Archive for the ‘Homelessness’ Category

by Matt Hickman

Sprawling and largely suburban in character, San Jose — highly affluent de facto capital of California’s Silicon Valley — is home to one of the nation’s most well-educated, socially progressive, ethnically diverse and highest paid populaces. It’s also blessed with beautiful weather, a fabulous park system and a low crime rate for a city of its size. Everything is hunky-dory, all sunshine and Dionne Warwick songs, in the well-heeled epicenter of America’s busiest tech hub.

Except that it’s not.

Like its (technically smaller) neighbor to the north, San Francisco, the third most populous city in California struggles with exorbitant housing costs, severe income inequality and a homelessness crisis that shows no signs of abating.

Yes, there are homeless people in the Silicon Valley. And way more than you might imagine.

As reported by the Mercury News citing 2014 statistics released by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, San Jose and greater Santa Clara County have the fourth largest homeless population in the United States. With an estimated 4,063 homeless residents, San Jose has the nation’s third largest population of chronically homeless residents and the nation’s fifth largest population of homeless veterans.

In total, 69 percent of San Jose’s homeless population are living on the streets, in cars, in abandoned buildings and in encampments. One such encampment, “The Jungle,” was one of the largest — if not the largest — homeless camps in the nation until it was cleared out in 2014. The site has since been reclaimed by nature and other, smaller settlements have popped up around the city’s secluded wooded areas along creeks and riverbeds. In lieu of overcrowded shelters or encampments, many of the Silicon Valley’s homeless sleep aboard the 22 Bus, the only 24-hour bus line in Santa Clara County.

Never a city to shy away from innovation and outside-the-box thinking, San Jose is now turning to the tiny house movement to give shelter — even if just temporarily — to those who most desperately need it.

Crisis mode meets creative thinking

A new piece of legislation authored by Assemblywoman Nora Campos and signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 27 would allow San Jose to circumvent statewide building, health and safety codes that would otherwise impede the creation of garden shed-sized standalone dwellings. In lieu of abiding by state regulations, city officials will adopt their own unique set of building regulations that enable the construction and distribution of homeless-geared tiny houses.

The law, which will be valid for five years at which point its impact will be assessed, can only be enacted if San Jose declares a “shelter crisis” — and it already has.

When the law goes into effect in January of next year, San Jose will be the first city in California to officially embrace tiny houses as a means of combating homelessness.

Speaking to the Mercury News, Ray Bramson, the city’s homeless response manager, notes that the tiny houses, so en vogue with middle-class downsizers and flexibility-seeking Millenials, would serve as a sort of “temporary stopping point” while the city constructs 500 affordable apartment units over the next several years.

“This law really is the first of its kind,” Bramson tells the Mercury News. “It will allow us to create bridge housing opportunities — a stable place people can live and stay while they’re waiting to be placed in a permanent home.”

Tiny houses with a big impact

San Jose will soon launch a competition seeking designs for the diminutive housing units. The emphasis, according to the Mercury News, will be on “innovative features, cost effectiveness and replicability.”

The legislation, Assembly Bill 2176, dictates that single-person “emergency shelter cabins” must measure at least 70 square feet while standalone shelters for couple must be no less than 120 square feet. Each unit must be insulated, wired for electricity, include at least one lighting fixture and be topped with a weatherproofed roof. And this is a biggie: Each tiny house must also include a privacy lock.

Tiny houses, often bespoke and kitted out with high-tech bells and whistles, are generally in the 200 to 300-square-feet range in a non-transitional housing context. So, yes, 70 square feet is on the extremely petite side for a tiny house.

As for location, it would appear that San Jose is following in the footsteps of cities such as Austin, Texas, and Olympia, Washington, by establishing transitional micro-housing villages. Although sites have not been selected — and this may prove to be tricky part — the new law states that the tiny houses must be placed on city-owned or leased land no less than a half-acre. Each cluster of tiny houses, referred to in the bill as “emergency bridge housing communities,” would include on-site supportive services and bathroom facilities.

“It was huge for the governor to sign this because it’s outside-the-box and no one else has done it,” Assemblywoman Campos announced in a statement. “Other big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles will be looking at what we do here. We had to do something because what we were doing wasn’t working.

It’s interesting that Campos mentions Los Angeles, a city where officials have yet to embrace the concept of tiny houses for the homeless but where private citizens have.

Such is the case of Elvis Summers, a power drill-wielding mohawked Angeleno that, in the absence of action from city officials, stepped up and decided to do something for his neighbors living on the streets of South L.A.

In 2015, Summers and a team of volunteers began constructing dozens of tiny houses, each costing about $1,200 to build. For financing, Summers launched a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised big bucks and garnered international media attention.

