We all want to solve homelessness and get everyone housed. However, the devil’s in the details. How do we do that? As expected, it can be a lot more complicated than it would appear at a superficial glance.
It turns out that even when there’s money to create housing or shelters, and put people in that housing or these shelters, there can be signfiicant problems and waste.
Let’s begin with the city of Albany’s attempt to move the homeless campers out of the Albany Bulb in and into other housing/shelters. It wasn’t working to have homeless people move into a city park, the Albany Bulb, and camp anywhere and everywhere — often hauling in building materials and constructing elaborate shacks, and bringing in chain link fencing to create dog runs for aggressive pit bulls. The “homeless” population grew, and people going to the park for recreation or exercise were increasingly uncomfortable. So the City moved to evict the campers. The first squandering of resources occurred when several agencies helping the homeless banded together to sue the City of Albany. So now the city had to spend a lot of money which it might have otherwise been able to spend on other things, simply fighting in court for its right to evict campers from the city’s own land.
Once the city won the right to evict the campers, they spent $570,000 on assistance and setting up temporary shelters in trailers next to the Bulb. They spent a lot to set up these shelters, but the shelters were hardly used. The legal aid groups representing the Bulb residents made a serious of disingenuous arguments about why the trailer shelters weren’t any good:
“They also said many Bulb residents would not have been able to access the trailers due to physical disabilities, there would not have been enough beds for all evicted residents, and that the trailers would not have offered people the right to privacy they enjoyed in their homes on the landfill.”
So the city spent money offering she shelters which weren’t even used. One wonders how Bulb residents with physical disabilities had no trouble living in a place accessible only by often rough dirt roads and narrow trails, with no running water, no toilets, no showers, and no trash facilities, up to a mile distant from the nearest paved road, but apparently were unable to enter a heated building with toilet and shower facilities, just off the paved road. One wonders, too, how people attain a “right to privacy” when they are given free shelter.
Though each Bulb resident who moved out got $3000 to assist them in obtaining permanent housing, apparently few of them used that to land such housing. Who knows what they spent it on — perhaps they bought a tent and furniture and put it on the sidewalk, or perhaps they spent it all on drugs in one big happy party weekend. Once again, wasted resources in helping the homeless.
There are many government agencies that offer support and housing subsidies to the homeless. You may have read my story about the support given by Shelter Plus to the wrong kinds of people — John Kaipaka received a housing subsidy from them in 2013, in spite of the fact that John had been a serial squatter since 2002 at least, and had 7 unlawful detainer lawsuits on his record. The owner of the apartment he moved into in October 2013 would file the 8th unlawful detainer suit on him, and would be forced to stand by helplessly for 7 months as John Kaipaka proceeded to destroy her entire apartment, tearing out cabinet faces, ceiling tiles, plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures, doors and other parts, ripping out each fixture and selling it, apparently to feed his addiction to methamphetamine. Why was Shelter Plus giving a housing subsidy to such a destructive and depraved person, who did not deserve it, and who would exploit their help in order to continue on a path of serial squatting and destruction of other’s property? This was not only an enormous waste of resources, but it was also unethical, as the housing subsidy provided to John simply enabled him to engage in squatting and criminal activity and destroy someone’s property with impunity.
The two prominent leaders of the “First they Came for the Homeless” group, Mike Lee and Mike Zint, both received housing assistance. They both obtained housing through the “Rapid Re-Housing” program, which has the aim of providing a series of graduated subsidies, in order to immediately get people off the streets and into housing. The subsidies are graduated, starting initially with higher subsidies and gradually reducing the subsidy, with the aim that the individual eventually is able to stand on their own two feet and pay for their own housing. This letter explains how Rapid Rehousing works:
In spite of the fact that as leaders of this political group, both Lee and Zint were very well versed in laws about camping in public places, assistance offered by homeless service agencies, and opportunities for assistance with housing, apparently neither of them understood that thru Rapid ReHousing, they were not receiving a lifetime housing subsidy. MIke Lee claimed that he was never told that his housing assistance was coming through this program.
After receiving notice of his rent increase, Mike Lee said this — and indicated he would be “fighting” the attempt to require him to start paying more rent:
Well here we go again. Yesterday I caused an e mail to be sent to you concerning my continuing battle with the HUB.
This is the response I got from Council Member Linda Maio“Hi Mike,
We are in an imperfect world, that is for sure.
Anyone who has been housed through the Hub using rapid rehousing dollars has been told that the rental subsidy is time-limited and that there are step increases in rent leading towards the person sustaining the rent themselves. Rapid rehousing is very different from permanent rental subsidies such as Section 8 that limit the rent to 30% of income. Some people have gotten room mates to offset the costs. I wish it were different. “
I appreciate Council Member Maio’s rapid response but I must respectfully disagree with her statement. At no point was I told I was being extended “rapid rehousing” In fact while I’m familiar with the term I am an opponent of such a strategy in that it has never been successfully implemented excepted in limited cases. To clarify rapid rehousing I took the opportunity last night to ask Paul B about my situation, He then confirmed what I already knew about the strategy but couldn’t share with me how it was implemented.
This morning I did some initial research and discovered the funding source for rapid rehousing is HUD. I can confidently state that rules were not followed in that I was never informed or consented to rapid rehousing, You will not find my signature on any document, contract, etc that proves an existence of informed consent. If such knowledge was held by me in accepting this housing then Council Member Maio’s statement would be correct. What I do have is a lease and a program blurb stating what my rent contribution is for the next year.
At no time was I told there would be increases. Again you will not find my signature on any document which details those increases such as date and amount.
