Silicon Valley Balances Stopgaps, Real Solutions to Homelessness

On a midweek morning at Tully Ballfield, people scramble up from the creek banks, pull up in ramshackle vans and bicycles for a meal and clothing giveaway. Well over 100 of them line up for the potluck cooked by local church folk while others rifle through trash bags stuffed with secondhand garments.

Deb Kramer, who leads a regional creek cleanup coalition, shakes her head disapprovingly. “Watch,” she says, arms folded across her chest. “A lot of this will end up in the trash or the water.”

She approaches the volunteers dishing out pasta, honeyed ham and fresh-cut fruit to ask why they don’t feed the homeless on church property. Their hard work goes to waste, she tells them, and her picker-uppers have to tidy up after them. Literally tons of edible food and wearable clothes are left to rot, she says, and those Styrofoam plates break into millions of water-polluting pieces.

Phil Mastrocola, head of homeless outreach for Grace Baptist Church, walks up to intervene. “As long as they’re hungry, we’ll feed them,” he says firmly. “We’re going to use city property because it’s public, it’s ours, it’s theirs, that’s what city property is for.”

“I understand that, but it’s making a mess down there,” Kramer says. “Can you at least bring people in to clean up after?”

“Well, where’s the city in all this?” Mastrocola wonders aloud, raising his voice and his hands. “Why doesn’t the city put in more trash cans or port-a-potties? Where are they? Don’t put it on all on the churches.”

“The problem is that it backs up to you and us,” she replies in exasperation.

“You just made my point,” Mastrocola says. He later apologizes for the impassioned exchange. “We’re on the same side,” he tells Kramer as she heads toward the water bank to survey the damage.

“I grew up here and I love this creek,” Kramer says once they part ways. “I get frustrated, too, about the incongruity of my passion for the environment and my passion for helping the homeless.”

By the creek, donated coats and bright-colored shirts hang limply over fallen oak trunks. Donated tents stand by rusty bikes, scavenged copper-stripped conduits, ripped plastic bags full of canned soup and bagged breads.

“Look,” Kramer says, pausing to point at one of several uneaten food heaps. “That’s what they’re serving up there. So much of it goes to waste.”

***

A shift in public perception and political will has led to an unprecedented effort to house the homeless in Santa Clara County. After decades of relying on a patchwork of services that treated the symptoms, local governments decided to fix what caused Silicon Valley’s homeless population to become the fifth-largest in the nation.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors formed a task force dedicated to finding shelter for the 7,500 people living on the region’s streets, creeks, cars and camps on a given night. Coming together, however, has sparked tension among public agencies, the nonprofits they fund and volunteers on the ground. Not everyone agrees on how best to help the destitute, or how to align grassroots charity with broader institutional efforts. A lack of communication between government entities and independent outreach groups has led to disputes over strategy—growing pains for a young alliance.

Part of the debate centers on how to balance the long-term goal of housing everyone with their immediate needs for food, clothing and transitional shelter. For charities that focus on survival, the line between enabling and empowering sometimes blurs.

“Helping can hurt,” says Karen Addato, who founded Breakthrough Outreach/Shelter Network in 2009 to pull the hardest-to-reach homeless people into the social safety net. “I’ve known people who died on the streets with a donated meal in their belly and a donated blanket on their body. We want to lift people up, not keep them where they are.”

Sheila Hill, a homeless ex-paramedic, says she relies on the public park feedings to stave off hunger. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Sheila Hill, a homeless ex-paramedic, says she relies on public park meal handouts to stave off hunger. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

If volunteers stop handing out meals at public parks, she suggests, it would force people into soup kitchens and food pantries, where they could connect with other services. It would also prevent the kind of environmental damage that volunteers like Kramer have to deal with at Tully Ballfield and other Coyote Creek homeless camps.

“So many people work with the homeless full-time,” Kramer adds. “That’s all they do. If people supported existing service providers, then they wouldn’t work against our goal to restore Coyote Creek to its natural beauty.”

San Jose’s Homelessness Response Manager Ray Bramson agrees that people who want to help the unsheltered should plug into established programs. Handing out food at random isn’t an effective charity, he says.

“While feeding people shows some support, there are public health risks,” he says. “There are also so many other ways to get involved. We have a great number of nonprofits with extensive experience working with homeless individuals, connecting people into services that can stabilize them in the long-term.”

Mastrocola, who began working with the homeless at the tail end of the latest Great Recession, wants people to support institutional efforts, too. But a cohort of local churches—including his—have committed to filling the gaps created by decades of broken policy. “Not everyone can make the five-mile trip to the food pantry,” he says. “So we go to where they are. That’s our ministry, at least one part of it.”

