"It is simply not acceptable to allow people to stay in the squalor of tent encampments or sleep in doorways, parks and freeway underpasses without paying attention to the underlying issues that prevent them from attaining shelter and stability in their lives…it’s bad for public safety, bad for public health, and bad as a matter of basic humanity." –A Civic Disgrace, San Francisco Chronicle
I spent the Independence Day weekend helping my son’s friend find a place to live to keep him from living on the streets. He is 22 years old, and for most of those years he lived in transition. I once asked him how many places he has lived in for as far back as he could remember, and I believe the last count was 17. Well, that’s before the last two and the one we looked at over the weekend. The total now is 20. If we were unable to secure lodging for him, he would have joined the over 115,000 living on the streets of some of the state’s most prosperous communities.
His story is similar to many young people who have made their way into my life over the years, and similar to so many who have no safety net, who are just one bad decision, or in his case, a moment of bad luck away from homelessness. Some were from broken homes, others were scarred after years in the foster care system, and then there were those who, like this young man, were forced to fend for themselves as teenagers, moving from couch to couch relying on the kindness of strangers or distant relatives. For them the American Dream consists of basics that most us may take for granted – a place to call home with a roof and a door. For many, our national holiday is a bit ephemeral, a haunting promise that eludes them simply by the unlucky circumstances of their birth.
California has the largest homeless population of any state in the union – even our largest college system recently announced that 1 in 10 of their students are homeless – a situation that has become so dire that large cities, our largest county, and our state legislature are now taking bold steps towards its elimination. Just last week the Los Angeles City Council approved language for a $1.2 billion bond measure to combat homelessness in the city, something Mayor Eric Garcetti says, “stifles economic prosperity” for everyone. In an editorial entitled “A civic disgrace” published in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, the editors called “the reduction of homelessness to the extent humanly possible…San Francisco’s No. 1 priority.” They joined more than 70 other media outlets in the Beyond Homelessness project, shining a bright light on the golden state’s shared civic shame. The county of Los Angeles is considering a potential parcel tax measure to raise money for homeless services. And before they adjourned for the summer recess last week, the state legislature approved a $2 billion plan to help alleviate the growing problem.
Not too long ago I attended a Path of Life event, one of the organizations successfully working to assist the homeless citizens in our region. The organization has been working for over a decade to provide services for members of our community who find themselves impacted by the cycles of homelessness and poverty and works to assist the over 1,500 individuals and families who find themselves without shelter here in our community. They, like hundreds of other organizations throughout the state that provide services to the homeless, can increase their efforts with increased funding.
I agree with Los Angeles Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who believes we need to “treat the issue like the humanitarian crisis that it is.” We need not only revolutionary thinking, we need revolutionary action. We need to work collectively across city, county, and regional boundaries to restore and rebuild the lives of so many of our fellow Californians. As my good friend, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ son, and patriot Assembly member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas said so eloquently in a recent essay, “to do nothing would be to undermine the narrative of an ascendant California," and I would add, fall short of the triumph of liberty our democracy celebrates.