However, not long after the recipients of Summers’ hand-built micro-shelters began to get accustomed to sleeping with honest to goodness roofs over the heads, L.A. sanitation workers, under orders from City Hall, began an aggressive crackdown on the structures. While some were saved by Summers and temporarily moved to private property, others were impounded by the city.

Why?

It’s simple: The brightly hued tiny homes built and distributed by Summers failed to meet the very same stringent building and safety codes that San Jose will soon be smartly bypassing.

http://www.mnn.com/your-home/remodeling-design/blogs/san-jose-tackle-homelessness-tiny-houses

After a California couple called off their wedding, the bride-to-be’s family decided to turn the $35,000 extravagant event into a feast for the homeless.

The bride’s mother, Kari Duane, said Sunday that rather than cancel the reception, they invited Sacramento’s homeless for a once in a lifetime meal Saturday at the Citizen Hotel, one of the city’s finest venues.

Duane said her 27-year-old daughter called her Monday to tell her she and her fiance had decided not go through with the wedding. Soon after, the family decided to share the nonrefundable event with the less fortunate.

“Even though my husband and I were feeling very sad for our daughter, it was heartwarming to see so many people be there and enjoy a meal,” Duane said.

She said they had already paid for a reception that would have hosted 120 guests. About 90 homeless single people, grandparents and whole families with newborns showed up and enjoyed a meal that included appetizers, salad, gnocchi, salmon, and even tri-tip. Some even dressed up for the occasion.

Erika Craycraft arrived with her husband and five children.

“To lose out on something so important to yourself and then give it to someone else is really giving, really kind,” Craycraft told KCRA-TV.

Part of the wedding price tag includes a nonrefundable honeymoon, so on Sunday mother and daughter set off for Belize.

“I hope that when she looks back at this, she knows she was doing something good with a bad situation,” Duane said.

Police say a homeless man sleeping inside a garbage bin survived two compaction cycles after the bin was emptied into a trash truck.

Fremont police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques said Tuesday the 44-year-old man was sleeping inside a large trash bin behind a restaurant when a trash truck collected it and used the compactor.

Bosques tells the Oakland Tribune the truck then traveled to a fast food restaurant, collected trash from another bin there and again used the compactor.

She says the man crawled out through an opening in the roof the next time the truck stopped at another store.

Bosques says the man was very lucky to have survived the compaction without serious injuries.

The man, who suffers from mental health issues, was taken to a hospital to be checked.

http://nypost.com/2015/12/09/man-asleep-in-garbage-bin-suvives-trash-compactor/

Every Tuesday night, Joan Cheever hits the streets of San Antonio to feed the homeless. In a decade, she’s rarely missed a night. But on a recent, windy Tuesday, something new happens.

The police show up.

“He says we have to have a permit,” Cheever says. “We have a permit. We are a licensed nonprofit food truck.”

Cheever runs a nonprofit called the Chow Train. Her food truck is licensed by the city. On this night, she has loaded the back of a pickup with catering equipment and hot meals and driven to San Antonio’s Maverick Park, near a noisy downtown highway.

Officer Mike Marrota asks to see her permit.

Documents are produced, but there’s a problem: The permit is for the food truck, not her pickup. Cheever argues that the food truck, where she cooks the meals, is too big to drive down the alleyways she often navigates in search of the homeless.

“I tell you guys and the mayor, that we have a legal right to do this,” Cheever says to Marrota.

Marrota asks, “Legal right based on what?”

The Freedom of Religion Restoration Act, Cheever tells him, or RFRA, a federal law which protects free exercise of religion.

The officer isn’t buying it. He writes her a ticket, with a fine of up to $2,000, making clear that San Antonio tickets even good Samaritans if they don’t comply with the letter of the law.

The National Coalition for the Homeless says upwards of 30 cities have some kind of ban on distributing free food for the homeless. Many, including San Antonio, want to consolidate services for the homeless in one location — often, away from tourists.

Does invoking RFRA give Cheever and other good Samaritans license to ignore the law?

“That is not, actually, an easy question to answer,” says Michael Ariens, law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. “RFRA applies when the government of any type substantially burdens an individual’s free exercise of religion.”

The key phrase is “substantially burdens,” Ariens says.

“RFRA doesn’t allow any do-gooder to simply to do whatever they wish — to make a law onto themselves without interference from local or state government,” he says.

Cheever complains that San Antonio has joined other cities in turning feeding the homeless into a crime.

On the next Tuesday night, Cheever is back in Maverick Park, risking another ticket. She could even be arrested.

But this time there are no police. Cheever and her Chow Train volunteers are greeted by dozens of supporters and homeless people.

“It warms my heart, but it doesn’t surprise me, because the community is behind me and they are behind every other nonprofit that does what I do,” she says.

