Ventura County has a problem dealing with a growing homeless population. The County has one of the largest homeless populations in the state, per capita. One of the major reasons for this is a mild year-round temperature as compared to other parts of the state. Ventura County, already dealing with trying to maintain a balanced budget, cutting jobs, and not hiring for any new positions, has very limited resources available to deal with the problems associated with homelessness: sanitary conditions, unlawful camping, loitering, many complaints from local residents and businesses, and both minor and major additional crime. The County of Ventura for years has relied on local churches to deal with this problem. Many local churches have established food banks to help the lower class and poverty stricken residents, but are already overburdened and now also face the problem of how to provide food to the homeless who don’t usually have the resources needed to prepare, store, and cook the type of food provided by food banks to sustain families for weeks or months at a time. Although Ventura County has implemented some local alternative programs, again mostly with the help of local churches, like Project Understanding, low priced local medical clinics, both a hot lunch and a bagged lunch program, one might wonder if Ventura County is doing enough or just trying to sustain the problem, instead of providing a way to help transition homeless individuals and families out of homelessness and back into becoming productive members of today’s society. The issue of homeless should concern everyone in the county not only for humane reasons, but for the cost of having an unproductive population in the county and having to deal with the problems of unsanitary conditions, panhandling, loitering, minor and major crimes associated with homelessness. There are those who would object, saying, “let the families of the homeless help them out. It’s not my problem, I am overburdened with responsibility and am doing all that I can”. Or they might say, “If I give them money, they will just buy alcohol or drugs. Well I propose, we, as a society along with Ventura County need to do more than what is already being done. Having been homeless, a few years ago, I do understand both sides of this issue.
Although there are many reasons for homelessness, John Quigley, Stephen Raphael, and Eugene Smolensky, all from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley argue that, “growing income inequality is a contributing factor in the growth of homelessness in California” (iii). They, the authors of this article, seem to believe that “governmental policy and the lack of low-income housing are the main restrictions toward easing the growing numbers of homelessness” (ix).
A big part of dealing with the problem of homelessness is that any form of government moves extremely slow. Boyd –Barrett a reporter at the Ventura County Star, our local newspaper, wrote about a meeting with the homeless sub-committee, established by Ventura City Counsel, and local Faith leaders to deal with the growing homeless population. “This was the result of local clergy leaders demanding a meeting in June 2014. And although a meeting took place in October 2015, another meeting is scheduled for February 2016.”
A few years ago, my husband and I moved into my mother’s house because she had called and said that she needed help. She stated that she couldn’t maintain her house and her business, and we could move in with her to help her out. Of course we paid her a fair amount of rent. I already worked for her and saw the amount of stress she was under. She was a very successful business person and her job was very time consuming. I was working part-time, and she asked me to fill in for an employee who was having dental surgery. The job was supposed to last for three weeks. Five years later, I was still working for my mom. So, when she asked us to move in, of course we said yes. And as she got older, I was there to help with whatever she needed. I have a younger sister who is totally irresponsible. When my mom had her move in so she could help her, it was only two months before we moved out of mom’s house, because we just couldn’t deal with her attitude or her alcohol and drug use. My mom died 6 months later. Since I worked for my mom and she owned her own business as a court appointed fiduciary, my job ended and her clients were distributed among other fiduciaries in the county. My husband was retired and all of a sudden we were living only on his social security retirement income. Our income dropped by $2,000 a month. My mom’s death was totally unexpected and our bills cost more than my husband’s retirement. It only took a couple of months before we were homeless. We couldn’t move back into my mom’s house because my sister had the locks changed. It was a very ugly time. Anyway we fell into homelessness. We stayed in motels, with friends, and slept in our car until probate was over on my mom’s property. I couldn’t find another job and I was depressed over my mom’s death, and also with not finding another job. This is how I became homeless. I worked whenever I could, but it just wasn’t enough to be able to get into another place. This is what I mean when I say, “I understand both sides of the homelessness issue”.
