There are lots of conditions that cause and contribute to homelessness. We have to address those conditions independently, we can't address homelessness as a single issue. The problem is not that there are unsightly or unhealthy homeless encampments, the problem is that individuals can end up unsheltered for a whole mix of reasons that we can help to address.
The City does support efforts addressing some conditions of homelessness, but there is more that can be done, some of it for very little money. Many non-profit organizations in the City are stepping up and carrying much of the burden by supplying housing, food and services, but more support from the City could improve coordination, outreach and effectiveness.
We can meet people where they are. For those who are living in vehicles, the City should use City property to provide safe parking areas with rules that address safety as well as the realities of people living at the edge of homelessness. Such spaces can include sanitary facilities, trash receptacles, fresh water and service contacts. These should be spaces of support, not blight.
Encampments can be made safer and more sanitary until residents can be offered better options. Clearing out a homeless encampment and saying that services “are available” does not address the issues that put those individuals in the encampment. We may have to imagine some level of longer support for some limited encampments. We already have them, let's have some level of control and cleanliness. Policing of encampments and other transient living situations needs to be compassionate and humanitarian. There is no benefit to impounding a car when it is someone's shelter of last resort.
As part of meeting people where they are, the City could provide consolidated services information in a way that is easy to find on a mobile phone. On the City's website it is currently easier to find how to report undesirable homeless behavior than to find services. The 2-1-1 phone service for community support response is becoming a great resource for those in imminent need, but the public should be able to learn current services and opportunities from the City's website.
The City does a homelessness survey, but going deeper and tracking homelessness “by name” would allow a more focused and more efficient understanding of needs and solutions.
Helping people who are at risk of becoming unhoused is also critical. How do we support those who are on the edge and have just lost a job or are escaping an unsafe living situation?
Overall, an effective safety net for those in difficult situations saves money and improves quality of life for all of Livermore.