I am now serving as a member of the City of Santa Cruz's Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness. It is generally being called the CACH (as in catch!)
Participation on the CACH has triggered a bit of a re-set for me—because I’m working with a diverse group of folks that have a wide range of experience and of views about what we should do to address homelessness in our community. More specifically, this new activity has made me think more about why making progress on the issue is so challenging.
Today, I want to chat about why it is so challenging.
I think the best way to do that is to make a list of the questions we (both the CACH and the community at large) are grappling with. When we look at these questions, it’s not hard to see that consensus answers aren’t easy to come by. I think that lack of consensus is perhaps our biggest obstacle to progress.
Here’s a starter list... in no particular order:
§ Who is “worthy” of assistance?
(For instance, if someone is addicted to meth, are they to be ostracized or assisted?)
§ Do we address immediate survival needs or focus more on longer term solutions?
§ Does providing services attract outsiders to Santa Cruz?
§ Why are there more people experiencing homelessness (per capita) in our area than almost anywhere else?
§ Is hard drug use at the center of our homelessness problem?
§ Is mental illness at the center of our homelessness problem?
§ Is housing the solution or is treatment for addiction and mental illness the solution?
§ What is the role of our community’s overall housing situation in causing homelessness and in resolving homelessness? Without a larger affordable housing solution, can we make any real progress?
§ Is providing a safe sleeping place for people living outside a good thing or a bad thing?
§ If we need new locations/sites for services to be provided, how will we select those sites?
§ Whose data do we believe?
§ Is Santa Cruz’s homelessness situation unique or more consistent with homelessness in other places?
§ What is the role of “tolerance” and “leniency” in our situation?
§ Could more criminal justice system measures (policing, jails) help decrease homelessness?
§ Who is supposed to be “in charge” of addressing homelessness in our community?
§ What services and programs are already in place in our county? What’s working and what’s not?
§ What places or programs should be used as the models for our approach in Santa Cruz?
§ Should I be afraid of that person on the sidewalk that appears to be homeless? Are children in danger because a homeless person is near them?
§ Is “homeless” an adjective describing a changeable situation for a person or is it an unchangeable characteristic? (“person experiencing homelessness” or “homeless person” ?) Why does this matter to some of us?
And, last but not least:
§ Where should she/he sleep tonight?
§ Where will he/she go to the bathroom tonight?
Frankly, this list is quite daunting. And I’m sure you can think of another item to add to it.
With differing perspectives on these questions and a lot of strong feelings on how “right” those perspectives are, we have a lot to work through. (For instance... I’m sure I know all the answers!!)
I have a big request around this list: answer the questions for yourself quickly. Then take another few minutes and ask yourself something else: what do I really know about all this? Are my answers based on good information or something I heard someone else say in frustration on social media? Is my “solution” based on wishful thinking or on evidence?
It’s my hope the CACH and all the other entities working toward homelessness solutions will move beyond quick answers born out of frustration and come up with thoughtful answers that actually solve problems.
(PS- Though a member of the CACH, I only speak for myself in this post and not on behalf of the CACH.)