Immediate Action Needed to Help the Homeless

This idea has been brewing in my head for a while. The other morning my wife, who worked with homeless women and children for years before we were married, sent me a link to an article entitled, City Attempts to Break Up Peaceful Sacramento SafeGround Campground, then yesterday this story, City Police Confiscate Sleeping Bags and Tents from Homeless, and finally this morning the Sacramento Police arrest Sister Libby (of Loaves & Fishes) for camping out.

Here’s a recap of the bigger problem as stated on the Loaves and Fishes website:

Over 1,200 homeless people in Sacramento must sleep outside every night for lack of better options. The shelters are overflowing; thousands are on the waiting lists for housing assistance. Homeless persons, social service agencies and local businesses have joined together to establish a safe, decent, legal campground in Sacramento. [Source]

It’s incredibly frustrating to hear how local governments can’t figure out simple low-cost effective ways of helping people get back on their feet. Instead policy makers make it illegal to be homeless and poor and then continue to get in the way of good people who try to help.

So in my own attempt to help, I’d thought I’d offer up a simple solution to our growing homeless population. If you are a policy maker I implore you to open your mind to WHAT WE CAN DO and for a moment suppress your urges to focus on what can’t be done.

The idea has two parts, a permit and a shelter. But please note these two solutions are not necessarily mutually exclusive and they need additional vetting, so use it as food for thought.

1. Emergency Habitation Permits

Local governments could create a new rule for emergency temporary communities and a process for obtaining permits. This should be fairly low-cost and could even be managed by local law enforcement much like parking permits. These permits could be issued to homeless groups or even people displaced by natural disasters.

The permit itself would allow land owners (individuals, non-profits, businesses, etc) to legally allow others to stay temporarily on their property as long as certain requirements were met such as the maintenance of civil order and the safe handling of waste material. The specific details would need to be decided by each community and reasonably address local concerns.

A council made up of residents would be formed to organize the temporary community to ensure that their responsibilities are met. Each member of the community would be asked to sign an agreement stating that they will uphold the rules of the community. This self governing would help protect the safety of the residents and neighbors.

Local law enforcement would check in on each encampment on a regular basis to ensure that law and order was being maintained. If the temporary community was not abiding to the rules or there was a break down in orderliness the permit would be revoked.

The permit would be renewable in 30-day increments. This would help prevent these temporary communities from becoming semi-permanent shanty towns. It would also add a level or accountability and governance the neighboring communities would most likely require.

shelter-front

shelter-front-door

2. Emergency Temporary Shelters

Instead of tents, simple temporary structures could be allowed. Ideally these shelters would be secure (lockable), insulated, and water proof. Through careful design these simple huts would be heated by passive solar energy and lighting would be provided through low cost photovoltaic solutions. There would need to be a few limitations imposed to keep people safe like no open flames inside the shelters.

The real benefit of the temporary shelters is that it would reduce the overall cost to the community and improve living conditions considerably for the people caught in this emergency homeless situation. It would provide a secure place to sleep and store their belongings. Women and children caught in this kind of situation are particularly at risk and a shelter like this would keep them much safer.

Another very real but more intangible effect would be that people would begin to feel more empowered, independent, and in control of their lives. This simple piece would help people get back on their feet faster.

I’ll continue to work on the design I’ve posted here and provide plans in the next day of two. It is just one way a low cost shelter could be constructed in panels and assembled by novice builders.

Conclusion

The most important piece of this idea is the permit. It would be a simple low-cost way for local governments to make homelessness legal and provide these folks with a way out. It would also allow people like Sister Libby to do her work legally. This idea isn’t intended to solve homelessness; no one solution could do that. But it would help many people get a roof over their heads before winter arrives.

How To Take Action

Update: 17 individuals processed by police department. Sister Libby cited and released.

13 Comments Immediate Action Needed to Help the Homeless

  1. Chrystal Ocean

    As long as NIMBYism is allowed to continue, by virtue of local governments giving the greatest weight to opinions of property owners vs. people without property, then the solutions you propose won’t happen.

    And forget about temporary housing. There’s no shortage of ideas for permanent and cheap – not just ‘affordable’ – housing. Yet the question always remains: Where to put it? And neighbourhood after neighbourhood after neighbourhood … in community after community after community … the answer is always, Not in MY backyard!

    An example of the phenomenon in Canada.

    Reply
  2. Brian

    Again, another way in which Portland, Oregon is ahead of the game. Policy makers, please visit http://www.dignityvillage.org/content/ to see what the City of Portland has done (or rather allowed). This is a homeless camp near the airport, unfortunately away from the core, but on a bus line. There are tiny homes, gardens, communal areas, and a strict code. Many of the homes are similar to those which have been featured here.