The churches behind the Tully Ballfield potlucks also offer shelter and safe parking lots for people who sleep in their cars. That same group, called the Winter Faith Collaborative, welcomes homeless men and women into their congregation and helps them find jobs, room rentals and health care. There’s also the matter of clothes that fit, tampons, soaps, clean socks and underwear and shoes that withstand the elements.

“We want to solve this, too,” Mastrocola says. “The difference is that we’re going to help people right now. We’re going to keep feeding people who need it until we have enough affordable housing, employment, a living wage … and other protections against the systemic causes of homelessness.”

***

Homelessness has long been considered inextricable from urban life—something to endure rather than solve. It wasn’t always that way. Unsheltered populations used to follow the economy’s boom-bust cycle. When the market recovered, houseless people did, too. That began to change with deinstitutionalization in the 1960s that cast the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the streets by the thousands. In the decades to follow, massive cuts to social services and subsidized housing further gutted the social safety net.

Under President Ronald Reagan, spending on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which manages public housing and subsidized rental vouchers, shrank from $26 billion to $8 billion. Every administration since has continued divesting from public housing and subsidies that used to help the poorest Americans bounce back. As a result, homelessness has become an assumed fixture of the American cityscape. No longer a temporary population of addicts or a wandering workforce, the homeless represent a diverse swath of humanity—men, women, children, veterans and students.

While homeless tallies can be woefully inaccurate by failing to account for people couch-surfing, bunking with friends and family or staying in hotels, the 2015 national homeless census put the official point-in-time figure at 565,000. That’s a conservative estimate.

Last year’s national count reported 222,000 homeless households with at least one child—but the U.S. Department of Education found 1.2 million homeless children in schools. A report published in June classified 460,000 students, or 10 percent, in the California State University system as homeless. That doesn’t even factor in the University of California system and private colleges. And though the South Bay’s point-in-time census identified 900 homeless children, the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s count comes closer to 5,000.

Housing, considered a human right in some developed nations, has become a commodity in the United States. A big part of the discussion around homelessness, of course, is prevention in the face of a market that prices out the poor. With stagnant wages and soaring housing costs, many Silicon Valley households live on the brink of eviction. Thousands sit on waiting lists for below-market-rate apartments, and it takes years to even qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers. Even with a subsidy, people spend months or more trying finding a landlord willing to rent to them.

To make up for the lack of federal funding, local governments stepped in, delegating much of the responsibility for low-income housing and shelters to nonprofits. Only in recent years have the Bay Area governments begun to reinvest in public housing. San Jose approved several motel-to-housing flips in the past year. It also resumed a mandate for developers to make 15 percent of new homes below-market-rate or pay an in-lieu fee.

This fall, Santa Clara County voters will decide the fate of a $950 million housing bond that could build up to 5,000 affordable housing units over 30 years with matching funds. Meanwhile, the city of San Jose will pool $40 million with the county and its Housing Authority to pay for more supportive housing.

“As a culture, we thought for a long time that homelessness was unsolvable,” says Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, a South Bay nonprofit that has housed hundreds of chronically unsheltered denizens. “For a long time, people thought all they could do was ease people’s suffering with a blanket or soup. But that doesn’t fix the problem.”

Source: Economic Roundtable

Source: Economic Roundtable

After two decades in the field, Loving feels confident saying there’s an end in sight. About six years ago, nonprofits and governments adopted what they call a “housing first” approach. The new paradigm builds on the old model of government investment in public housing—except this time at a more local level.

“It seems obvious,” Loving says. “If someone has a home, then by definition they’re not homeless.”

Local data shows that 84 percent of the formerly homeless placed in supportive housing—a place with subsidized social services—remain there a year later. That may partly explain why latest countywide census showed a 14 percent drop in the number of people unhoused a given night from 7,631 people in 2013 to 6,556 last year. Proof, Loving says, that “housing first” works. It’s costly, she acknowledges, but consider the status quo.

The county spends $520 million a year on the homeless by way of jail stays, mental health care and hospital visits, according to an exhaustive 2015 study. In the past six years, the county spent $3 billion through scores of agencies and hundreds of public contracts on 104,200 houseless men and women. More half of them were homeless for only a short period of time, no more than six months.

Another 5 percent are chronically homeless and account for 47 percent of the public cost. Silicon Valley service providers now use an algorithm to predict who falls into the latter group, who cost less to house than leave on the streets.

During that same six-year timeframe, 73 agencies with law enforcement authority in the county arrested more 33,300 homeless people—a third of them for drug offenses. In jail, half received medical care and 8 percent stayed in the mental health ward.

