental health issues, of anti-displacement prevention. Pacifica struggled to establish a modest Safe Parking Program, which has already successfully placed some participants in permanent housing. Community members continue to harass program participants on Lundy Way. Redwood City and Half Moon Bay had residents who vehemently opposed homeless housing programs, and leaders from those communities courageously pushed forward for the greater good of the community. A Pacifica tenant protection ordinance in 2017 was opposed by $500,000 of specialty PAC funds though 40 percent of Pacificans are tenants and face displacement and homelessness due to increased housing costs.
Please support Pacificans Care and the Pacifica Resource Center, institutions that currently are the safety net for vulnerable Pacificans. Participate in Pacifica’s Housing Element and advocate for policies to protect from displacement, preserve existing low-income housing, and prioritize production of emergency interim housing, supportive housing and permanent below-market-rate housing. Lastly, the Pacifica Collaborative is addressing intolerance in our community through unity projects: research, media, special events. Stay tuned.
Suzanne Moore is a member of Pacifica Housing 4 All, the San Mateo County Anti-Displacement Committee and Solutions for Supportive Homes.
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