According to a report from UCLA, nearly 270,000 K-12 students were homeless in California last year.
- 270,000 kids unsure of where they will sleep at night.
- 270,000 kids who didn’t have a desk or kitchen table for homework.
- 270,000 kids who slept in cars, shelters, or even on the streets.
Since COVID-19, we can only assume that this year’s numbers will be worse. Despite our best efforts, the problem is only getting worse–with student homelessness having increased 50% in the last decade.
These numbers hit me hard because I was homeless as a kid.
I know what it’s like to go to sleep with no food in your stomach, to constantly move from place to place, to never be able to rest your head in your own bed at night. I know how hard it is to concentrate on school work, to attend school after a night without sleep, and to care at all about education when your basic needs aren’t being met.
As someone with Latino and Yaqui Indian heritage, I understand how the issue disproportionately affects people of color. In fact, 7 out of 10 of those homeless students are Latino.
I am grateful to have overcome the odds. With hard work, perseverance, and a bit of luck, I was able to become an EMT/first responder and go back into underserved communities to help make a difference. From there, my wife and I started a business to help educate and prepare the next generation of paramedics. We have grown that business into the largest online university in the country for Emergency Medical Technicians, and we now employ people across several states.
So when we talk about homelessness, whether in California or in the city of Oceanside, I feel a special responsibility to try to address the cracks in the system that continue to fail so many people–particularly minorities, people with disabilities, and veterans. It is far too easy to lose a job, get evicted, and then have a very difficult time finding a new place to live and stable employment. It is far too easy to lose hope. And it can happen to anyone.
In Oceanside, the solution must begin with building additional overnight shelters, so that we can begin to triage each individual, provide wraparound services, and get people off the streets. Our current approach of ticketing and citations is a waste of time and energy that does nothing to resolve the root cause. We can move Homeless Outreach away from police and have trained social workers provide this service at a fraction of the cost.
Once we have temporary overnight shelters, we can offer transitional housing, job training, and even employment opportunities to help clean up our city for those who are ready to rebuild their lives. We can connect people with drug and alcohol rehabilitation and mental health treatments where appropriate. And we can build tiny homes on city, state, and county lands at a very low cost to get people off the streets right away while we wait for other housing options to open up. In short, we can do a lot better by the people in our city FOR the people in our city.
Those who refuse services and shelter will learn quickly that Oceanside is not the place for them. We can take back our city and make it safer for all, but it has to be done correctly under the law.
The law is clear, following a case called Martin vs. Boise, which ruled that cities cannot arrest or cite people for being homeless. Since 2005, the San Diego/North County Homeless Court has been in operation to help individuals who are homeless with their legal issues, which often include so-called “crimes of poverty,” such as expired vehicles or registration, driving without a license, or driving with a suspended license. For others, the citations might include traffic tickets, citations for jaywalking or petty theft. But in North County Homeless Court, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines are dismissed every year as part of a process called restorative justice. The recidivism rate in this program is very low, showing that in most cases, the tickets weren’t really necessary in the first place.
Under the law, when no shelter is available, being homeless or simply existing on public property is not a crime in this country.
So if the fines are routinely dismissed, WHY are we utilizing precious time and resources of law enforcement to go through the motions? Homeless Court provides vital second chances to people who have fallen on hard times–that’s not the issue. The issue is that our city continues to ticket and cite people for things that aren’t, in fact, a crime.
The truth, if you talk to most folks in law enforcement, is that they don’t even want to be involved in citing and ticketing the homeless and would prefer homeless outreach to be done by social workers or others trained and equipped to intervene and provide help. This ONE CHANGE could have a HUGE impact on our city, with law enforcement freed up to focus on violent crime and the opportunity to really help people who are unsheltered.
We all deserve the safe enjoyment of our beloved city. We all want Oceanside to be a place where everyone thrives. But it is time to look at the homeless crisis with new eyes and to find solutions that will address the root causes. Having experienced housing insecurity myself as a kid, I know that our city can lead the way in California in reimagining homeless outreach, and we can clean up our city with compassion and proper planning.