To The Editor:
I was pleased to read the article informing the Council about Santa Paula Project HOPE. I am a member of this committee, but I want to give my personal opinion about a few things that were mentioned at the meeting.
First, the crime issue. While it is certainly true that some people who are homeless commit crimes, the vast majority do not. I want to make this clear: being homeless does not make you a criminal! At the same time I want to say how much I appreciate all the help and guidance that Chief McLean has provided our commitee. He gave valuable information and his concerns cannot be ignored. We certainly want to work with law enforcement, and we do not excuse criminal activities.
But helping our homeless people is much more that just identifying those that cause problems. It involves us understanding the problems these people face and finding solutions tailored to their needs. It especially involves compassion for our fellow humans in our community. Having help and support not only from Spirit of Santa Paula and the faith community, but also from Santa Paula Police Department and the Ventura County Behavioral Health and Ventura County Human Services Agencies has been essential. Any progress made in helping those in critical need has been due to collaboration all-around.
Here’s the most important thing - the key to helping homeless people is housing! And so I want to address Councilwoman Gherardi’s comments regarding helping those that can be helped and dealing with those that can’t be helped, and also Chief McLean’s comments regarding those who don’t want help and don’t want to follow the rules:
1. There is no one that can’t be helped unless they are dead.
2. It’s not that people don’t want help, it’s that they don’t want what we are offering them (or we are not offering them what they need - a safe place to live).
A Housing First approach has been found to work throughout the United States in helping to end homelessness. That means that first we get people in housing - a safe place to live - then we offer the services that are needed. I know that most agencies always used the concept that a person has to get “cleaned up” and “fixed up” before they are “housing ready”. That approach is not correct. I cannot imagine trying to beat a substance abuse issue while living on the streets. I cannot imagine trying to heal from physical illness on the streets. I cannot imagine trying to treat mental illness while living on the streets. But it is possible when you are housed. If you think about it, it makes sense. Most people with substance abuse issues, physical disabilties, mental illness, etc., are housed.
In following HUD’s (Department of Housing & Urban Development) lead, our community’s goal must be: To Make Homelessness Rare, Brief, and Non-Recurring. To do this we must find ways to prevent homelessness and to house people as soon as possible with appropriate services, if needed. All agencies that receive funding from HUD are strongly urged to have the same goal, and to use a Housing First Approach (funding can depend on this!). How we do this is what our Committee is learning. The learning curve is steep, but we are all passionate for this cause. I personally believe that as we inform the community and with their support and that of the Council, we can reach that goal. I do hope that the Council has the upcoming El Nino in mind, and that we can work together in finding ways to make shelter available this Winter.
For information about Housing First and how it works, there is plenty of information available here:
I encourage anyone who has an interest or concern to read and be informed. Please be part of the solution!
Advocate & former homeless person, and member of
Santa Paula Project HOPE