The Best Way to Help Our Homeless Neighbors is to Find Them Shelter ASAP

In addition to serving homeless men and women, The Link also has facilities for families with minor children in Santa Ana on Thursday, November 15, 2018. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

By: Holly J. Mitchell
April 25, 2019 —

Housing is a basic human right. It’s right there in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was created by the United Nations in 1948 and has been signed by every U.N. member nation.

This is not controversial, although we can see on our streets every day that thousands of Californians do not have access to this fundamental human right.

Recognizing this as a fact, I authored Senate Bill 1380 which made California a housing first state, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law in September 2016.

“Housing first” is an evidence-based model that sees housing as a tool to help people recover, not a reward for recovery. This model connects homeless people to permanent housing as quickly as possible by removing barriers that arise when housing is made contingent on participation in programs such as drug and alcohol treatment.

Multiple studies show that between 75 percent and 91 percent of people who are rapidly re-housed are still in their homes a year later. This stands to reason. Sudden homelessness, whether caused by illness, spousal abuse or some other misfortune, frequently triggers a catastrophic cascade of troubles.

The first thing we must do for Californians who have lost their homes, for whatever reason is simple, if not easy: Find them shelter.

While the housing first model does not require sobriety, it clearly encourages sobriety. It has been shown that people who voluntarily sign up for supportive services are more likely to discontinue substance use, participate in job training programs, and attend school.

In advocating for the housing first bill, I pointed out that the model was ripe for adoption in California because we have foundations, charitable groups, churches, and organizations that provide supportive housing and other services. These include programs that require individuals to undergo screenings to assist them in battling addictions.

Under the housing first model, such programs can work hand-in-glove with state-funded programs. Housing first simply says housing, the most fundamental human need, cannot be made contingent on a clean drug test.

Such programs have helped many men, women and children, and we should all commend them for that. And we also now know that leaving people homeless as a way of trying to help them is not ultimately effective. That’s why, when it comes to public dollars, California will continue to invest in the housing first model.

To advance this end, SB 1380 established two more entities: the Homeless Trust Fund—a repository for state, federal and foundation money; and the California Homeless Coordinating Council—to foster collaboration among state agencies and local governments.

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the formation of the Commission on Homelessness & Supportive Housing.

Noting that many victims of homelessness “are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol,” the governor appointed Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg to head the Commission.

This was an obviously appropriate choice. During his tenure in the Legislature, Mayor Steinberg’s most enduring work focused on the intersection of homelessness, mental health and addiction.

Mayor Steinberg and Gov. Newsom are deeply committed to the housing first model.

All Californians who care about our 130,000-plus neighbors forced to live in the streets can be glad our state is committed to getting them housed right away. And after we’ve ensured that they have a safe place to sleep and eat, then we will help them with the other challenges they face.

Holly Mitchell represents Senate District 30 in Culver City and Los Angeles and is chair of the Senate Budget Committee, senator.mitchell@senate.ca.gov.
She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.


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