In 2008, “Ventura County homeless advocates released the results of a survey that identifies the typical homeless adult as a white male over 40 with a history of mental illness or substance abuse” (Griggs). According to Griggs, “For most people, the image of homeless people is of transients who are only temporarily without a residence”. In 2008, “the county’s overall homeless population was 1,900 including 300 children”. Griggs also stated, “one-third of the homeless [interviewed in this survey] stated that they had been homeless
for three years and twenty percent had been homeless for five years”. I would ask how many people were interviewed. I would suggest to them that the numbers of homeless people could probably be doubled because the homeless have become adept at moving around because they don’t want to get into any more trouble.
In fact there are places where the homeless bed down at night and one could walk by them at not even know they were there. The homeless, especially when being hassled in the daytime, try to become invisible at night. The reason for this is first a safety issue and then also to be left alone. The homeless camps at the river bottom have been raided several times and all their possessions confiscated. The police say that this is for the homeless’ own safety because of the possibility of flooding, but they fine the homeless for illegal camping or for vagrancy and a place to move to is not offered, so the homeless try to find another place to sleep. People who are homeless and sleeping in their cars face fines and the possibility of their vehicle being impounded because, “Some cities in Ventura County have bans on sleeping in vehicles” (Salient). When they can’t pay the impound fees, they lose their car. They have to become adept at moving every morning so they don’t receive a fine for illegal camping. Sleeping under a bush where people walk by and don’t notice them becomes the norm. Having been there I’ve done the very same thing. One place we used to sleep and never got caught is under the bushes on Harbor Blvd. right next to what used to be the Holiday Inn. We would lock our possessions in our car in the parking garage and then move to the bushes to sleep so we wouldn’t get a ticket for sleeping in our car in the city of Ventura. That lasted for about a week and then it was time to find a new place.
“In recent years, cities across the nation have established a precedent of criminalizing homelessness and pushing the problem out of sight. One method that has become more popular has been to introduce new legislation, designed with the intention of restricting individuals and groups from sharing food with people experiencing homelessness” (Stoop 07).
One of the most narrow-minded ideas when it comes to homelessness and food-sharing is that sharing food with people in need enables them to remain homeless. In many cases food-sharing programs might be the only occasion in which some homeless individuals will have access to safe healthy food. People remain homeless for many reasons: lack of affordable housing, lack of job opportunity, mental health or physical disability, and lack of living with minimum wage jobs. Food-sharing does not perpetuate homelessness. This perspective and other myths have led to at least 31 cities nationwide taking strides to restrict or ban the act of food-sharing. (Stoop 04)
A common attitude taken in residential areas is that people do not want to see the homeless go hungry, but they don’t want food to be shared where it impacts their daily lives (‘not in my backyard’ or ‘NIMBY’). “In recent years, cities across the nation have established a precedent of criminalizing homelessness and pushing the problem out of sight. One method that has become more popular has been to introduce new legislation, designed with the intention of restricting individuals and groups from sharing food with people experiencing homelessness.”(Stoops 15)
If you stop feeding them, they will disappear, Police Captain Paul F. Broxterman from Cincinnati, Ohio stated, “If you want the bears to go away, don’t feed the bears”. In March of 2014, one of the cities commissioners, in Key West Florida, Tony Yaniz suggested that St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, which serves hot meals daily, should cut back services by stating,: What we’ve got to do is quit making it cozy…let’s not feed them anymore… In Ventura, California there were complaints from local residents that, “Ever since a local church started to share food with people experiencing homelessness, residents have found drugs, paraphernalia and people passed out. There has been an increase in crime. And the legislation that was proposed was to relocate a local church’s meal program to a more ideal location. Dave Christensen, one of the pastors at the Harbor Community Church says, it’s their religious right to feed the homeless. (Stoops 17)
There has been many laws enacted in cities across the U.S. recently which appear to be aimed at making being homeless a criminal offense. Instead of trying to help the homeless transition back into society, it seems they just want to eliminate their city’s problem of having to deal with the homeless.
