Op-ed: It’s not rocket science to solve homelessness

The issue of homelessness is a Gordian knot that for years has perplexed not only elected officials, but also the citizens of Berkeley, in particular our business community.

While many solutions have been proposed and implemented, and millions of dollars spent, the net result is a 53% increase in the un-sheltered homeless population. This should make one pause and ask, “Why is that?”

In order to answer that question we must first understand that current policy is either to criminalize the homeless or is charity-based, handing out sandwiches and a pat on the head. Well-meaning efforts to address this issue have resulted in conclusions like that reached by Jesse Arreguín’s Homeless Task Force. Their final report can be summed up by saying the solution is homeless people just need to get in touch with themselves, either through yoga or meditation.

At the end of the day, there lacks a strategic plan on how to solve the homeless conundrum. We simply throw money at the problem, demanding little or no accountability for the money spent, and we hope things get better.

For several months now I have circulated a detailed, strategic plan on how to solve homelessness. It starts out with simply identifying who gets the first bite of an ever-shrinking resource pie. Is it the 72-year-old man dying of cancer, or the free spirit content to roam the highways and byways of America?

Currently myself and councilman Laurie Capitelli have in place a strategy to determine if Tiny Houses can be an interim solution until a more permanent one one can be found. Additionally I have placed on each councilmember’s desk two specific proposals. When both are implemented it will immediately reduce the homeless population by 20%. After six months the net cost to the city is zero.

In order to solve homelessness what must first happen is the political will and a concrete commitment must be embraced. This mandates a change of attitude that we are going to provide a hand up and not a hand out. The days of non-accountability must end. That for every dollar invested there will be a measurable return on investment. Next we must have a strategic plan that incorporates short-, medium- and long-range goals. In the long term we must creatively provide housing for very low-income people, not only for those who are presently on the streets, but for all who need it.

We can continue the same course of action, or we can decide to radically change it. Only when we, the community, demand a change will it ever happen. Despite claims from within the community that that they really want to solve the problem, change can only happen if its foundation is grounded in community response.

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Mike Lee is a homeless advocate, candidate for mayor of Berkeley, former President of the San Francisco Union of The Homeless, and a member of the National Union of the Homeless Organizing Team.