SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | Homelessness is a topic commonly swept under the rug not only in America at-large, but all over Alameda County. The San Leandro City Council, this week, discussed those living in the shadows. Although no new plan was unveiled to tackle homelessness, Councilmember Ursula Reed, who had requested the item to be discussed at last Monday's work session, called on her fellow council members to support Senate Bill 391, the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013 and brought affordable housing advocates to provide updated information on the best methods to tackle the issue.
The bill would help fill the void redevelopment fund agencies (RDA) left behind when they were shuttered by Governor Jerry Brown to help stave off further deficit spending. On Monday advocates for housing the homeless said studies prove there is a reduction in personnel problems, including health issues and unemployment, when the homeless are placed in housing. When housed the homeless and their problems, including drug addictions, mental illnesses or debilitating physical conditions can be more effectively dealt with.
The bill is authored by State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, and calls on making legislative finding and declarations relating to “the need for establishing permanent, ongoing sources of funding dedicated to affordable housing development,” according to the bill’s text. The bill would impose a $75 fee at the recording of real estate instrument, paper or notice required by law to be recorded and would utilize those funds to be sent to the Department of Housing and Community Development for deposit in the California Homes and Jobs Trust Fund. No votes are made during work sessions so no action was taken yet to endorse the bill.
Elaine de Coligny, Executive Director for Everyone Home, said a plan adopted by Alameda County hopes to end chronic forms of homelessness by 2020. The plan was adopted by San Leandro in 2006 making it the third city to adopt it in the county. It aims to offer supportive services, expand affordable housing, prevent homelessness before it starts, measure outcomes and report progress and promote long term political will and leadership to combat homelessness. But, according to Coligny, the current rate of reducing homelessness is lagging due to the lack of funding.
“If you are young then homelessness has become a part of your lives but I think most of you here remember a time when homelessness was not normative,” said Coligny, “But it has become normative and it exists because of policies and spending decisions.” Coligny says the lack of funding from all levels, local, state and federal hurts the ability to combat homelessness. Some shelters and programs in Alameda and San Leandro, including Davis Street Family Resource Center and Building Futures receive money from the city but the funds are still not enough. From 2011 to 2012 Building Futures received $17,373 and Davis Street Family Resource received $24,530. The city’s small funding though would find trouble in upping its monetary contribution because of the lack of essential state and federal funds. The state of California contributes some of the least amount of funds to combating homelessness despite having a quarter of the nation's homeless.
In Alameda County alone, 4,200 homeless are on the streets. There is no data that can confirm how much of those are in San Leandro but estimates from housing advocates present at the meeting say it may be anywhere between 200 to 300. Those who are chronically homeless tend to be men and currently there is no shelter in mid-county (Hayward, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Castro Valley) that provides bed and rest to single men. Most shelters, in Alameda County and abroad, focus on women and children although many of these shelters in the area are also filled to the brim. Furthermore according to advocates present, about half of calls that come into local shelters are turned away because of the lack of beds.
Pushing for affordable housing is usually a tough act to sell especially in more upper-income areas because of negative stereotypes such as crime and blight. However, housing would help reduce blight according to advocates and it is relatively cheaper. Coligny says it would only cost $2,000 to $3,000 to house a homeless person. Furthermore, many homeless deal with mental illness and if housed, and then stabilized, they would be less likely to find themselves committing criminal acts that would land them in jail where they would sap far more resources than in subsidized housing. Councilmember Michael Gregory advocated to call affordable housing, “workforce housing,” to help fight off the negative stereotypes associated with it.
Council members asked many questions but commentary was sparse. Mayor Stephen Cassidy thanked President Barack Obama though for stimulus funds after the recession that helped stave off potential homelessness. According to advocates San Leandro has done well in addressing the issue of homeless within the parameters set by limited funds. According to Tom Liao, Planning and Housing Manager for the city, there are about 650 housing units for lower income but that is split between low income seniors, other low income families and the homeless.
Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.