“Prevention, rapid re-housing and supportive housing—those together are the answer,” she says. “But if you’re a church or an individual or a Boy Scout group, you don’t have those millions of dollars to funnel into those solutions.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 7.24.39 AMHow to help in the meantime has become a matter of political contention. At San Jose’s City Council meeting last week, a unanimous vote killed a controversial proposal to build a “tiny home” settlement that would have sheltered 102 people and another plan for a legal encampment. Instead, the council OK’d a 162-unit apartment for the homeless, apparently taking the narrow view that “housing first” applies only to permanent shelter. Proponents of alternative housing, such as modular homes, take issue with the city’s unwillingness to back solutions that could get built in months rather than years.

One short-term solution city leaders approved, however, involves setting aside $5 million to pay for building improvements for landlords who house homeless military veterans. Called All the Way Home, the initiative calls on churches to find people willing to house ex-military members with a rental voucher. When it launched last fall, the county knew that more than 700 veterans needed shelter, and that 260 already had public housing vouchers but no place to redeem then. Since then, 57 landlords have signed on and, at least through March this year, 130 veterans have been housed.

“This has been a really effective approach,” says Maya Esparza, who leads the campaign for Destination: Home. “It’s a manageable way for people to help in a way that’s actually solving the problem.”

Also last week, San Jose suspended permit requirements for churches, synagogues and mosques to allow them to shelter 30 people per site for up to three months.

“Not everything we hoped for,” says Sheila Hill, 60, an ex-paramedic who lives in her maroon Quest minivan with a wound-up terrier named Jack. “And it doesn’t do much for me right now. I’ll still need those free meals at Tully until I find a place.”

Kitchens and food banks, however, say the informal feedings may lack follow-through to long-term support. They also may not target parts of the region with the most need.

“These informal feedings almost encourage isolation,” says AnnMarie Zimmermann, CEO of Loaves and Fishes. “Instead of breaking the chain, they perpetuate it. Even in pure economic sense, it’s not the most efficient way to help. The best bang for your buck is to invest that same time and [energy] into the people who do this for a living.”

Last year, however, the Health Trust commissioned a first-of-its-kind report on Silicon Valley that showed a lack of food access for the most vulnerable. Per the study, homeless people rely on the region’s 14 congregate meal sites—including Martha’s Kitchen and Loaves and Fishes—as a primary food source, followed by 29 food pantries, 44 shelters and a handful of off-the-grid feeding groups.

Source: Santa Clara County Health Trust

Source: Santa Clara County Health Trust

“What we found is that it’s not enough,” says Rachel Horst, who overlaid census, point-in-time homeless counts and various other datasets to create the Health Trust report. “People still go hungry.”

If all homeless people got one meal a day, five days a week at local soup kitchens, that would amount to 20,300-plus servings. To meet that benchmark, local nonprofits would have to more than double their output. And since most group meal sites lie in the heart of San Jose, they would also have to expand their reach to the most underserved parts of the city—the outskirts south of Highway 280.

“It’s more effective to work collaboratively to feed the homeless,” Horst says. “That way, at least, we can avoid duplicative efforts. But we still have that gap, so we do actually need those informal feeding groups—as long as we can work with them to channel their efforts into a formalized food assistance and move them to areas outside of downtown."

***

Karen Addato embraces a mother and daughter after helping them fill out applications for shelter and housing. (Photo by Greg Ramar)

Karen Addato embraces a mother and daughter after helping them fill out applications for shelter and housing. (Photo by Greg Ramar)

Karen Addato lost three brothers to the streets. Two drank themselves to death and another still grapples with a drug addiction. She tracked down one of her brothers, Stevie, with Google Earth and briefly reconnected. When Stevie died in 2013, she says, she flew to her home state of Massachusetts to retrace his steps.

“He slept in a crate,” Addato says. “And every morning at 8, he would camp outside the same McDonald’s and ask for change.”

Once he collected $11.50, the price of the cheapest vodka, she says, he would call it a day. He would do the same the next morning. Years passed with Stevie camped outside of the same McDonald’s, drinking the same cheap booze and passing out in the same hand-cobbled crate. He died as a John Doe with $4 in his pocket, his broken eyeglasses and a donated cellphone he barely knew how to use. He was 45 years old.

“When that grief hit me, it was like a tsunami,” says Addato, a single mom who seven years ago had lost her home and mortgage business to the economic downturn. “My life had been this fast-moving train, and it all stopped. I then thought that I can’t bring my family back to life, but I can give back to other people.”

At first, she gave back the only way she knew: handing out food. Every week, with help from her son, she prepared and bagged 50 sandwiches to pass out at St. James Park. A devout Christian, she would pray with people and develop relationships with them. People began to ask her for help getting off the streets, she says, so she began to learn about services out there to help.

