Houseless crisis needs people-focused solutions

Illustration of the ground being pulled from underneath a tent like a rug, and the tent flying off.
Bridget Long/Staff

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The houseless population currently residing near Interstate 80 will have until the end of April to find alternative living after a federal judge refused to give lawyers four more months to assist with its housing status. The houseless community has less than 20 days before it is uprooted. Although this decision was allegedly made on the basis of safety concerns for those living near the freeway, it is clear that the court as well as those who reported the encampment do not care about the safety of the houseless population. 

The houseless community — particularly those with disabilities — deserves more time to sort out alternative housing options. 

Sweeping encampments is already a violent, traumatizing process that doesn’t help houseless individuals find permanent shelter or accommodations. In fact, it often severs communication between houseless people and service providers, destroys their few belongings and exacerbates existing mistrust of government workers and institutions. Many houseless individuals have died as a result of encampment sweeps. Many have also been displaced and return to the streets or end up in more dangerous living conditions. It is a blatant display of social cleansing that pays no regard to houseless individuals’ wellbeing. 

Data from increased encampment sweeps in California strongly suggests that closing the camp — especially on such short notice — may exacerbate existing houselessness in Berkeley. 

A prime example is the encampment sweep at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles, where 17 of the 183 houseless people who were on the “Echo Park Lake placements list” received long-term housing, and 82 lost communication with Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority service providers. The remaining individuals were unsuccessfully housed, remained on a waiting list or returned to the streets. Six died.

For houseless individuals with disabilities, this process is even more detrimental and complex, requiring far more time and assistance to secure alternative housing. Several bureaucratic barriers — such as receiving a physician’s confirmation of disability status and acquiring authorization from the Department of Motor Vehicles — must be overcome to register them into the housing pipeline. Each of these processes take time and are complicated by a justified distrust toward government institutions. To do all of this in less than 20 days in what should have been at least a four-month time frame will be nearly impossible. 

Encampments are often the only safe, stable spaces for the houseless community where service providers can remain in contact — and sweeping encampments is entirely for the aesthetics of gentrification. If the city truly wants to address houselessness and build much-needed trust with the houseless community, local and state politicians must actively consult with houseless individuals and commit to sustainable, people-focused solutions. Houseless people must have ample time and accommodations to find permanent housing.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2022 opinion editor, Jessie Wu.