Most Americans are just one paycheck away from homelessness, according to an article published by Marketwatch in January 2016. Citing a Princeton College Research Survey, “Approximately 63% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair.” Many families are teetering on the edge.
According to Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates local efforts to aid those without homes in Sacramento, homelessness in our neighboring city increased by 30 percent from 2015 to 2017.
We are seeing similar increases in our own community. As the director of Nevada County’s Health & Human Services Agency, Michael Heggarty, pointed out in a May 2017 op-ed published in The Union newspaper, “Since 2009 the ‘Point in Time Homeless Count’ has averaged about 300 individuals per year. The 2017 count identified 371 people (though the actual number is likely higher), 15 percent of which were children.”
While the problem is increasing, efforts to combat homelessness are also increasing. Coordinated efforts between our local governments, our law enforcement offices, and the many nonprofit and volunteer-run organizations have been ramping up.
In 2016, our local community shelter for the homeless, Hospitality House, placed more than 100 people in permanent housing. This was after a devastating budget cut stripping more than $300,000 from the organization. With a budget that is largely funded by individual donors and community members, Hospitality House, like so many of our homelessness advocacy organizations, relies on the community for backing.
As with many issues facing society, we are better able to offer sustainable solutions when efforts are supported and coordinated.
In Nevada County, we have several agencies and organizations working to help people in need of housing in our community.
Homelessness is often a symptom of other issues, or a combination of many factors impacting a family or individual seeking housing. In order to combat the crisis, we must also work in tandem, combatting some of the other issues that may lead to a person or family becoming homeless.
Kayla grew up in Nevada County with a difficult childhood and a homelife that promoted fear. Growing up in an abusive home, Kayla turned to drugs as a teenager for relief and then as a culture of escape. She came to rely on her fellow drug-users as a makeshift family and eventually as a means of making money as she became a dealer. In and out of rehab, with failed attempts at sobriety, Kayla found Hospitality House and their support services.
Hospitality House worked with Kayla and her social worker in order to empower her with coordinated services to help her with treatment and social support, as well as housing. Hospitality House gave her job training while also providing her with a support system while she spent four months living at the shelter in transition. Today, Kayla has two years of sobriety, is living in permanent housing, and has held a stable job in the foodservice sector for over a year.
We are facing a serious housing shortage in California and housing prices have become increasingly unaffordable. Many people who suffer with medical complications, mental illness, or addiction are often more impacted by California’s housing crisis and need a whole-systems approach to housing services.
Nevada County is equipped with the talent and the resources to combat the housing crisis both from the ground up and from the top down. We can help people and families who have fallen on hard times and need rapid rehousing resources. We can help those in need who are burdened by compacted issues such as poverty, domestic violence, illness or addiction.
We cannot allow the daunting task of combatting homelessness fall on any one city, agency, or organization. Nor can we ask a few key community partners to disproportionately shoulder the costs of services. We cannot approach the issue of homelessness as something precipitated by a single cause.
In order to continue effective support we must continue to back coordinated efforts and support those already working. We must see homelessness as a symptom of greater issues in our community. We must see those combatting the greater issues as key players in combatting homelessness and we must ensure that those organizations are supported.
As Nevada County’s District 3 Supervisor, I will continue to support coordinated efforts for sustainable solutions to house-lessness. I will support community organizations already doing the work on the ground. I will support infrastructure to allow community organizations to have access to shared information and resources. When we work together, we work more efficiently and everyone benefits.