The City’s treatment of our homeless residents should build up their dignity and security, not put them out of sight. There is no solution to be found in a “leaf-blowing” response to homelessness, even if it were consistent with human decency. We must invest in persistent, comprehensive, accessible, and safe ways for people to gradually recover from the trauma and degradation of homelessness.
I have met with agencies, non-profits, and many homeless residents to learn about what services are not working and why.
The shelter on Arnold Industrial Way is a prime example of services that are not designed in a way that makes them usable to the people they are supposed to help. For instance:
- There is no way to secure one’s possessions while sleeping. Theft is a major problem, and a devastating one when one has few possessions and no money with which to replace them.
- Spouses are not allowed to stay together. This is unkind to anyone, but particularly so when one considers that many people become homeless because of traumatic events and mental or physical health issues. If someone is helping a spouse who has medical issues or emotionally supporting a spouse through trauma or mental illness, they may not be able to leave that person alone even for the sake of coming in from the cold.
- Dogs are not allowed, so some people cannot take shelter without abandoning a beloved pet that might be their only companion in a hard life on the street.
Hygiene and dignity
Many homeless residents have talked to me about how challenging it is to keep clean. This is a big part of how homelessness becomes a trap: it’s nearly impossible to get a job if you can’t even shower before an interview. One idea I’d like to pursue via some combination of private and City resources is a mobile shower system like the existing and very successful Lava Mae organization in San Francisco. White Pony Express is already working on this in Central Contra Costa, and I am in contact with them to help.
Responding to the variety of situations
Overall, we must stop trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness. Homeless residents fall into many categories, including seniors on Social Security that no longer covers Concord’s rising rents, people with mental illnesses who aren’t receiving the treatment they need, people who have recently lost a job and are trying to get back on their feet, and a few genuinely bad people who make life on the street more difficult and dangerous for all the others. Addressing homelessness will take a nuanced approach and extensive collaboration between agencies and organizations throughout Central Contra Costa, which I intend to facilitate.