According to Covert, in 187 cities across the country, there has been an uptick in every kind of ordinance aimed at making it illegal to be homeless, such as banning people from lying down or having possessions with them as in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; prohibiting people from sitting or lying down on sidewalks, such as in Honolulu, Hawaii; or making it illegal to sleep in public, such as in Palo Alto, California. Manteca, California has a ban on encampments. Bans like this are widespread, as 34 percent of cities have bans on camping in public, a 60 percent increase from 2011. Some have even made it illegal to help the homeless: 13 cities have restricted where people can give them food, and one 90-year-old man in Fort Lauderdale has been arrested for doing just that. And others look as if they are trying to simply ship the homeless elsewhere, as in Waikiki, Hawaii, where 120 homeless people will be given one-way plane tickets to the mainland, or in San Diego, CA, which considered giving them one-way bus tickets.
In the article Slide into Homeless Jolts Middle Class Families, “There are people out there who have master’s degrees and a college education and are not high school dropouts. We’ve had people who came out of $300,000 homes” (Osborne). “This is the face of the homeless today. Yes there are still those who suffer from mental illness, drug abuse, and alcoholism. There are still those who choose to be homeless because they just can’t deal with society and want to just be left alone and can’t afford to buy a place away from everyone. But, the face of homelessness is changing and has been for quite some time. When I was homeless, I didn’t ask for help. Why? Because I was embarrassed and ashamed. The only difference between Michelle Kennedy and myself was that I had a husband and no children when I was homeless and she had no husband and three school aged children (Kennedy). I was a worker with a career one day and literally homeless the next day!
Homelessness is on the rise. Lack of full time shelters, low-income housing, a five year waiting list for section 8 housing, and fines for illegal camping, local residents afraid of tent cities in their neighborhoods, and an even slower movement of governmental interaction seem to be ever present problems towards any kind of solution to help the homeless transition out of homelessness.
Yet with all this negativity, there is still hope. Just last night, I was watching the news on PBS and they had an article on homelessness in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The city had partnered with St. Martins Hospitality Center. St Martins provides food, a van and a driver to drive around the city and ask any homeless person if they would like to work. They pay them $9.50 per hour and do not deny work to anyone. They feed them lunch, and the homeless help clean up the city, picking up trash and painting park benches, etc. It offers the homeless a sense of pride and hope to transition out of homelessness. The city has also built three new low-income housing centers to further help this transition. And this has mayors from Seattle to San Diego watching and waiting to see if this is going to work (PBS News Hour).
“If they leave, then that’s their choice” (Covert). Is this a sign of the times? Is this to be the way that the U.S. is going to tackle our homeless problem? What happens when there is nowhere else to go? How can we, as a nation or as a county, or even as a city do this? What are we telling our future generations. We are the best country in the world, just don’t become homeless, because if you do you will have to leave? Yes, these are tough questions. There are no easy answers. Yes, these are tough questions with complex solutions. Yet, when everything is said and done, I truly believe that we, as individuals, as a city, as a county, and even as a nation are better than that. We must become more pro-active rather than just hoping the problem of homelessness will someday just disappear, or that someone else will take care of it for us.
Boyd-Barrett, Claudia. “Ventura agrees to hold public workshop on homeless solutions”. Ventura County Star [Ventura, Calif.] Web. 23 Oct 2015
Boden, Paul. Selbin.” California is rife with laws used to harass the homeless people”. LA Times. Web. 15 Feb 2015
Covert, Bryce. “California Bans Homeless from Sleeping Outside: If They Leave, ‘then that’s Their Choice’”. Think Progress Web.10 Nov 2014
Griggs, Gregory W. “Ventura homeless defy stereotypes, survey says”. Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles, Calif] Web. 17 Jan 2008: B.4.
Kennedy, Michelle. “What I Couldn’t Say Out Loud: I Am Homeless”. Redbook 204.4 Web. (Apr 2005): 166-171.
Osborne, Mike. “Slide Into Homelessness Jolts Middle Class Families”. Voice of America News. Web. 01 Feb 2010
PBS News Hour. 27 November 2015. TV.
Quigley, John M, Raphael, Steven, Smolensky, Eugene. “Homelessness in California”. Copyright@2001 by Public Policy Institute of California 2001 print
Saillant, Catherine. “California; Ventura County sees rise in mobile homeless; Civic leaders tackling the problem worry about a backlash from residents and business owners”. Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles, Calif] Web. 11 Aug 2009
Stoops, Michael. Ed. “Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People in Need”. The National Coalition for the Homeless. Web. Oct 2014