A second epiphany hit when she saw people drop her bagged lunches after a vendor rolled up with a cart full of free burritos. “I realized that the problem was not hunger,” she says. “I was building relationships, but I wasn’t lifting them up off the streets. So I went back to the drawing board.”

Breakthrough Outreach grew after Stevie’s death into a bridge to connect people on the streets with existing social services. Initially, Addato would set up shop at a San Jose McDonald’s to help people fill out job and housing applications.

Last year, she bought a refurbished RV dubbed the High Tech Rover, a mobile intake center equipped with laptops and WiFi. Ultimately, she wants to create a sanctioned homeless camp and a mobile app to help other nonprofits, public agencies and individual do-gooders collaborate by matching resources to specific needs.

“That way you don’t get random clothing drops,” she says. “That sandwich helps, but you have to be careful not to over-give. Having a technological platform will make things more efficient.”

When Addato first parked the Rover at St. James Park, she says, people lined up because they thought it was a food truck. “I put out this sign that said what we’re serving: detox and recovery,” she says. “Then the line disbursed.”

Dave B., a former university professor who lapsed into six months of homelessness and asked to withhold his last name, says he first approached the Rover because he mistook it for a taco stand. Thankfully, he says, it was something else entirely. Addato helped him sign up for a five-month rehab stint at the Salvation Army and then a sober living home.

“I needed free meals,” says Dave, 62, whose resume lists bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees. “There’s a place for that. I needed food to survive. But if that’s all you do, you’re stuck on the lowest rung of existence— just food, clothing, shelter.”

Still, he credits a handout (free food) for preparing him to accept a hand up (placement in a sober living home). A year ago, he quietly sat through a church service for the promise of a hot midday meal. That hour-long wait gave him a rare moment to pause.

“They were singing,” he recalls with hands clasped over a hand-written itinerary of the week ahead, “and I remembered that I want to do something on this earth.”

Karen Addato's High-Tech Rover has become a mobile intake center, connecting people with social services to pull them off the streets. (Photo by Greg Ramar)

The High-Tech Rover, a mobile intake center, connects people with social services to pull them off the streets. (Photo by Greg Ramar)

This story has been updated.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to jenniferw@metronews.com or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

32 Comments

  1. There will never be a decrease in people willing to accept free stuff. Handing out food allows addicts to spend their entire “donation” money on dope and booze, instead of the remainder that would’ve left after buying buying food. Stop enabling them! I’m talking to you- churches, individuals AND the County (it’s a bottomless pit).

    • 100% true.

      The more free stuff you give, the more homeless will show up.

      The only ones who benefit are the folks in the Homeless Industrial Complex.

    • The Inexorable Always True Iron Law of Human Behavior:

      “Successful Behavior is Repeated”

      I just saved all of you four years in college and $200,000 in student loans.

  2. The comment from Mastroccola is typical and short sighted. It make him feel good but it shifts the clean up to underfunded city parks workers which turns into our tax dollars for cleanup. This is done all over the city by “do gooder” church groups who don’t want the homeless at their untaxed churches. Or did he forget that part? And no he does not have the right to use city property as he sees fit.

    • Betty, please come visit us at Grace Baptist Church. You will find no shortage of homeless people here. We could use your help in providing some basic necessities of life and some dignity to some people in need.

      • > We could use your help in providing some basic necessities of life and some dignity to some people in need.

        Nathan: I have children who need some basic necessities of life and some dignity.

        If everyone FIRST took care of their own children, and worked to prevent family wreckage, the “homeless problem” would be greatly reduced.

        Eager churchmen would have to find other things to do.

  3. Jennifer Loving states that from 2013 to 2015 there was a drop in the homeless population of Santa Clara County. I have a question: of the 1,000+ people that found a home, how many were “chronic homeless?”
    My guess is, very few. The chronic homeless (5% of the homeless population) consumes 47% of the funds spent on the homeless. It seems that the new $950 million housing bond on the November ballot would provide homes for the 95% of the homeless that are not chronic. To house the chronically homeless, we need a law that makes housing of mentally ill a legal requirement in a secure facility with adequate support of counselors and mental and spiritual resources.

  4. Pacific Lumber had the answer 100 years ago. They established a mill with the jobs and a town with company owned housing. The homeless can not afford to commute to jobs. The question is how do we translate this into modern city life?

  5. Jate Naeger Jul 7, 2016 @ 12:47 am

    There will never be a decrease in people willing to accept free stuff. ….

    I have to admit that’s kind of true, at least as regards the very well to do.