Council Member Maio goes on to say that some people have gotten room mates to offset the cost. Is this allowed? I doubt it. You know me. If you tell me “Hey Mike you can have room mates why shucks I’d personally solve the homeless problem by myself by building bunk beds and installing them in the living room. I’d be going around saying to people “Hey buddy got a tent?” “I’ve got a back yard you can set up in.” “Hey buddy living out of your car?” “I’ve got a parking space you can use, lots of hot water and food in the fridge,” Yes indeed I double dog dare you to tell me I can have room mates. I’ll make it a personal mission to fill this place. Obviously my point here is I believe if the Council Member thinks about it a realization will occur that encouraging me to have room mates is the last thing you want to do.
At this time I would like to set this aside for a moment and await judicial review of this matter.
For quite some time now I have been an informal liason between the Council and the homeless community, As such each one of you is aware that I personally speak with people everyday and explain to them that if they want housing they have to go through the HUB. Yes I’ve also explained to people the challenges of doing so but remain insistent they apply. Once the DailyCal article came out, there was a buzz on the streets. I spent a lot of time revisiting people saying see it works there’s no reason not to at least try. For Thanksgiving I hosted a dinner for members of five different encampments to show them the reality of my changed situation. Everyday before that dinner and even after people drop by to shower, charge cell phones, find something to eat. More importantly they find a reason to hope and a strengthened resolve. Now I’m planning a Christmas dinner which will be even bigger because the community when asked has pitched in what it can.
The reason I share this with you is not to blow my own horn. After all my housing circumstance only changed because I followed your advice. Consider this for a moment. I a single individual sharing a very real positive experience with people still in the doorway and hopefully there is a positive reception to this message and they take those steps they need to get off the sidewalk. Now if this positive is transformed into a negative experience what do you think the outcome will be? I can state without a doubt homeless people will dig in their heels and cite the fact that if they can do this to Mike they’ll do it to me, What do you think the community reaction will be? 95% of this household is furnished by your constituents do you really think they will remain silent?
At the end of the day whether you are concerned about this situation or not I will not voluntarily move. I will contribute my share of the bargain as I understand it but will not allow the initial agreement to change.
I spent two years to get here I’ll spend the next two years fighting to keep it, The reasonable and rational thing to do which is beneficial to all parties is to allow the agreement to run its course over the next two years as agreed upon. Accepting the fact that the HUB may have made a bad deal but their error has nothing to do with me. By allowing them to strip me of my housing in essence assigns any penalty related to their error to me. This is inherently unfair.
As for Mike Zint, he was also taken by surprise when he received a rent increase. He posted on the First They Came for the Homeless group about this:
When they received notice of a rent increase as of Jan 1 2018, in line with a gradual reduction in the size of the subsidy they were receiving, they both expressed surprise and indignation, and announced that they would soon be homeless again. Why were these individuals ever given help through the Rapid ReHousing program, which aims at getting people on their own two feet and paying their own way, when they were both unable or unwilling to pay their own way? Were they not told what program they were obtaining assistance from? Again, a squandering of resources — giving people assistance through the wrong type of program. You can’t sign someone up on a program that aims to get them “standing on their own two feet” when they have no interest in or ability to stand on their own two feet and simply want a lifelong housing subsidy.
Speaking of housing subsidies…as is fairly well known at this point, it is difficult for low income persons to obtain housing subsidies in the state of California. Many waitlists for public housing are completely closed, such as the one in San Francisco. Though the waitlist for Public Housing and subsidized housing in Los Angeles is stated to be open, the details show that the waitlist was most recently open for 2 weeks in October 2017, and had not been open prior to that since 2004…more than 12 years prior. So one could have to wait 12 years to get the chance to be on a waitlist…and then, once on the waitlist, the average wait time is 53 months, or over 4 years. “Persons who were issued a voucher in the preceding 12 months waited an average of 53 months on the waiting list1.”
Given that landing a spot in public housing or with a Section 8 voucher is so difficult, given the fact that demand far outstrips supply, actually winning a spot would be much like winning the lottery — something to celebrate. However, there is evidence to show that a great many people who obtain public housing, end up squandering this opportunity. Taking a look at the San Francisco Superior Court Website, and doing a case search under “San Francisco Housing Authority” reveals the problem. San Francisco Housing Authority owned the public housing in the City of San Francisco until the point a few years ago where the city sold off all its public housing.
A search of Unlawful Detainer cases filed by the San Francisco Housing Authority reveals that over a period of 17 years from year 2000 to year 2017, the SF Housing Authority filed about 3050 Unlawful Detainer cases. As of 2014, San Francisco owned 5000 units of public housing — it had fewer in 2000. If we assume that the average number of units of public housing from 2000 to 2017 was in the range of 3000 to 3500 units, then the number of unlawful detainer cases filed from 2000 to 2017 would indicate that over a span of 20 years, San Francisco Housing Authority would file an unlawful detainer suit to remove a squatter or nonpaying tenant from 100% of public housing units.
These statistics demonstrate two things. First they indicate the enormous expense for city government in providing public housing — not only the subsidies, and the repairs and maintenance, but also the legal expense to remove those who have stopped paying rent.
But second and more important — a very large number of people who are receiving very generous housing subsidies, are unable to follow through on their responsibility to pay a very reasonable and low amount of rent for housing in a part of the nation where housing is very expensive. Many people are being given housing assistance, who fail on their responsibilities that are required to keep that housing, and then have to be evicted, perhaps becoming homeless again, and then again demanding help from the public.
What kind of accountability and responsibility is appropriate to require of people who receive housing assistance? How much help do we give to people, and watch it go to waste, before we stop helping them? What do we do with people who are unable or unwilling to help themselves, and simply demand more and more assistance? These are questions that need to be explored, as we attempt to address the difficult and challenging homeless quandary.