I am not offering a “silver bullet” toward “ending homelessness”. I am instead making suggestions toward a long-term solution about homelessness. Many of these directions cannot be completed in a year or two, but neither can solving homelessness.
The big answer to solving the homeless problem is giving the homeless enough space to create their own solutions. The homeless, for the most part, are good citizens, wanting to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors. However, their hands are tied to determining solutions for themselves. They are prevented by excessive chronic stress, harmful public policy that criminalizes normal behavior, and the inability for their leaders to sit at the table and offer their solutions. The homeless can do much to improve their own situations, if they would be given the opportunity to.
When we recognize that each homeless individual has unique issues, and if we are going to allow them to solve their own issues, we know that we must have a broad approach with multiple solutions, reducing the stress of most of the homeless, allowing them space so they can create their own solutions. For the price of one building, multiple sites can be established throughout the county for different purposes, meeting the needs of different kinds of homeless.
1. Sleep stations—Rather than expect shelters to take on the full burden of all the homeless in an urban area, there should be areas where it is legal for the homeless to sleep. The homeless should be allowed to choose their own security people to keep the community safe overnight, and they would be given a safe place to sleep during the day. Each area could be cleared at 8am every morning.
2. Lockers for belongings—The homeless could be granted lockers to keep their possessions secure, and so they don’t have to carry their bedding and tents with them all day. The lockers should be combination locks, able to be changed for new users.
3. Camping: A center for those who wish to camp. Permanent structures such as hogans, yurts or teepees could be provided, as well as electrical outlets, running water and an outdoor BBQ. Public bathrooms would also be provided. A community center with showers, a gathering area and laundry facilities could be provided. There would need to also be some self-policing activity to prevent illegal activity, for if it becomes necessary for the police to make too many arrests, the site would be shut down. The violent or those who sell drugs or alcohol will be kicked out of the facility to go to the sleep station.
4. Forest camping: A section deep in the forest should be provided for those who suffer from mental disorders, where they fear being around other people. Training to surviving the winter in that context could be offered.
5. Parking lot/rest areas: A place for free or inexpensive parking for a limited time (up to six months?), for overnight parking only. This could be for those living in cars, RVs or other vehicles that
cannot be parked on a public street. It can be run by homeless or low income leadership. Each space can provide an electrical outlet, running water and an outdoor BBQ. There could also be a community center providing showers, a TV/meeting room, and basic survival supplies.
6. Tent Cities—More homeless-organized tent cities should be established, on private or public land. If tiny houses could be provided for a permanent structure, that would work well. It would need to be self-sustained, apart from the land.
7. Job training center—Provide training and employment opportunities for all who are homeless, including the opportunity of granting business licenses, and insurance for street entrepreneurs.
8. Shelters—Women’s shelters and couple’s shelters should be provided.
9. Apartment offers—JOIN should still be obtaining apartments for the homeless, but they should focus on those who are able to obtain work and function as their own payees.
These locations and offers should be created without permission of neighborhood associations, or enforcement by normative building codes. Homelessness is an emergency crisis, thus needing emergency solutions. In as much as the code can be followed, it should be. However, acknowledgement of community concern should be noted and compromise with the neighborhood associations should be accommodated, as long as the locations aren’t moved to another neighborhood. Also, each neighborhood should be given training about homelessness and how to deal with the homeless.