    Ask any employee who the most outrageously: Demands Something For Free; Refuses to Clean Up After Themselves; selfish; blatantly rude; ill mannered; conniving; mean spirited person they’ve ever had to serve; in order to receive a paycheck and it’s almost always some well to do person who can never get enough (while the truly poor would many times rather starve, or eat out of a dumpster, than demand something for free).

    That’s how those well to do folks became so financially secure, by utterly sucking anything they can from their fellow humans, while leaving nothing but misery in return for the consideration of those far kinder than them.

    • Diane- There have been numerous studies that prove that people who least need “free stuff” will be the first to take it. Also, I do a lot of fund raising, and have for decades now. I have noticed that the majority of donations I get are from those who are either middle class or poor. I’ve even had children on the east side empty their piggy banks to help out. Now when I do fund raisers on the wealthier side of town, I collect LESS donations. Not sure why, but it is a fact.

      Having said that, I don’t agree with feeding the homeless by creeks, etc. I also don’t agree that churches or groups who do these feedings should leave it up to the City or anyone else to “clean up.” The homeless need to clean up after themselves, period. I also don’t agree that the homeless cannot make it to churches or community centers. They seem to be able to travel all over the City/County just fine, so saying that they can’t make it to the churches, is in my opinion, BS.
      I do believe that we need to house the homeless and get them jobs skills/jobs, medical/mental health care not only because these are vital basic human needs, but to get them on a path of self empowerment/sufficiency. “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.”

      And finally, it costs far less to house a homeless person than it does to keep allowing them to live on the street, so tax payers should participate in making sure that happens, instead of impeding the efforts to do so. We should also do something to help VTA because the homeless are riding the bus with their children so that they have somewhere to sleep. Children should never have to experience this type of poverty.

      • Thank you for your post. Kathleen, do you know of any organizations that are helping the homeless with your mindset?
        I belong to a church that has a “rotating men’s shelter”. The men sleep in our church’s sanctuary (for about a month) and are given dinners and a light breakfast. The men must provide their own lunch. They must be looking for work or working. They must be clean and sober. I think it’s a good intervention. It’s called “Faith in Action.”
        I believe the one ingredient that is missing in most non-profits with the “housing first” mindset is that we need a law to compel the mentally ill to be placed in a secure facility to help with mental health issues, including addiction.

        • > I believe the one ingredient that is missing in most non-profits with the “housing first” mindset is that we need a law to compel the mentally ill to be placed in a secure facility to help with mental health issues, including addiction.

          Isn’t this what we had when Pat Brown emptied out the mental hospitals and closed them down?

          How stupid is society that we have to learn this lesson over again?

          People who should know better and refuse to acknowledge realities are spinning their wheels on the pipe dream of “mainstreamng” and the notion that mentally ill people somehow have to be treated like “free range chickens”.

          Institutionalization is not a lifestyle we would choose for ourselves or wish to impose on anyone else. Neither is mental illness. But, we have to accept that there are hard cases where institutionalization is the best alternative for society and for the patient.

      • Kathleen tells us: “There have been numerous studies that prove that people who least need ‘free stuff’ will be the first to take it.” No need for a taxpayer financed study. Just go to the Sacred Heart Community Center on First and Alma in SJ on giveaway days and you’ll see lots of well dressed well fed folks lining up for whatever is being passed out that day. She continues: “And finally, it costs far less to house a homeless person than it does to keep allowing them to live on the street…” Yeah, right. If we’re giving homes away, we won’t be able to build them fast enough to keep up with the demand from people from all over the place who will flock to SJ. And: “Children should never have to experience this type of poverty.” I agree, which is why birth control counseling and practice should be mandatory as a condition of receiving taxpayer aid. Too many people have too many kids they cannot afford to house, feed, and clothe properly, while the conscientious among us get stuck with the bill.

  6. Just take a look at the woman in the pink shorts in 2 photos provided by SJI. Does she look like she ever missed a meal in HER LIFE?? Her daughter is well on the way to morbid obesity like her Mom. As long as there are enablers, whether from NGOs or local agencies funded by taxpayers, there will be recipients like the morBidly obese woman in the pink shorts. ENOUGH ALREADY!

    • From primitive times up until the modern industrial era, humans have always had to work hard to get a meal. This was a “natural” limit on the intake of calories and prevented widespread obesity.

      The modern welfare state has made it possible for people to eat well without effort. In fact, the modern welfare state enables vast numbers of people to live lives of sedentary idleness. One of the consequences of idleness is boredom, and for too many people eating is a way of dealing with boredom.

      Welfare state largesse is paid for with money borrowed by government from future generations.

