Bramson: Homelessness trumps manners

Over the holidays, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to blast California for its homelessness problem. It’s not news to anyone that there’s a big crisis here and these tweets – coupled with a threat to somehow intervene if our state doesn’t get moving – have actually been a pretty regular overture from the leader of the free world for the past year or so.

He also made a specific point of saying if the state couldn’t figure it out on its own, it must call and “politely” ask for help. I guess he feels like courtesy and manners shouldn’t fall by the wayside even if people are dying outside.

In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a budget last week with $1.4 billion in support for initiatives designed to help people get off the streets and into shelter and housing. It’s the largest funding allocation we have seen to date from the state, but in fairness it’s also the third year in a row that the governor has put forth money to address this issue. While far from perfect, there are some great concepts in the governor’s proposal and it’s heartening to see the state really deepening its efforts and involvement.

That said, if all it takes is a little bow or tip of the hat to the federal government to get it to finally put real resources toward this crisis, I figured I should at least try to draft what a letter might look like:

Please and thank you, Mr. President. We would be very grateful if you would finally invest in meaningful solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors.

But, if you are so kind as to consider this humble request, I beg of you not to go down the misguided path that you and your closest advisors seem to have embraced. In the history of our great nation, criminalizing homelessness has never been an effective strategy. And from the government-sponsored shantytowns of the 1930s to modern day immigration centers, every time we round up people and force them into substandard living conditions the result is despair and disaster.

That said, we still very much would welcome your generous support. And the great news is that there are many ways you can really help, too.

For one, housing vouchers – a tool that you fund and control – have proven to be one of the most effective tools in ending homelessness for populations like families and veterans. For example, since 2010, veteran homelessness has dropped by nearly half as a direct result of the administration infusing hundreds of millions of dollars annually into HUD VASH, a housing subsidy program for veterans. You can do this immediately and make a HUGE impact.

Moreover, I know you’re not necessarily the biggest fan of us “high cost-of-living” states, but for our poorest neighbors this is a real problem. People like seniors and folks with disabilities are on fixed incomes and no amount of bootstrapping is going to help them move up the ladder here. Maybe, if you don’t mind, you could please have someone look at the stagnant public benefits that haven’t moved up in years. A few extra hundred bucks a month for our older adults (who turn out in droves to vote, by the way) could mean a world of difference.

Lastly, we’ve got these amazing set of laws focusing on Fair Housing. I know it’s been super busy since you’ve taken office, but dismantling these protections probably isn’t going to help you get where you want to be. The laws were created to try to work against generations of discrimination that limited economic opportunity for people of color, women and a whole bunch of other citizens who just didn’t get a chance because of who they were. You can make these protections so much stronger and even take a page right out of our book.

We Californians are more than happy to share this burden and are so grateful to have you step up and do your part.

Seems like a modest proposal, right? I doubt I will get a response, but with so many options at the disposal of our chief executive, I think – manners aside – we’d all do well to consider who might be willing and best suited to drive this critical support in the year ahead.

San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Impact Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at rbramson@sbcglobal.net or follow @rbramson on Twitter.

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