The San Gabriel Valley COG is involved (the reason being grant money, they don't do anything if there isn't any grant money), Sacramento has passed a bill (SB 2), and because of this our illustrious "Housing Element" consultant Karen Warner stood before the City Council and said that we have no choice but to plan for building what she so artfully termed "support housing." In other words, we need to throw open our doors and welcome the San Gabriel Valley's homeless troubles onto our streets.
Here is how SB 2 is explained on a state website. What it lays down for every City in the State of California is not the best news for us:
This bill requires cities and counties to identify specific sites with by-right zoning to accommodate the community's need for homeless shelters, requires cities and counties to identify zones where special needs facilities and transitional housing are permitted either by right or with a conditional use permit, and prohibits a city or county from disapproving applications for shelters and special needs facilities unless specified findings are made.
Diversionary euphemisms like "special needs facilities" and "transitional housing" aside, what this law states is that we have to plan for homeless housing in Sierra Madre. And because of this, anyone wanting to build such a thing in our town can, once it is in our "Housing Element" (and General Plan), do so. There would be little that could be done. Or so we are told. After all, there is plenty of Federal and State grant money out there to make such a thing rewarding to the interested developer. Why do you think the SGVCOG is involved?
So where would all these homeless people come from? Our homeless housing is going to need clients, after all. Right? But remember, we're talking regional government here, not just Sierra Madre. Cities working together with other cities to help solve all of our problems together. Just like Joe so happily said they should.
In an August 8 Pasadena Star News article entitled "Pasadena counts homeless in effort to house unsheltered," reporter Brian Charles laid it out this way:
Before the sun rose Monday, a small army of volunteers set out in Pasadena to count, record and collect data on the city's homeless population. The weeklong census, backed by the City of Pasadena's Housing Department and joined by area nonprofits will serve as both a data gathering effort and a mechanism to trigger the spending of federal dollars to help the more than 1,200 homeless in Pasadena.
The article does not specify where those federal dollars would be spent, but I do not think it is entirely inconceivable that some of that money could be used to help fund an East Montecito homeless shelter should some developer decide that would be worth his while. And since accommodations for this would have been included in our City Housing Element, it could easily be made to happen.
At the end of his article on Pasadena's homeless problems, Brian Charles supplied a breakdown of exactly what that city is facing:
Total Homeless: 1,216 - 1,148 adults (874 men, 75 percent; 274 women, 25 percent)
Ethnic Breakdown: 35 percent Black, 29 percent white non-Hispanic, 25 percent Hispanic/Latino, 5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 2 percent Native American, 4 percent other
Marital Status: 91 percent single
Sheltered/Unsheltered: 976 unsheltered (on the streets or in the Bad Weather Shelter program), 240 sheltered (in homeless programs, i.e. emergency or transitional housing)
The matter of whether Sierra Madre has a homeless problem or not is, unfortunately, moot. If we allow for the building of a homeless shelter in Sierra Madre, then we will have a homeless problem just like our very large neighbor to the west. As a matter of fact, it will become one and the same. There are plenty of homeless people in Pasadena alone to fill it, and then some. And we haven't even begun to consider all the other cities in the area.
As our homeless housing would have been built by a developer using state and federal dollars, the City of Sierra Madre would have no control over who would live there. I personally suspect Pasadena would gladly bus over as many homeless as the E. Montecito shelter could hold. Their shelters already being filled beyond capacity, and with plenty more knocking on the door.
And then there is this question. If a person is homeless, how exactly do you determine where he lives, and therefore what City he comes from? Ponder that if you have a couple of free hours.
Here is something I've been wanting to say for a while now. Too often we hear from our elected officials and City employees that in situations such as this there is nothing they can do about it. We've heard it repeatedly with RHNA numbers, and you can bet the Chevy that you will hear it just as often in regards to planning for homeless housing on E. Montecito. All they have seemed willing to do is throw up their hands and, no matter how badly the people actually paying the bills here are against it, do the state's bidding instead.
Picture this. Our downtown is a pretty great place. Home of sidewalk dining, some fine restaurants, shops and other places of interest. It is also where stroller moms go to take their babies for a walk, and where we send our children on their bikes to meet with their friends and load up on Jolly Ranchers and frozen yogurt. It is a place as timeless as it is pristine. A throwback to another time, and an imortant part of the reason why many of us live here. It is that better place we all worked to find.
Now throw into the mix homeless housing and what that would mean to Sierra Madre's downtown. Despite the myths and guilt trips, the homeless are not merely people who are down on their luck and in need of a helping hand. There are those for certain, but is that the rule? Not in the real world. Rather a very large percentage of the homeless are either subject to uncontrollable addictions and/or mental health disorders. This from an article entitled "A National Shame: The Mentally Ill Homeless" (click here).
One of our nation's greatest shames is the number of homeless people adrift in the streets and parks of our cities. And of the estimated 744,000 people who are homeless on any given night, 40 to 45 percent of them have a serious mental illness. Most of these mentally ill people go untreated, and unable to work, live a hand-to-mouth existence out on the streets.
An estimated 40 to 45 percent of homeless persons suffer from Axis I mental disorders in a given year, which include anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and severe personality disorders. Between 150,000 and 200,000 of the homeless have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Substance use is also prevalent among homeless populations. In a 1996 survey, 46 percent of the homeless respondents had an alcohol use problem during the past year, and 62 percent had an alcohol use problem at some point in their lifetime. Thirty-eight percent had a problem with drug use during their past year, and 58 percent had a drug use problem during their lifetime.
What Sierra Madre needs is something more than a City government that, having concluded that there is nothing they can do, does nothing. The people we put in office, or pay to run our City's affairs, should feel obligated from time to time to do what it is that we actually want from them. And if we don't want homeless housing just around the corner from our downtown, or on E. Montecito for that matter, then we should expect those who represent us to fight for that.
But if all we get is the usual "there is nothing we can do about it" rhythm and blues? Then these people should either be relieved of their offices or, where appropriate, fired. And then replaced with people who will find a way to fight for something that is so very integral to the needs and desires of the people of this City.
I don't see how we really have much of a choice.