      The tragedy of the epidemic of morbidly obese people is that they’re getting fat on the food that will be unavailable to debt ridden, tapped out future generations.

      They are literally eating our chlldren’s future.

  7. Kathleen,

    I don’t know exactly what the homeless are able to do – though I don’t imagine much, with no income – as I’ve never been homeless, and I’m not on welfare, etcetera. I do know I’m gettting more than tired at the stunningly mean spirited, disingenuos and patronizing comments (sometimes under the faux auspices of benevolence) that seem to prevail on this site.

    I’ll feed, clothe, or give some money to whoever I want to, whenever I want to.

    Further, I will bet my life there are more tons of refuse – particularly no longer desired furniture and appliances, and Milionaire Home remodeling refuse – illegally dumped by people who are doing just fine, than people that are homeless. I see it all the time in my neighborhood, and it’s certainly not homeless people dumping it.

    • Diane- I hear you and I agree. I am working with the City, County, several churches to help the homeless right now. Their stories are heartbreaking. We are all one major illness, and pay check a way from the streets ourselves.

      “I do know I’m gettting more than tired at the stunningly mean spirited, disingenuos and patronizing comments (sometimes under the faux auspices of benevolence) that seem to prevail on this site.” Amen Sista. I’m with you 100% on that.

      I honestly don’t give a dam what they think or say. They wouldn’t say half this stuff with the REAL name on their posts, I can guarantee you that much.

      I’m just going to continue to work with my community, our electeds, and the homeless to try and make it better. That my friend, is all we can do right?

      Hugs!

  8. A few years ago I drove past City Team Ministries and saw a line of folks waiting for a meal. I thought I could help, so I donated $10,000 (yes, I have the receipt). I’ve given a lot to charities. It’s how I was raised. But lately I’ve been re-thinking the whole ‘homeless’ issue.

    Anyway, about a month after I gave the money to City Team, I asked how it would be spent.

    “Would be” spent?? The answer: it had already been spent on meals. Great. So I fed some folks for a few days. Now the money’s gone, the food is gone, but the same folks waiting for free food are still there. Maybe some new ones, too.

    What good did I do? …anyone?

    Now I feel like someone who’s been feeding pigeons in the park. If you want more pigeons, throw out more bread crumbs and bird seed. And if you want more homeless, give out free meals. Same-same, no?

    If you pay the homeless, you’re going to get more homeless. You get what you pay for.

    I don’t know the answer, but I do know that taking taxpayers’ money and handing it out to “help the homeless” will absolutely make the problem worse. If anyone disagrees, explain how you’re able to get around basic economics. Because you get what you pay for. Stop paying, and you won’t get more of it.

    You can’t save the world. Truth be told, it’s very hard to save even one other person. Most folks can’t do it. So, some basic rules for sanity:

    You can’t save everyone. Save yourself. Help people only if your help isn’t wasted; that eliminates 99% of them. As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us. He might just as well have said the ‘homeless’.

    In the end, chronic homelessness is an insurmountable problem. But it’s not a big problem. The few that choose that life simply don’t want the available alternatives. They just want more free stuff, preferably of the cash sort. ‘Just Say No’ is the best answer.

    We’ll never eliminate the long term, chronic homeless. They’ve made their choice. For the temporary ones, places like City Team and the Salvation Army are enough. They will get back on their feet if that’s what they want. What they certainly don’t need is yet another crutch. Too many will use it as an excuse to stay right where they are.

    Stop asking the government to ‘do something’. Forced charity is not their job! Their job is to run the city; to fix the potholes, repair bridges, fund the police and fire stations, administer the courts, etc. If “helping the homeless” means taking our tax money and spending it on a new bureaucracy that might assist 30 – 50 people at a cost of $1 million a year, that is not charity! That’s just fake charity, which in reality gives city jobs to the electeds’ cronies to administer the new program. But it does *zero* to fix the long term, chronic homeless problem. Thus, it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

    Charity is voluntary. Taxes are compulsory. Stop wasting the money we work for on your phony band-aid city solutions that never solve anything. No matter how much money is thrown at the ‘homeless’ problem, there are always more homeless. Make the connection: money isn’t the answer. Truth be told, more money brings more homeless. You get what you pay for.

    And never give beggars at intersections your money! They get the same cash EBT cards, and free healthcare, and free food stamps, etc., that others like them get. They’re just begging for the money you’ve worked for. Don’t be a chump. Use it for yourself or your family instead. Give it to a church, or the Humane Society. But don’t be an enabler; they just buy liquor or drugs with your cash. Read the article.

