One day every week, people line-up in the parking lot behind our office to pick-up free food. They are living on the fringes of society. Most have very little to survive on and the donated boxes of food provide much needed sustenance to help them through the week. Some live in their cars. Many have no home at all, bouncing from shelter to shelter, dragging their modest possessions with them.
This week was no different, because homelessness doesn’t take a holiday.
Although a study conducted earlier this year found that the homeless population in Riverside County has seen a double-digit reduction since 2013, it is still a concern. According to the Policy Advocacy Clinic, overall California has experienced the second-largest increase in the number of homeless people among the 50 states this past year. While most cities treat homelessness as a law enforcement problem — California cities have more anti-homeless laws than cities in other states – like other innovative cities Riverside is making an effort to not simply manage but to eradicate what has been called one of America’s most intractable problems.
As part of Riverside County’s Continuum of Care Homelessness network, Riverside has taken a pro-active holistic approach focused on prevention and a combination of social, medical, and mental health service assistance. The city created a centralized emergency shelter and complimentary supportive services campus that includes a multi-service access center. As part of its 5 year plan to end homelessness, the city has expanded its operations available to the homeless and those who risk becoming homeless and built a unique community system of supportive housing prevention programs and supportive services, helping some of our most vulnerable residents gain stable housing and eventually achieve self-sufficiency.
So while we prepare to celebrate the Christian holiday marking the birth of someone who was born without a roof over his head, let’s remember the less fortunate in our community, especially those families faced with housing insecurity. If you know someone in need of shelter this holiday season, contact the City of Riverside Homeless Outreach Team (951) 826-2200 or Path of Life (951) 683-4101 (emergency shelter) or 275-8755 (family shelter). And if you want to get involved you can participate in Riverside’s Walk to End Homelessness at Fairmount Park on April 2, 2016.