Guest opinion column submitted by David Warren–
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:9. At a recent city council meeting in Citrus Heights, an articulate community member speaking on behalf of a number of mothers expressed concern about the homeless in our community, especially in Rusch Community Park. The speaker spoke about being accosted by aggressive individuals asking for money, drug paraphernalia as a hazard in the parks, along with the homeless sitting and sleeping in public spaces with an unclean and bad smelling appearance.
The speaker feared that children playing in the park could be harmed by one of the homeless; the danger of unsanitary conditions because of no access to showers or toilets; and the drug paraphernalia which is too often found lying about would endanger children. The concerns are genuine, appropriately focusing attention on the significant problem of the homeless and habituated. However, none of the councilmembers who responded to the speaker replied in a constructive manner.
In his response, Councilmember Bret Daniels did not suggest that the residents contact Assemblymember Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), State Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), Board of Supervisor Sue Frost or Congressman Ami Bera to ask for more funding for treatment and housing. Instead, he has previously mused about the fact that the voters did not understand what they were voting for with criminal reform ballot propositions 47 and 57.
Although Citrus Heights identified about 85 homeless individuals in its most recent survey, there are only 75 treatment beds available in Sacramento County for the more than 2,000 homeless people living in the county. Some complain that these homeless individuals are not incarcerated because of laws which prefer rehabilitation to arrest and prosecution.
Councilmember comments during the Aug. 24 council meeting failed to explain to those present that (1) habituation is a nationally recognized illness and cannot be resolved by the revolving door of the penal system; (2) that since Governor Ronald Reagan systematically closed California’s mental health facilities followed by President Reagan terminating the National Mental Health Care Act which would have provided for mental health and habituation treatment beds in California, the only mental health beds constructed in California in the last 40 years are pursuant to a federal court order for a prison in Stockton; (3) because of the high cost of rental housing, the working homeless cannot find a place to live; and (4) if the homeless are forcibly ejected from Rusch Park, where they will go.
The community member apparently forgot that each homeless individual is the son or daughter of a parent that had the same fears for their children. The speaker ignored the possibility that in the future — for reasons beyond their control — one of the speaker’s children, or a friend’s child, would be one of the homeless or habituated about whom the speaker complained. If the speaker had no sympathy for the homeless now, who would offer sympathy for the potential homelessness or habituation of their children in the future?
The cause of homelessness is so complex that it cannot be addressed in full here. However, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, young people aging out of foster care, and the lack of affordable housing are significant causes. Homelessness is not a crime, it is an unfortunate consequence of economic change and health issues.
Ballot Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, was an effort in 2004 to address the problem. Unfortunately, the California legislature has refused to provide the necessary appropriations to build the treatment facilities and/or provide funding for mental health and habituation treatment. Because of advances in technology, many middle-income jobs have disappeared, leaving behind individuals who want to work, but cannot. Unemployment is one cause of increased rates of domestic violence and divorce, leading to increased homelessness of single mothers and children.
There are very few people that do not empathize with people that suffer from cancer or permanent injuries suffered from an automobile accident. Yet, when we see a homeless individual, the only thought is: “not in my back yard.” Instead, we should be asking where is the funding for (1) treatment for the mentally ill and habituated; (2) a safe place for women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse and aged out foster care children who have no place to call home, (3) or the families of the unemployable that want to work, but lack the skills to find employment which pays enough to pay rent.
Unlike Jesus, who did not turn away from the lepers (Gospel of Luke 17:11-19), our city council and the residents present at the Aug. 24 council meeting appeared to want only one thing, to move the homeless to make them someone else’s problem, instead of demanding help for the homeless and habituated.
All Citrus Heights residents, our city council, especially Councilmember Daniels who wishes to become the Sacramento County Sheriff, would be well served to remember Charles Dickens immortal words, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”
The proper question we should be asking, especially if a son or daughter might become an unfortunate homeless resident of Rusch Park, is where will the homeless receive the help they need in Citrus Heights?
David Warren is a Citrus Heights resident and legislative advocate at the State Capitol with Taxpayers for Public Safety. He can be reached at David@forpublicsafety.com.
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