Robert Fox on Homelessness

Posted by Robert Fox for Long Beach on Thursday, February 13, 2020
Robert Fox on Homelessness

Just giving housing to the homeless is a failure ready to take place.  When you are dealing with isolated individuals who are on the streets, many skillsets have been lost.  Some got on the streets due to a lack of those skillsets in the first place.   Paying electric bills, paying gas or water bills, paying rent, paying any sort of bill, these are skills that have to be relearned. 

If we just throw the homeless in housing and they don’t know how to manage housing, they will fail. The last thing you want to do is to make the person who you just “rescued” feel completely worthless by setting up a failure for them.  As with any other service-oriented project, we must have a continuum of care to train people to adjust to a new way of living. 

It seems the City is always into BIG solutions when small solutions perhaps work better and are more easily realized.  The purchase of the land for a Homeless Housing Center is mired in controversy.  The City bought the land for 9.5 million dollars, (which shows the intention to do something) However, there is an existing lease on this property for a Marijuana growing consortium, which has an automatic renewal clause in the contract that runs to 2026.   Clearly the City did not know how to read a contract.  Now I understand the City thinks they are going to solve this problem by NOT issuing another business license to this company, which will undoubtedly lead to litigation and more costs.  In the meantime, with an injunction, the City cannot do anything with this property, and the homeless are left out in the dark.

These “Big” idea things are fine but they sometimes really don’t solve the underlying problems.  

Through a lot of research and inquiry, I am convinced that one of the most important issues of homelessness is isolation and loneliness.  When you lose a home and are on the streets, your first instinct is to go into protective mode.  It is not safe on the streets.  Staying away from others is a defense mechanism for survival.  Theft, battery or worse are real issues. The more you isolate, the more fearful and depressed you become.  At that moment any kind of drug looks better than the pain you are feeling.  

If we really want to reverse this condition, we need to deal with the underlying issues.  Yes, housing is important, but we also need to have a continuum of care to guide people back into social behavior. 

Perhaps instead of having huge facilities, we can use our existing multi-service Center for the Homeless and guide people into cooperative living housing.  Renting or purchasing existing properties is far cheaper for the City than creating more warehousing of homeless, who remain mere statistics in the face of that bureaucracy.

I have always believed in Coop Living.   Sharing the responsibility of cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, shopping, paying bills, forming an internal government with house elections.  These are things we can do to assist people back into society’s mode of thinking.   I do advocate supervision on a daily basis to make sure everyone stays on track and so that any issues can be resolved immediately.  We will have to depend upon our Health Department for their great services for care and guidance.

This is a gradual concept of developing skillsets for living. In the end, we will have a better chance of reconnecting people with our world.

Socialization is the key element.  Drug intervention comes after people admit they have a problem and are willing to do whatever it takes to get sober.   The rules of AA are amazing and they work.  It is about counselors and about a group of individuals helping themselves with support and understanding.   Will there be setbacks?  Yes, but if you need more convincing, watch MOM on TV.

Great show by the way.

Let’s create smaller controllable housing cluster units for groups that will assist homeless individuals to integrate back into society.  Less cost, easier to manage, and easier to maintain.

I do have to point out that just getting someone sober or housed is simply not enough.

I have always had that issue with the AA format.   The 12 steps are amazing, but once you are sober, if you don’t have a source of income the resultant depression, anxiety, and self-loathing is far too much for most people and they slip back in the dependency.  In order to forestall that, we need an avenue of employment for people.

We are always screaming about how filthy the highways are, the streets, the parks, the gutters, etc.

We volunteer our time to clean up parks once a month.  Sometimes we adopt a street.

What if the City created a “Cleanscape” program and hired the newly housed homeless community to keep the City clean.  Supervision would be really important but think of the advantage.  Cleaning up parks and the entrance to the city, the adjacent freeways and underpasses would be awesome.  Once one starts to clean an area, you begin to own it.  I am not talking out of theory here, as I used to own a cleaning company, and I can assure you that whatever I was cleaning became my territory.   People in new housing could have a job. We could pay them $15.00 an hour and give them a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.  It is better than doing nothing, and certainly less expensive than funding enforcement and all adjacent services for homeless on the streets.   I would even suggest that this company could be a non-profit that the City links to in order to support the Homeless Solution.  My only concern is that we do not follow the normal path of giving so much to the administration that we don’t serve the homeless.  That sort of control has to be implemented so that our focus is charitable not for profit. 

I have discussed these issues with Marta Abea, who works in Orange County servicing the homeless, removing them from riverbeds and bringing them to service centers and housing.  If she can do this in Orange County then it is clear that there is no federal law preventing Long Beach from doing the same.