It should surprise no one that President Trump and California’s elected officials approach the homelessness issue from different directions. Pick an issue, any issue, and the two are polar opposites.
While most Californians see homelessness as a humanitarian situation in which many lives are being wasted, the president views it as a plague on the big cities to which the homeless population is drawn.
On a recent campaign trip to the Golden State, Trump said this: “We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening.”
On the other hand, most jurisdictions are taking another view, that homelessness is a problem that must be solved, for the sake of the homeless.
In fact, there is substantial value in both perspectives, something every elected policy maker knows, and most are working diligently to do something about.
The Santa Maria City Council has approved a revised version of last year’s homelessness priority list, made possible by a federal grant. The list includes addressing at-risk youth and special population needs, expanding education and youth development opportunities, providing affordable housing and revitalizing neighborhoods. The overall objective is to prevent homelessness.
If successful, such a mission will not only help those unfortunates pull themselves out of an untenable living situation, but it will also improve the lives of local residents and the communities in which we live.
The campaign grew out of the annual Point in Time head count of the homeless population, the most recent of which provided a warning that something needed to be done.
The January count revealed a nearly 10-percent increase over last year in homeless adults and children in Santa Maria. The glaring red flag for local officials is that the county as a whole, along with the cities of Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Goleta, had small decreases in their homeless populations.
You have free articles remaining.
This year’s Point in Time count found 887 homeless in Santa Barbara, 464 in Santa Maria, 249 in Lompoc, 119 in Goleta, seven in Orcutt, and five in the Santa Ynez Valley. Those numbers probably are not realistic, because so many homeless people refuse to be counted.
The City Council’s next step is to use the new priorities list to determine which local organizations and programs receive a share of the current-year federal funding level of $1.75 million.
In the past, such grant money has been funneled to groups such as the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Salvation Army and the Boys & Girls Club, places where the rubber hits the road for local social programs.
Fitting nicely with the council’s approval of a new homelessness effort, elected officials also heard a presentation at the same meeting from the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce on drawing more tourists and business investment into the area.
The two topics may seem at odds, but they are not, which speaks to the opposing views of the homelessness issue held by President Trump and California’s officials. People sleeping on park benches, under bushes and in other public places are not conducive to attracting tourists and businesses.
But rather than stigmatize cities for their homeless populations, local officials are opting to launch programs to shift as many homeless people as possible off the streets and into housing, while providing other important social services.
That’s a commonsense approach, because if local communities simply create laws to make homelessness a punishable crime, local law enforcement agencies and jails will have their hands and cells full — but the core problem will not have been addressed.
Working together, we can improve lives.