December 2, 2015
A Different Approach to Homelessness
The Christian Science Monitor quoted me in In One California Community, a Different Approach to Homelessness. It reads, in part,
On a sunny morning in the beachfront community of Pacific Palisades, Steven “Boston” Michaud perches confidently on a large dock tie just above the sand. He waves vaguely at the hills above the Pacific Coast Highway, indicating where he sleeps. “It’s up there, but you’ll never see me,” he says, pointing to his own shadow on the ground, “because I’m a shadow and I don’t bother anyone.”
Mr. Michaud is one of about 170 homeless people in Pacific Palisades, an affluent waterfront neighborhood in Los Angeles. Pacific beaches have long been a magnet for the homeless from around the world.
Overall, California experienced the second-largest increase in the number of homeless people (1,786 individuals) among the 50 states this past year, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. As their ranks have swelled, some homeless people have edged out of the shadows and have taken up in tidier areas in the Golden State. That, in turn, has attracted the attention of residents – especially when crimes have occurred.
Even Michaud isn’t as invisible as he says he is. A local supermarket took out a restraining order against him.
But some communities in the state think that too much emphasis has been put on law enforcement to deal with homelessness – and not enough on other approaches that account for the needs of homeless people and try to address the root causes of the problem. These places are thus coming up with a new generation of creative ways to deal with the persistent problem of homelessness. Pacific Palisades, which is trying out a private, philanthropic approach, is one of these communities.
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Private philanthropy in support of community needs is not new, says Mr. Berg of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. But what is new and less common in dealing with homelessness, he says, “is the organized approach to philanthropy at the local level.”
While she applauds the ambition of the effort, Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, has concerns about the implications of a privatization approach. “The government’s role is to provide for public needs in critical times,” she says, adding, “This just serves as yet another example of the government stepping away from that role.”
Beyond that, there is the question of who can afford to duplicate the Palisades approach. Raising enough money to hire social services staff is beyond the reach of many communities, says Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss, who specializes in housing policies. “So it is unlikely that Pacific Palisades is going to start a big trend, but a well-intentioned program could be effective locally, like many other community-based initiatives.”| Permalink