    Reply
  3. Uncle S

    So, what happens when the ‘Emergency Habitat” permit expires? Since its an emergency permit, I’m inferring that means temporary.

    There will always be poor people. There will always be people who are unable to take care of themselves. Just because you put people in a shack issues like endemic poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness aren’t going to go away.

    Can you imagine the nightmare images on bloviation outlets Fox or Daily Kos when they have to evict people from their vermin infested, feces polluted shanties? What will you do with the people? Ship them off to the Soylent Factory?

    Reply
  4. Michael Janzen

    Good point Uncle… I agree there are multiple solutions needed, like more low cost permanent housing solutions. I’m simply suggesting that temporary tent cities should be made safer and legal.

    Reply
  5. Jane

    Michael, I think the idea of permits for private landowners would force the city’s hand nicely. Right now, they destroy the encampments out of “concern” for such broad issues as public safety. So if they had legal permits, and oversight, and the communities were generally self-policing, what argument could they then make?

    The fact of the matter is not that the homeless have been terribly disruptive or ill-behaved, but much like the commenter above said, they bring up the “not in my backyard” issue.

    And actually, this is a fairly new phenomena. Up through the late 1950′s, private landowners often did open their farms and fields to those who traveled on foot for logging and farm jobs. There were several such encampments in MN, and the men who used them paid a small fee for things like breakfast and soap, but sleeping was free.

    I hope you get this idea off to the Sac Bee and others.

    Reply
    1. Michael Janzen

      Thanks Jane.

      We will be sure to put this idea under the nose of our local press. I think the buzz is increasing. I just noticed a spike in traffic :-)

      BTW… looking forward to meeting you in person when you head out this way while on your road trip!

      Reply
  6. Julia Janzen

    What I like about what you wrote is that it is focused on brainstorming solutions that COULD work not just to give up and say, “Oh that will never work because…” Let’s put our collective thinking caps on and figure out what can work. It’s also important to realize that solutions are more of an organic thing that need to change and grow.

    What bothers me greatly is how the mayor and police are only compounding the problem and wasting valuable police resources by arresting nuns, retired ministers and people unfortunate enough to not have homes.

    Reply
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  8. Walt Barrett

    The problem is that many local politicians couldn’t run a lemonade stand without losing millions, and they will not listen to reason because it intrudes on their power trips. What we look at as pure common sense makes no sense to them at all. Our property taxes keep going up, and things just keep getting worse instead of better. Our government is too busy meddling in the rest of the world to take care of business at home. If we ran our businesses the way that the government runs we would be bankrupt in a week!
    It is time the government started paying more attention to our own problems at home. I think it is going to get worse, not better, and I think it is going to get very ugly down the line. Our government is making all the wrong moves in the area of our own domestic problems, and the only people that are benefiting is big business. Congress and local politicians are bought and paid for – either party. Don’t kid yourselves. If you want change, insist on no more campaign contributions which are just a legal form of bribery and vote the useless people that are mishandling our affairs out of office. Personally, I feel that we have all been sold out. Why else would we have homeless camps in the first place? I didn’t serve in the Korean war to end up by being forced out of my home by ridiculous property taxes imposed by a bunch of white collar criminals that are feathering their own nests by giving out needless jobs to buy votes, and looking the other way while “investment councilors” steal our life savings in crooked stock market schemes!
    Don’t depend on the government to solve the homeless problem. We have to do it ourselves.

    Reply
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  10. Pat Bishop

    I have all the comments on this subject, I must say very harshly, that some people do not know what they are talking about.

    Now that was my two cents. I know what it is to be homeless, I know what it is for people to think that you do not count, I know people think of me as some type of person that has been or will be in trouble with the law, I know people think of me as eye sore, but lets stop there has anyone stop I mean really stop and look at a homeless person up close and get to know them one on one and why they are homeless.

    My friends let me tell you this I have been on the streets of Fort Worth Tx homeless and I see it from a different way.

    Mike your idea is a good one I know that it is not a permanent solution to homelessnes but it is nice to know that someone cares.

    peoples associate homelessness with drugs or alcohol but today it is a different breed, yes those factors are still out there but the people I know that are homeless has nothing to do with what I mentioned.
    So I ask you before you look down or have bad thoughts about someone who you see is homeless put yourself in their shoes and walk the miles they have walked believe me it would change your attitude and your way of thinking.

    Mike I want to say God Bless you as you pursuse your idea for the homeless in your area, it is people like you that gives me the strength to go on and try my best to get off the street.

    Thanks
    Pat

    Reply

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