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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

How to eradicate the homelessness crisis

Feb 20, 2024 12:37PM ● By Kerry Jackson & Wayne Winegarden

Homelessness is a growing problem in virtually every state. Nowhere is it more pressing than in California, which in the past three years spent more than $13 billion—roughly $30,000 annually—for each homeless person, to address it. 

Instead of continuing to throw money at the problem, states should learn from California’s mistakes and embrace reforms that directly address the core issues.

Many homeless suffer from mental illness and substance abuse struggles that require creating a pathway to recovery. The legal precedent of Martin v. City of Boise is creating a “right to live on the streets.” Policy changes, such as California’s voter-approved Proposition 47, have effectively discouraged the enforcement of shoplifting items up to $950, creating a means for the addicted or mentally ill homeless to support their habits.

Instead of enabling homelessness, states should ensure appropriate punishment for those who violate the law. However, interactions with law enforcement should be viewed as opportunities to connect homeless individuals with the help and resources they need.

One approach is homeless courts that “sentence” offenders to treatment, then expunging their records once successfully completed. 

To complement these efforts, states should partner with nonprofits that have successfully helped many transition off the streets. Even former president Barack Obama has acknowledged that these “philanthropic sectors are responsible for some of the best thinking, innovation and evidence-based approaches to ending homelessness.”

Shelters to Shutters represents exactly what he was talking about. The Virginia nonprofit emphasizes job placement and housing based on the mantra that “the solution truly needs to be about both.” 

Another strategy initiates contact with the homeless by providing necessities, including bag storage, transportation, internet access and a sitting room. While offering these services, the Crossroads Welcome Center in Tennessee determines each client’s needs and tries to direct them to institutions for further care.

Given the severity of today’s crisis, the homeless need to be relocated with an urgency. San Diego’s use of large tents that serve as transitional housing for about 700 a night and cost roughly $11.3 million shows how this can be done.

Unaffordability problems are also a driver of homelessness. Policymakers should implement regulatory reforms that lessen excessive living costs to alleviate the economic pressures driving too many people into the streets.

States should pursue zoning regulatory reform to simplify multi-layered restrictions, speed up the building-permit process and ease restrictions on building duplexes, triplexes and granny flats in order to expand the stock of affordable housing. Eliminating rent control would also meaningfully expand the supply of housing and reduce costs, particularly in cities where housing is the most expensive.

Sustainably addressing the homelessness crisis is a moral imperative and an economic necessity. Adopting the right policies should be at the top of every state’s legislative to-do list.