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City Homeless Aid Effort: A Bad Case of the Slows

April 29, 2016

The Sacramento City subcommittee on homelessness met on Tuesday [4/26/16] afternoon with several non-committee council members there, as well, to provide an update to the public of where things stand in the effort to better the lives of homeless people.

Many (Well, at least four or five) charts were flashed on the big screen which were the focal point of much that was discussed.

I have no doubt that sums of money are coming together and that the committee is making an effort to decide what they want to do over the course of the next year or so. But, the meeting itself, and the thrust of the effort to address homelessness seems to be snail slow and I am sure it reminds many of the effort that began fifteen-years ago, the so-called "10-Year Plan to End Homelessness." That "plan" never turned into anything. It was a name for something and THAT is as far as it went.

The Tuesday meeting was, itself, a case of the Slows. A rather enormous amount of the time was spent with council people and staff congratulating each other and praising each other and saying how terrific other people were and how wonderful the things they're doing are, and on and on and on. At one point it seemed like there was soon going to be a colorful-confetti drop on the glorious head of the beloved and grandly-smiling Emily Halcon, a central staff person for the city who deals with homeless matters.

Some of the charts that were shown to us were divided up by how immediate the items mentioned were going to come into effect. Nothing seemed to be on the near horizon.

At the end of the meeting, many citizens in the audience were given a chance to address the committee for two minutes. When that element of the meeting began, several council people immediately turned away from the citizen-speaker and began talking among themselves.

I have no doubt the council people think that they have heard everything and that they know everything at this point. And I mean that, sincerely, and in a nice way. They do know a lot, in the abstract way that they understand the process in the manner they have formulated things.

Three of the, perhaps, a couple dozen citizens who signed up to address the subcommittee had an affect on me. One guy who spoke early on was angry and fully not decorous in his manner and appearance. My immediate reaction was negative toward the fellow as I thought, "What right did he have to be so rude?" But the guy's message -- that nothing was happening and that he was weary of being homeless and having nothing to look forward to -- suddenly became something that I recognized was, indeed, what the whole point should be. James "Faygo" Clark and another fellow gave two-minute remarks that, like the first fellow, had angry elements and expressed a message that the pace of making things happen needed to be speeded up.

Nothing much changes in Sacramento because it has all been "just blather" for a long, long time.

The council people surely THINK they know what homeless people are like and what the nature of their struggles are, but I don't think they do. I think the council folk WANT to know what problems people have, but they are like aliens from Betelgeuse visiting our small, blue planet, wondering what these simian-like earthling homeless creatures are talking about.

There are homeless people I know who have been "out on the street" for more than a decade. Their lives are in ruin, of course, and in many ways we can easily say that they don't deserve anything from city government. Ours is a capitalist country. We're supposed to be the masters of our own lives. We are the creators of our own happiness and pain. But for those whose lives are down the drain, there is little they can do on their own to salvage themselves.

Contradictory to all of the above, I do know people who have gotten housing, something that indeed IS different to the thrust of things when I first became homeless for three or four years, beginning in 2008. But the effort of "Housing First" should be relatively FAST. When I heard -- as I did last night -- about money-raising efforts and triage efforts and the work to "track" people I get a sense that things are off-track.

The Housing First effort is, as the term says, one of FIRST getting people into housing. I don't know what "triage" elements are involved in the subcommittee's plans, but triage has a bad history in Sacramento as it is applied to those who don't have any mental problems. Many homeless people are pushed into programs and trade training that is not what they want. Homeless people will best succeed if they have control of their lives and the lion's share of say about how they will make their rebooted life productive and enjoyable.

Another problem with triage is that programs are put in place to give charities something to do, rather than having as the first priority one of aiding homeless people. [But, as I say, triage should be, pretty much dismissed.]

Housing First should centrally entail SAVING money from wasteful or eliminated police efforts  in moving or cleaning up after homeless people. As homeless people move into housing, Emergency Room visits should decline markedly. This money that is saved (by lessening the use of local government paying for expensive services) should then be spent supporting people in housing. It really is (or should be) as simple as that.

The accounting that we should be hearing about is WHAT SAVINGS HAVE OCCURRED, matched by WHAT HAS BEEN SPENT SUPPORTING FORMERLY-HOMELESS PEOPLE IN HOUSING.

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