    Giving bums on street corners your money is the same thing as the government pretending to ‘fix’ the homeless problem: if people didn’t give beggars with cardboard signs their money, in no time at all the beggars would vanish. Giving them your ‘spare change’ brings them in. You get what you pay for.

    Charity is voluntary. The government should leave charity to the Salvation Army, City Team, and similar groups. If there’s still a problem, the city can get back to us when the pot holes are all fixed, and the budget is balanced, and school buildings don’t need constant bond issues for routine maintenance, and enough cops have been hired. Quit inventing new city jobs for your pals. Cronyism doesn’t cure homelesness. Stop wasting taxpayers’ money on “the homeless”! That’s a bottomless money pit, with no upside for the folks paying the freight. That’s us.

    Help is always available, for anyone who wants it. But most of them don’t want it. Why not? Because we pay them to be homeless. You get what you pay for.

    If that sounds harsh, it’s because I’ve given plenty, and I’ve seen that it does no good at all. The money was completely wasted — and when the city tries to fix the problem, they waste our money with exactly the same result. Worse, they create new, eternal bureaucratic jobs to administer their guaranteed failure of an idea.

    If I’m wrong, show me a city like ours with no homeless. No matter how much money is spent, every large city has its share. And the money spent makes no difference. Because… you get what you pay for.

    • Smokey, there is something we can do that will cause long term relief to homelessness. We need a law that will compel the chronic homeless to be housed (against their will) and receive mental support, including drug counseling. Do you know of any organization that is dedicated to doing this. I thought “Laura’s Law” would help, but it’s so prescriptive in its requirements that it’s really not practical. If nothing else, I would like to start such an organization. Interested?

      • Weaga,

        Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think compelling people to do something against their will would get much support.

        I suspect that the chronically homeless are that way by choice. If they ever decide they’ve hit bottom, there are lots of organizations that will help. But they’ve got to want to change. No one else can make that decision for them.

        My main concern is spending more public funds to help people who don’t want to change. After immense public expenditures, the hard core homeless problem is as intractible as ever.

        I’m all for letting them be, since they have choices and we see what they’ve chosen. Throwing more money at the local homeless situation will result in more homeless.

        You get what you pay for. Let’s stop paying for more homeless. Don’t we have enough already?

  9. So to the guy who keeps telling us you get what you pay for: Do you think all the homeless just started being being homeless because they thought it would be a good gig? So they gave up their jobs and housing and joined the great adventure called Homelessness?

    So all we have to do is stop paying for things like health care and there’d be no disease? Some of us believe that the economics of the situation have to be looked at. In other words the greatest transfer of wealth EVER is going on. The real wages of the workers have remained flat or are much lower over the last 40 years. All the productivity the clever, hard working American worker has been able to bring to the table has gone into the pockets of the “owners” or “entrepreneurs” and the workers have gotten less in their pay envelopes and programs for the poor and middle classes have been reduced or cut out completely.

    Do you think the fact that Americans can’t get jobs has anything to do with the fact that some owners have moved their factories off shore?

    Are you going to expand your philosophy to law enforcement? Do you think if we just stop paying for police, we’ll soon have no need for them?

    Maybe you’ve got something here. Maybe if we took the profit motive away from DIck Cheney and George Bush they wouldn’t have had to lie us into invading Iraq and encouraging all the Islamist fighters to defend their countries against our invasions and form ISIS?

    • Allchuckallthetime,

      Looks like we cross-posted. I didn’t see your comment until after I posted mine. So to answer:

      ‘Real wages’ is a red herring argument; a logical fallacy. That isn’t the cause of the hard core homelessness I commented on, and that you replied to.

      You’re using this as a soapbox, but you provided no practical answers. My answers may or may not be the best, but they are specific solutions to the local homeless situation. We’ve tried shoveling more and more money at the problem, without making a dent in it. Maybe a different approach is worth trying.

      If the real problem of a chronic homeless person is not having a roof over their head, it’s not for lack of remedies. For example, they may not like rooming with other folks. But lots of folks do it.

      The wage rate isn’t making them homeless, either. The minimum wage just went up more than ever before, but the number of homeless didn’t decline, did it?

      There are organizations ready, willing, and able to help thoes who really want help. But those folks aren’t really the problem. It’s the relatively few chronic homeless who cost most of the money spent trying to save them from themselves.

      The relatively few chronic homeless cost most of the money, and if our city hands out more cash and cash equivalents to those folks, we will get more of them. Because you get what you pay for.

      And:

      “Do you think the fact that Americans can’t get jobs has anything to do with the fact that some owners have moved their factories off shore?”

      No. Outsourcing is not the cause of homelessness. Also, if you haven’t noticed, there are job openings everywhere you look now. And my comment that you replied to mentioned jobs that are immune to outsourcing. So ‘outsourcing’ is just another red herring argument.

