Reflections on “Smart Solutions”

After attending Saturday’s big show, “Smart Solutions to Homelessness: A Countywide Community Engagement Summit,” I gathered a smattering of feedback from “Occupy Folks” on how they felt about the event.  Consensus seems to be, “It was not very useful.”  We (tongue-in-cheek, but seriously) KNOW TOO MUCH.

I understand the need for governmental and non-profit entities to communicate with the public regarding their needs.  WE KNOW that volunteers are needed for the befriending, mentoring, and support of people in distress.  WE KNOW that material resources are needed to feed, shelter, and house people who are hungry and have nowhere safe to stay.  WE KNOW that there is no “one size fits all solution to homelessness.”  It is unfortunate that those who design the agendas of large meetings like this one are unable to withstand conflicting viewpoints about public policy priorities.

Here are a few “Smart Solutions” — my public policy priorities:

  1. Decriminalization of “survival behaviors” such as sleeping at night, camping in your car, or using a blanket to keep warm
  2. Legalization of drugs, and, hand-in-hand, helping people to learn ways of coping with the emotional pain that can result in addictive behaviors
  3. Creating safe places to camp
  4. Subsidizing low-cost permanent housing
  5. Providing resources to mutual aid and self-help networks for material and emotional support of all people
  6. Supporting families so there will be fewer children put into foster care
  7. Transforming the economy so that there will be safe, environmentally sustainable, and meaningful work for everyone at a living wage
     I despair over the lack of compassion actually expressed at the meeting, which seemed scant, aside from a “before and after” set of pictures of one homeless man who became permanently housed in Los Angeles. The “problem” that the “smart solutions” seem to be set to solve is “inefficient allocation of public resources.”  So the work being done “to end homelessness” is framed in terms of money to be saved instead of lives to be saved.
          At Saturday’s meeting I summarized a small exchange of perspectives between of five or six persons on the question, “What will the future look like without homelessness?”  I said that there would be personal dignity, care for each other in community, and good feelings about everyone.  I’m afraid that was the wrong question to ask.  My question to you is, “What are you going to do about the reality of homelessness in our community right now?”