In late June, Cheever says, she will challenge the ticket in court.

http://www.npr.org/2015/06/13/413988634/when-feeding-the-homeless-runs-afoul-of-the-law

By the end of 2015, the chronically homeless population of Utah may be virtually gone. And the secret is quite simple:

Give homes to the homeless.

“We call it housing first, employment second,” said Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force.

Even Pendleton used to think trying to eradicate homelessness using such an approach was a foolish idea.

“I said: ‘You guys must be smoking something. This is totally unrealistic,'” Pendleton said.

But the results are hard to dispute.

In 2005, Utah was home to 1,932 chronically homeless. By April 2015, there were only 178 — a 91 percent drop statewide.

“It’s a philosophical shift in how we go about it,” Pendleton said. “You put them in housing first … and then help them begin to deal with the issues that caused them to be homeless.”

Chronically homeless persons — those living on the streets for more than a year, or for four times in three years, and have a debilitating condition — make up 10 percent of Utah’s homeless population but take up more than 50 percent of the state’s resources for the homeless.

The Homeless Task Force reported it costs Utah $19,208 on average per year to care for a chronically homeless person, including related health and jail costs. Pendleton found that to house and provide a case worker for the same person costs the state about $7,800.

“It’s more humane, and it’s cheaper,” Pendleton said. “I call them ‘homeless citizens.’ They’re part of our citizenry. They’re not them and us. It’s ‘we.'”

For six years, Suzi Wright and her sons, DJ and Brian, shuttled among friend’s homes, a van and the Salt Lake City homeless shelter.

After Utah gave Wright a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, she got a job as a cleaning supervisor at her apartment complex.

“It makes you feel a lot better about yourself, just being able to support your family,” Wright said.

Those given apartments under the Housing First program pay rent of 30 percent of their income or $50, whichever is greater.

Army veteran Don Williams had been sleeping under a bush for 10 years when Utah offered him an apartment.

When he realized they weren’t joking, he “jumped for joy,” he said, laughing. “It was a blessing. A real blessing.”

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/utahs-strategy-homeless-give-them-homes-n352966

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the principal church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, has installed a watering system to keep the homeless from sleeping in the cathedral’s doorways.

The cathedral is the home church of the Archbishop. There are four tall side doors, with sheltered alcoves, that attract homeless people at night.

“They actually have signs in there that say, ‘No Trespassing,’” said a homeless man named Robert.

But there are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.

The shower runs for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways, and soaks homeless people, and their belongings.

The water doesn’t clean the area. There are syringes, cigarette butts, soggy clothing and cardboard. There is no drainage system. The water pools on the steps and sidewalks.

A neighbor who witnessed the drenching said, “I was just shocked, one because it’s inhumane to treat people that way. The second thing is that we are in this terrible drought.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homeless said, “It’s very shocking, and very inhumane. There’s not really another way to describe it. Certainly not formed on the basis of Catholic teachings.”

A cathedral staff member confirmed the system was installed, perhaps a year ago, to deter the homeless from sleeping there.

https://cbssanfran.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/homeless-saint-marys-cathedral-archdiocese-san-francisco-intentionally-drenched-water-sleeping/?preview=true&preview_id=471419&preview_nonce=a7ea4dcc06

UtahReducesHomelessness011814

Earlier this month, Hawaii State representative Tom Bower (D) began walking the streets of his Waikiki district with a sledgehammer, and smashing shopping carts used by homeless people. “Disgusted” by the city’s chronic homelessness problem, Bower decided to take matters into his own hands — literally. He also took to rousing homeless people if he saw them sleeping at bus stops during the day.

Bower’s tactics were over the top, and so unpopular that he quickly declared “Mission accomplished,” and retired his sledgehammer. But Bower’s frustration with his city’s homelessness problem is just an extreme example of the frustration that has led cities to pass measures that effective deal with the homeless by criminalizing homelessness.

•City council members in Columbia, South Carolina, concerned that the city was becoming a “magnet for homeless people,” passed an ordinance giving the homeless the option to either relocate or get arrested. The council later rescinded the ordinance, after backlash from police officers, city workers, and advocates.

•Last year, Tampa, Florida — which had the most homeless people for a mid-sized city — passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they saw sleeping in public, or “storing personal property in public.” The city followed up with a ban on panhandling downtown, and other locations around the city.

•Philadelphia took a somewhat different approach, with a law banning the feeding of homeless people on city parkland. Religious groups objected to the ban, and announced that they would not obey it.

•Raleigh, North Carolina took the step of asking religious groups to stop their longstanding practice of feeding the homeless in a downtown park on weekends. Religious leaders announced that they would risk arrest rather than stop.

This trend makes Utah’s accomplishment even more noteworthy. In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015.

How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.

It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.

http://www.nationofchange.org/utah-ending-homelessness-giving-people-homes-1390056183

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.