A few years ago, while walking from the Downtown Riverside Metrolink station to my office, I remember noticing what looked like a tent city hidden in the trees and bushes alongside the 91 freeway. Mostly hidden from view, it seemed to be a safe haven for dozens of homeless people, but it wasn’t long before all of that foliage was removed to make way for an expansion of the 91. As trees and bushes were cleared and the dirt hillside slowly gave way to an extra eastbound lane, I wondered where all of those people had gone, and it got me thinking a bit about the issue of homelessness in the Inland Empire. Tackling the problem of homelessness is always tough for cities, who have to strike a balance between providing short-term help in the form of food and shelter, and providing long-term help in the form of transitional housing and mental health care, all while protecting the safety of all residents.
Every two years, the County of Riverside conducts a homeless count, which reports the number of people living in shelters, on the streets, under bridges, and so on. The good news is, the 2015 survey results show that homelessness in the county is down by 17 percent, compared to the results of the 2013 survey. The bad news is, there are still 2,467 homeless adults and children in the county, and of those, only 880 (about 36%) were living in temporary shelters or transitional housing. In October 2013, the Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG) conducted a survey of its member jurisdictions on the issue of homelessness, and a majority of cities responded. The survey found that 75 percent of respondents believed that they had a problem with homelessness, but about 33 percent did not know how many homeless people were in their jurisdiction. About 73 percent were willing to contribute resources to address the issue. So what are some of the solutions?
In the survey, WRCOG jurisdictions offered a number of suggestions, including:
- Establishing permanent shelters,
- Temporary voucher programs for overnight hotel stays,
- Lobbying for more funding to support programs for the homeless, and
- The development of a regional homeless resource center that provides workforce training.
But none of these suggestions alone will provide a sustainable solution to the problem of homelessness. It will take a combination of short-term and long-term solutions, to not only give homeless residents a roof and a hot meal, but to also provide them with workforce training. Many chronically homeless people also suffer from mental health issues and substance abuse, and any solutions to homelessness will have to address this problem. Tight city and county budgets make many of these solutions difficult, but it has been done (check out Coachella Valley Association of Government’s Roy’s Desert Resource Center), and as with many problems facing our communities, solutions are going to have to be creative.
What are some long-term solutions for ending homelessness? What is your city doing to solve homelessness? How could these solutions be funded? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Taylor York. Data linked to sources.