Solving the Homeless Problem – Part 2



By Richard Eber

As the Holiday season proceeds during times of Covid-19, dealing with Homelessness is a topic of great concern in California and the rest of the United States. The $ 64,000 question everywhere seems to be what can be done to deal with this epidemic which is sweeping the nation.

While providing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to the needy is a nice gesture, it does little to assist the Homeless.  Those living in encampments in parks, on deserted lands adjacent to railroad tracks, and under freeway off-ramps, have been literally left out in the cold by society for the other 364 days a year.

What to do? A great number of solutions have been suggested.  Several have been implemented with varying results.

  • Sending out counselors with psychological training to partner with the police to assist those living on the streets.   While doing this looks great on paper, we cannot expect people living in these encampments to trust law enforcement and government workers when folks are hungry, cold, and lack sanitary facilities.
  • Build long term housing for the Homeless to occupy who have been displaced by unemployment and the high cost (especially in California) paying rent. Until this problem is solved Homelessness will continue with little progress made.  A short term solution may be found utilizing bed space apartments (used in Hong Kong), Tough Sheds, converting motels, and mobile housing. In the long term it will take heavy government subsidizes reducing opportunity costs for builders to construct low income dwellings.  At the same time additional supportive services are needed for long term objectives to be implemented.
  • Providing rehab services for those suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol. This is an expensive solution that hasn’t worked very well in the past. For such services to succeed, the individual receiving care has to take responsibility for the treatment to work.  It must be realized problems such as this are not solved overnight.
  • Mental Illness issues. Aftervisiting several Homeless encampments for several years, it is painfully obvious that psychological difficulties of all types are prevalent.  For some this condition came prior to being homeless. For others mental illness is systemic resulting from people being displaced while living in an unsafe environment where survival is a daily challenge.  Living on the streets has contributed to the physiological problems that affects this group and cries for help.
  • Assistance to be given to veterans who comprise approximately 7% of the homeless population. These former soldiers have not been able to be assimilated into society following their discharge from military service. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) needs to come to the plate and take charge of taking care of their people. There is some progress in this area, but not enough
  • Heavy government spending taking a one size fits all solution for ending Homelessness.

It is obvious that the Federal, State, and County Governments policies dealing with the problem have not worked very well.  Most of the fault lies with the guidelines emanating from Washington D.C. that put emphasis on long term solutions and generating expensive documentation procedures that add astronomical costs to providing Homeless services.

State, County, and city governments need to comply with bureaucratic procedures or lose funding. This tends to take focus away from unique characteristics of local communities, each of which is different.

  • A partnership between public and private agencies to attack the problem at every level. Missing from the equation of dealing with Homelessness is the role private charities and individuals play.  In general government entities tend to shun the private sector in combating the problem.

This is especially true of churches and religious organizations that bring God into the equation. To deal with this perceived problem,  government bureaucrats regulate the private sector to death losing focus on their primary mission to help provide those in need.

 In addition Government agencies prefer to deal with large organizations rather than local grass roots entities that lack resources to meet stringent administration requirements.

What actions should be taken?

To start with there needs to be a commitment to solve the Homeless problem.  There is still a concern in many communities that if too much is done to help this downtrodden segment of society, it will encourage more of the Homeless to migrate near to where they live.

This “somewhere else not close to me” attitude can be seen in large urban locales such as San Francisco and Los Angeles where the Homeless have congregated.  Wherever a location is proposed to house them, there is always vigorous opposition from nearby residents.

In order to rectify this situation, there needs to be a strong will of government and the private sector to provide facilities for dealing with the Homeless regardless of the political consequences.

Once comprehensive services are provided to those living without a place to call home, there needs to be firm policies that will break the cycle of despair they endure each day.  To be avoided is what happened with the so called “War on Poverty” program started by the Federal Government in the 1960’s. Billions of dollars of government assistance were poured into urban ghettoes in large cities, only to find generational poverty, crime, unemployment, and hopelessness left behind.

As part of a successful end game, there needs to be some tough love involved with solving the expanding Homeless dilemma in our society.  Once Adam Smith’s basic “food, shelter, and clothing” survival mechanisms are met, there needs to be expectations of this group to abandon their present lifestyle.

Those who reject mental health counseling, drug, and alcohol rehabilitation should not be given money by nearby residents to fuel their existing habits.  The notion that God helps those who help themselves should be in play. Those lacking mental and physical disabilities need to do some form of work aimed at integrating them back into society.

Lastly, the role of law enforcement dealing with the Homeless needs to be understood.  While shallow reporting especially on the six o’clock news depicts law enforcement as being cruel to street people, the truth of the matter is that those in Blue in most cases have ended up taking on the responsibilities of being social workers dealing with the Homeless.  Law enforcement officers have been placed in the position of protecting the public versus dealing with a rootless segment of society with little stake in local communities.

On a long term basis there needs to be a new approach in dealing with the Homeless population.  One thought that comes to mind is reuniting those who have been turned away by their families and ended up with no place to call home.  We might consider giving a monthly subsidy to relatives who take back some of those who they parted ways with.  A foster program similar in scope can be carried out that could do much the same to assist those in need.

Such a system might well prove more economical than the life of crime and despair that society must deal with.

All things considered homeless is a growing epidemic for which there are no permanent solutions in place.  It will take a partnership between the new Democratic administration, States, counties, cities, and non-profits, to turn things around.

As Confucius once said, “A journey begins with the first step.”

Solving the Homeless Part 1

Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.

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C. Collier
C. Collier
4 months ago

I like the “Sam Kinison approach” to the homeless problem.

James McMillan
James McMillan
4 months ago

Are you familiar with the work being accomplished in Santa Paula in regard to addressing homelessness?

4 months ago

A lot of caring pretence followed up with the regular fall-back of blame the victim. Nice one “Citizens Journal”… keep serving up that mighty thin stew.

4 months ago
Reply to  Sean
  • You obviously have a reading comprehension problem. The solutions presented by Mr Eber are far more compassionate- because they will actually work, unlike the ineffective, expensive and destructive “Progressive” chaos so very evident.
  • You are obviously unclear on what CITIZENS Journal is. Mr Eber is not with the Journal. He is an independent contributor, most likely a volunteer, I’d bet. You too can submit an article, if you can muster up anything beyond a brief knee jerk left wing reaction.