California should follow three specific steps to end the homeless crisis.(Illustration by Rani Chor)
Glen A. Wilson High School

Opinion: Steps to solve homelessness in California

For Shawn Pleasants, a typical morning means waking up under a tarp in Koreatown and having to check if his things were stolen the night before, he told the Day.

Pleasants is homeless, a Yale graduate with a master’s degree, and he now struggles with a meth addiction, he told the Day. With the help of his community, he managed to find temporary housing, but not everyone is that lucky: roughly 1 in 4 homeless Americans live in California, and 75% live on the streets, according to KNBC. 

To avoid a public health crisis, California needs to approach this issue in three innovative and sustainable ways in which housing, regional coordination, and compassion take priority. 

  1. Create affordable housing in California by utilizing public land, boosting population density and rethinking regulatory barriers.

The unhoused waiting on permanent solutions are left without a temporary home. Emergency shelters provide temporary relief and need to be created in response to extreme weather conditions such as wildfire smoke in California. But unlike the shelters of the 1800s, we need to offer access to case managers and abuse counselors: services that reflect where homeless populations come from.

In the words of architect Elvis Summer, “If people want a beautiful, positive, community, we’ve got to build one.” Cities should retain public land and work community land trust and nonprofits to provide affordable housing for those in the community. 

Take for instance, Moms4Housing, a group of unhoused mothers and their children in Oakland who believe that housing is a human right. Military tanks and AR-15S were sent to evict these families from their homes. However, because of an Oakland Community Land Trust, these moms stand a better chance of getting a home. 

Journalist Steven Greenhut, said in a 2019 Fox Business broadcast that while building affordable housing, existing homes were often demolished. But because the construction process was so slow, this new housing wasn’t built creating an even worse shortage than before. California should standardize development fees that align with housing goals, and loosen strict zoning and environmental laws so that construction for housing is faster and cheaper.

Ben Metcalf, resigned state housing director, cites that nearly ⅔ of California residents live in single-family homes.  Residential density, taller and larger projects with low-income units are critical for California which has soaring housing costs. Skidrow, 50 blocks of tents and human defecation, is in the shadows of some of the biggest tech companies in the world. It is time to employ innovative solutions; like 3D printing 10k houses in less than 24 hours.

However, we can’t just put our unhoused into subsidized housing programs that are in the middle of rich neighborhoods. New housing is facing fierce opposition in some financial districts. But putting spikes in front of windows, or boulders in the middle of sidewalks to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, is the kind of overblown fear that elects that socioeconomic status is more important than someone’s humanity. 

Housing may not instantly cure mental illness, or wipe someone’s criminal record clean, however, with stability and compassion from the community, those emancipated from foster care, prison or those seeking shelter stand a more humane chance of being active working citizens. 

Now that we have established the importance of focusing on housing we can address the issue of not being able to access crucial services.

2. California needs statewide coordination through a homeless management and information service that will collect data so California can better understand the depth of the problem. A homelessness prevention call center can be a lifeline for those in a housing emergency to be connected to see what state or local funding is available, and prevents homelessness from happening in the first place. 

Living on the streets can mean not having access to basic hygiene like bathrooms or showers. It means being criminalized for sleeping on the sidewalks. But the police are not the answer to homelessness. 

We need to remove barriers to access crucial resources, including a state ID card which is vital when to access food stamps and apply for jobs. People can’t leave the state to find cheaper housing because some don’t own a passport. Technology also plays a substantial role: our unhoused need to keep contact with case managers, use the internet to find shelters. Members of the unhoused community join Facebook support groups that have prevented suicides and directed people to treatment.

It is important to have that sense of community, and social media allows for our homeless to have that. Nowadays, not many people carry cash on them. But we can be cashless, but not heartless. Donating money through our phones to apps that will restrict spending to local businesses, like grocery stores and barbers, discourage our unhoused from using your money on drugs and alcohol. 

3. Certainly, a way to counteract the problem is to encourage active participation in our community through volunteering, donating items like food or simply spreading awareness. But that raises another question, how can we get young people like myself to get involved in the homelessness crisis affecting our state?

One way would be encouraging awareness of the issue through volunteering. On January 18, I attended my first volunteer project at St. John Vianney’s Homeless Shelter. I served food, listened to some incredibly heartbreaking stories, but afterward no fire to learn more about the problem kindled in me. More importantly, it did not introduce me to the depth of the homelessness crisis in California.

What we need are school educators and community programs to educate youth on financial literacy, no cause evictions and encourage civic engagement. Artists like myself can raise awareness of the issue through drawing for nonprofits. Students and adults interested in robotics and engineering can craft solar-powered chargers for the homeless. We can build the next generation of innovative thinkers, while also healing generations of people struck by poverty and unemployment. 

Many people never learn to value their homes or cars until they have lived without these privileges. Solving the homeless crisis in California is like creating a just society — don’t split the pie into smaller pieces so everyone gets an equal share, make the pie bigger. Build the process of creating affordable housing, encouraging regional collaboration.

Today we have about how California lawmakers need to rethink regulatory policies in cities and stress the homeless issue over profit in the market. Finally, we mentioned the importance of encouraging our community and our youth to take a more active role in this crisis.

California is known as the land of opportunity, the golden state. We hold hope that all people can fulfill their big city dreams. But dreams start with a bed to sleep in, and a place to stay. Everyone deserves hope and love, that is the true meaning of home and solution to the homeless crisis in California.