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June 18, 2021

Guest View, Mark Turner: Searching for answers in the fight against homelessness

In California’s fight against homelessness, the Governor just announced a $12 billion plan to end homelessness in five years. Combine that with Santa Clara County’s 5-Year Plan to End Homelessness and one might think we are making progress. But it seems the more money the government throws at this problem it only gets worse. 

Santa Clara County spends more than $500 million per year on homeless issues and yet the problem continues to grow. It’s not to say the money hasn’t helped some people, it just hasn’t changed the trajectory of the problem.

Anyone who has spent any time thinking about this issue knows this is a complex problem. We must show compassion for our fellow human beings when they have fallen on hard times, however, this is not to say we should be any less compassionate toward our local businesses and residents, most of whom help provide resources to help those in need.

With that said, I’m not sure we can realistically address the homeless issues without addressing several questions surrounding the homeless issue. This is not an exhaustive list and I’m sure there are other questions worth considering.

Should taxpayers be responsible to fund housing for those who are bent on criminal activities when the criminal element should be in jail?

Should the same approach to helping someone who is down on their luck be taken to help the person who is mentally ill?

Should we consider state-run, permanent compassionate care facilities, for those who are mentally incapable of providing for themselves?

When it comes to affordable housing, can someone who is unable to buy groceries even afford affordable housing?

When we talk about affordable housing, does this really mean free housing?  

For those who are chronically homeless, will simply giving them a home or housing unit really end their problems? If the answer is even partially yes, how can we expedite homeless housing units?

Since 1969, California has required that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. While all cities are required to meet Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers, is there a point for a community like Gilroy where that becomes overwhelming? Is it time to reassess the way RHNA numbers are developed?

Is it possible, not every homeless person wants to be housed?

Why does Gilroy, who has approximately three percent of the county’s population, have 10 percent of the county’s homeless population? What does the homeless situation look like in Los Gatos, Saratoga and Palo Alto?

Should there be some consideration for those who are drug and alcohol addicted to first be required to spend time in a mandatory treatment facility (with no revolving door)?

In a recent audit by the State of California, it was determined that there are nine state agencies working on 41 programs spending more than $4 billion per year and they have not finalized an action plan to address homelessness statewide, prioritized all 18 statutory goals, nor have they developed guidance or identified best practices.

The state could use $2 billion each year of the $4 billion listed above and begin to build state-run compassionate care facilities creating jobs in construction, health care, and food services. The state could build and allow the private sector to run addiction treatment centers geared specifically toward the needs of the homeless population. For cities who are willing to build homeless housing units, the state could reward those cities by providing funding to assist with infrastructure projects and public safety.

It may appear we are radically divided by challenges such as this, but it’s likely, somewhere in the radical middle lie the answers to our problems.

Mark Turner is the President/CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.

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