Homes and the Houseless
What’s at the root of the problem?
What is it that causes a person to be homeless? Deborah K. Padgett, professor at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work and a leading scholar on homelessness, discusses 12 myths about the homeless in the United States. Among the most common myths is that most homeless individuals are mentally ill or that they abuse drugs and alcohol. Other myths are that they’re criminals, that they are dangerous and violent, that they have made “bad choices,” or just need to get a job. While many factors contribute to homelessness, it does not diminish the fact that at its root, homelessness is a housing problem. Homeless individuals with mental illnesses aren’t homeless because they are mentally ill. They end up on the streets because our society has made a choice not to prioritize housing as a human right, and homeless persons lack the financial resources to afford market-based solutions. Similarly, alcohol and drug abuse doesn’t always lead to homelessness. There are plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers who have the financial resources to acquire and maintain housing. Some houseless people are both estranged from their families, and have issues with mental illness, drug addiction, or extreme poverty, and end up homeless as a result.
In recent American history, homelessness largely has been driven by a handful of factors. These include: the deinstitutionalization of the population that had been housed in mental institutions – a population that decreased by 90%, with many of these persons ending up on American streets. What were termed ‘urban renewal’ efforts in the 1950s through the 1970s led to the destruction of many housing projects and single room occupancy buildings that had provided very low-cost housing for very low-income people. The move under the Reagan administration to dismantle the welfare state, with complementary reductions in spending on the safety net including funds for low-income housing, increased stress on existing housing resources. Deindustrialization – the movement of manufacturing/factory jobs overseas – increased poverty in urban and some rural settings, so increasing the vulnerability of populations that had relied upon what often were relatively well-paying jobs. The advent of mass incarceration, particularly from the 1980s, and the creation of large numbers of persons with felony convictions, greatly increased many individuals’ ability to get work. In the last 20-30 years, the gentrification of many major urban areas has greatly increased the cost of housing, and coupled with zoning rules, has done much to ensure that the housing developed generally is not accessible to people with low incomes.
The prime reasons for entry to homelessness generally can be attributed to three conditions, all related to impoverishment: the loss of personal resources; the loss of family/social connections; and the loss of health. Domestic violence also is a frequent driver of entry to homelessness. It also is true that the incidence of substance abuse and mental and physical disability is higher among the homeless population than the general population. At the end of the day, however, there are millions and millions of people with very low incomes in America, and a national shortfall of seven million affordable housing units for what is termed the Very Low-income Population alone (Bloomberg City Lab, Understanding Homelessness in America, B. Schneider, 7/6/20).
Rising income inequality and housing costs are driving people to homelessness. Since the 1980’s income disparity has increased substantially. Day labor jobs have disappeared. We are still arguing over the idea of a$15 minimum wage, while $7.25 per hour remains the minimum in many states. In Encinitas, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $29,000 per year. A person at a $15 minimum wage job earns $30,000 per year. That leaves $83 per month for food, clothing, medical care, transportation, etc. Extremely poor people could get subsidies for housing, but the problem is lack of supply. Over the past 10 years, San Diego County needed to construct 35,000 additional low income units, but only 2,325 were built.
“Housing affordability is strongly associated with the level of homelessness. In our analysis, it greatly outweighs other causes, including personal disabilities and the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill,” says [John] Quigley, I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor, Department of Economics, and Director of the Program on Housing and Urban Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is important because it means that homelessness in California could be reduced by adding to the stock of housing accessible to the poor.”
How big a problem is it in Encinitas?
In 2018, the San Diego Regional Task Force conducted a count and found that there were around 2,000 homeless people in North County, of which 354 were living in their vehicles. The most recent “point-in-time” count of the homeless in Encinitas put the number at 80 people, but this is very likely a severe undercount.
What can be done?
On January 22, 2020, the Encinitas City Council approved the Jewish Family Services Safe Parking Program (JFS SPP) at Leichtag Commons. As of September 2021, Jewish Family Services case managers have successfully placed 63% of its Encinitas participants back into permanent housing. Ninety-three percent of program participants are newly homeless. Nearly 50% of participants are over age 60, senior citizens who helped build our community. It is important to note that in a May 2021 citywide open forum on JFS’s SPP status report, Captain Taft of our local Sheriff department stated that there were no criminal incidents reported related to JFS SPP participants. The only issues requiring law enforcement assistance occurred when opponents to the program attempted to trespass in order to take photos and/or videos in attempts to disparage the program.
In February 2021, the City Council unanimously adopted a Homeless Action Plan. This plan focused on three areas:
- Funding a housing manager to get grants, work with the homelessness task force, and coordinate among agencies. Christian Gutierrez now serves as Encinitas Housing Manager
- Expanding outreach to the homeless population
- Increasing community education efforts
The city has initiated several other programs that include: Street Outreach (HOPE), Engagement Activities, a Temporary Housing Program and a Rapid Re-Housing Program. But there are also actions you can take as a citizen activist. Additionally, the City of Encinitas has formed a Homeless Action Plan Community Working Group, which is composed of local community nonprofit organizations, Scripps Hospital, and interested residents who will work to develop community engagement and education materials around homelessness.
- Speak up! Debunk the myths that a loud minority attach to our houseless neighbors. Too often, public debates about the homeless are dominated by people who are more concerned with property values, and who disseminate disinformation that our houseless neighbors are all criminals or drug addicts who do not deserve support. It is important that we amplify the voices of Encinitans who understand the humanity of all people and support treating our houseless neighbors with dignity and compassion.
- Support initiatives like the JFS Safe Parking Program and nonprofits that serve on the frontline providing our homeless neighbors with the resources necessary to return to permanent housing for those who are interested.
Community Resource Center (CRC) offers many services including temporary motel vouchers, food assistance, and wrap-around services to assist low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness.
Opening Doors Encinitas.
- Contact CRC’s Housing Navigators at 760-300-3238 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Andrews Church Food Pantry
Every Thursday from 3-4 pm, St. Andrews Church sets up a supermarket-style food pantry to serve the community. Fresh produce, meat, canned goods, beans, baby food, and other items. are available to anyone who needs it.
St. John Parish Food Pantry
The St. John Parish Food Pantry is open to anyone each Monday from 9 am to 12 pm. It is located currently in the church parking lot and accessed from Balour Drive.
Humanity Showers at Encinitas 4 Equality
Community Outreach the last Saturday of every month for our houseless neighbors. Showers, haircuts, clothing and hot breakfast provided. Location is: 1900 N. Coast Highway (Next to Roberto’s Mexican Food)
- Educate yourself. It’s easy to blame the homeless for their situation. But that doesn’t solve anything. Many Encinitans are one medical bill or missed paycheck away from becoming houseless. There’s nothing easy or one-dimensional about solving this problem, but the starting point is understanding the causes of homelessness and learning about programs that work. The homelessness crisis will not be solved solely by government or nonprofits. Ultimately, the solution requires tremendous political will and action by compassionate community members.