      And:

      “Are you going to expand your philosophy to law enforcement? Do you think if we just stop paying for police, we’ll soon have no need for them?”

      Try to think clearly; you have it backward. My argument is consistent: if you pay more for police, you will get more police. You get what you pay for.

      Next, ‘Dick Cheney’ and ‘George Bush’ are irrelevant. Why did you mention them? How about George Soros, who is fifty times richer than both of them combined? And may I remind you that President Obama campaigned on stopping the middle east wars, but in fact he has us in more wars than G.W. Bush.

      I think you don’t really care about the local homeless situation. That’s just a pretext for your political screed. But if I’m wrong, my apologies. Just post how much of your own after-tax money you’ve given to local homeless charities.

      These city politicians and the special interest groups behind them are just grandstanding — at taxpayers’ expense. Their ‘solutions’ are the same ones that have always failed in the past: throw more public money at the problem. When that doesn’t reduce homelessness, throw more of our money at it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      Here’s a suggestion: fix the potholes first.

  10. Excellent work Jennifer! The financial issues here are startling. I think what is missing is how Santa Clara County Family Courts are continuing to causing this homeless crisis. In family courts judges often allow one side to have a lawyer and beat the other side to financial death and bankruptcy, and the one side with a lawyer charges $100,000’s to do that. If we start fixing our family courts , if we start holding these judges accountable to the people, not their favorite corrupt lawyers , our children can be properly supported, homelessness can be avoided and our legal system in Santa Clara will start to work for the people , not crooked lawyers and judges!

    The numbers in family court , awarded to lawyers, as purely made up by judges , show numbers far more startling than the figures related to SCC cost of homelessness!

  11. WEAGA wrote: “To house the chronically homeless, we need a law that makes housing of mentally ill a legal requirement in a secure facility with adequate support of counselors and mental and spiritual resources.” The Lanterman–Petris–Short (LPS) Act (Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code, sec. 5000 et seq.) was signed into law in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan. It prohibits what WEAGA suggests. Similar acts followed in most, if not all, states. LPS was championed by the ACLU. It has resulted in the thousands of chronically mentally ill people who wander the streets of every city and town in this state. Opponents of the bill warned of these consequences, but they were ignored by the “progressives” who enacted it.

    • > The Lanterman–Petris–Short (LPS) Act (Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code, sec. 5000 et seq.) was signed into law in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan.

      JMO:

      Can you say more about the political history of this policy?

      I am under the impression that it was instigated by Pat Brown, but somehow signed into law after Reagan took office. It doesn’t sound to me like a Reagan hot button issue. How did this all happen?

  12. LPS was introduced during Pat Brown’s governorship, but wasn’t passed or signed until Reagan was elected. Reagan could have and should have vetoed it. I do not recall whether there were sufficient votes to override a veto. LPS gave “rights” to tens of thousands of people who suffer from chronic mental illness, but are not an immediate danger to themselves or others. LPS resulted in the closure of most mental health facilities, such as Agnews here locally. Everyone agrees that a significant majority of the homeless population in CA are mentally ill. They come in and out of the system–criminal and mental health–which is far costlier than maintaining them in a controlled environment with continuous treatment. It is not a population that will do well unsupervised in these new homes everyone is talking about. Most tell the homeless advocates that they don’t want to be in such places. They don’t like the rules.

  13. > They come in and out of the system–criminal and mental health–which is far costlier than maintaining them in a controlled environment with continuous treatment.

    Thanks for the info, JMO.

    Exactly as I suspected.

  14. I’ve viewed & read many feel-good reports on the homeless (those receiving services, working to get back on their feet, etc.). I have yet to see a report on communities impacted by the trash and pollutants created by the encampments. Caltrans & Housing Dept. cleared an encampment behind our homes in Rosemary Gardens only to be repopulated that same week. It took 4 fires (June) within one week on the Caltans land (location of homeless encampment) for Caltrans to return and restart the eviction process. We’ve been vocal but it is evident that when the homeless topic arises it is only to highlight the work of our local agencies providing services. Out of the approximate 20 tents that were vacated in my neighborhood, only 3 accepted housing according to the “lead” of the cleanup. Why don’t we hear about those that refuse services and housing and opt to continue living in our communities? I’ve visited my local Fire Station and they shared that they respond to at least one fire per day started by homeless. Our neighborhood needs help holding Caltrans accountable to maintain their open land that is housing homeless. It’s been suggested that we adopt the Caltrans land and clean it. Apparently everyone including our Councilman knows that Caltrans is ineffective and free of accountability. We need help.