Friday, October 21, 2016

Reasons to be hopeful and worried about Darrell Steinberg as the city & county's Homeless Czar

Darrell Steinberg hopes to become the city and county’s Homeless Czar soon after he takes office as our city’s mayor – but there are reasons to worry.

At the website that was set up for Steinberg’s campaign re addressing homelessness, there is a lot that is there that is worrisome to me and a lot that sure seems to be missing.

It some respects, the webpage is odd.

The first paragraph reads as follows:
The homelessness problem in Sacramento is getting worse. This is tragic and unacceptable. It is also a drain on our public safety resources and adversely impacts our businesses and neighborhoods.
The gist of the paragraph is benign enough, but “the homelessness problem” isn’t a trash-pick-up problem. It is centrally about people and the quality of their lives. But the manner that Steinberg addresses it is on a par with the need for a more assertive sanitation effort.

Steinberg says “the homelessness problem [is] getting worse.” He is objectifying something that is lived and felt by real people. I would assert that “homelessness” isn’t getting worse in any real sense other that more real people are in the clutches of the problem.

Sure, there are human-waste disposal problems and garbage problems attendant to having people out on the street with inadequate facilities of all sorts. And, yes, big messes are made that make good business people and residents despairing. These good citizens have a right to live and work in a clean environment.

Of course, the best “fix” to make everybody happy stems directly from putting homeless people in housing and setting things up such that they have an opportunity to find that they are having a nice, wholesome, productive life.

In many cities in America and in the whole of the state of Utah, homeless people have succeeded in great number at “finding a new, wonderful life” out of what had been a near-constant state of gray despair. It is something the great city and county of Sacramento can do, as well, for its misbegotten citizens – and it is called “Housing First.”

Very unhappily, “Housing First” does not appear to be Mayor-elect Steinberg’s approach. He appears to be intent at throwing a huge pile of money at what he sees as “the problem.”

Having a huge pile of money is nice of course. And if the pile is huge – really, really YUGE – it can do a lot. But the problem of broke and unhappy people reduced to living on the street isn’t going to be a one-time problem.

Circumstances intervene in people’s lives. People find that their marriage is falling apart or that they have lost their job. One day, rather abruptly, there is no money; housing is gone; friends aren’t there for you. Hello, sleeping bag. Welcome, sdewalk.

At a website for the Steinberg Institute, Darrell Steinberg shares plans to aggressively help mentally-ill people who have been left to get by living on the street. Certainly, the bizarre situation where our most-troubled citizens, who are victimized by problems outside their direct control, needs to be addressed. I mean, what the flaming hell!?

A story in the Bee last July by brilliant reporter Cynthia Hubert documents the sad last years of Mike Lehmkuhl.

Lehmkuhl was having a successful life until at about age 50 when he was beset by schizophrenia. His life ended tragically. But, more or equally troubling is the great suffering he can have had to endure during his last years of life.

I am hopeful that Steinberg will be able to find ways to help people left to the streets with mental-health problems.

But as for more-typical homeless people, I have many concerns about how Steinberg desires to address their problems. He seems to support the “solutions” that Western Regional Advocacy Project calls the Non-Solution Solutions [See http://wraphome.org/2016/08/26/non-solution-solutions-end-homelessness/ ]. In otherwords, Steinberg is a big advocate for programs and classes that are infamously not effective and big wastes of homeless-people’s time (according to everything I have heard and seen.)

All this is a big, big issue that is likely to be the prime focus of articles and opinion pieces in this blog in the months (or is it years?) ahead. There are reasons to be very optimistic. A lot of what is good can happen. But there are also many reasons to be concerned. Darrell Steinberg and the folks on the city council and the county supes have never been homeless and some of them are slow learners.

Faygo and Sean Thompson and others who have experienced homelessness absolutely need to inform the soon-to-come new mayor, council people and supes of the real needs of their sisters and brothers out on the street. There is frankly, flatly, no chance that the right things will be done without input from people who have “been there and done that.”

I would suggest to Sean that he not come to any meeting with Steinberg armed with a pie. At least, not for a while.

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