Homelessness has been a chronic problem not just on the national level, but also for Yolo County and the City of Davis.
A study conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness called “The State of Homelessness in America 2013” said that the nation’s homeless population decreased by 0.4 percent, though the number of people in homeless families increased by 1.4 percent in 2011. Additionally, they state that between 2010 and 2011, the national median household income decreased by 1.3 percent and the poverty rate increased by 0.6 percent.
Yolo County conducted its own study in 2010, “One Piece at a Time: Ending and Preventing Homelessness for Yolo County Residents .” The 10-year plan intended to mobilize non-profit organizations, rental property owners, community members and city officials to implement productive change in the homeless community.
The study cites a 20 percent increase in homelessness in Yolo County since 2007. Furthermore, it claims that the cost of preventing one person going into homelessness is one-sixth the average cost of staying at a shelter. The study also says that the current system makes it difficult for individuals to know what services are accessible to them.
One such service is Fourth and Hope, a denominational Woodland-based non-profit that aims to feed, clothe and shelter the homeless community. A unique aspect of the organization is their workforce development program that helps 73 percent of participants find employment later on. Their emergency services shelter holds up to 72 individuals where they provide rehabilitations and job training.
Chief operations officer of Fourth and Hope Doug Zeck said the biggest challenges that perpetuate homelessness are the high cost of market rate housing, gainful employment and life-skills training.
“There are also those that may battle with drug and alcohol dependency issues. We can assist with drug and alcohol dependency issues through our residential substance abuse program that can treat up to 44 clients,” Zeck said.
He adds that many individuals are close to homelessness due to inadequate savings reserves and lack of solid support systems, though they may not realize it.
“In many cases we see families that have one income earner that has lost his or her job, sometimes through illness and who then can’t make it on a single income. The resulting snowball of bills, rent and utilities overcomes them. Once evicted and with no other support system to help, they become homeless. Fortunately, they can turn to us for direction, assistance and new hope,” Zeck said.
One organization providing services for the homeless community in the City of Davis itself is the nonprofit, non-denominational organization Davis Community Meals (DCM). Their mission is to provide the low-income and homeless community with housing and food, among other resources. The organization provides a Resource Center, Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing Program, free meals, Supportive Housing Program and Cold Weather Shelter.
DCM spends $300 to $400 per week for providing free meals, though much of the food such as bread, pastries, fruit and produce come from donations.
Executive director and long-time volunteer of DCM Bill Pride said that over the last 20 years the homeless community has not seemed to have changed much, though it may have increased more in the last couple of years due to a decrease in federal funding.
“It may have skewed a lot younger. The homeless group in Davis [used to be] a lot older and that’s the one big change. It’s been rather — I don’t want to say steady. Some of the older people have moved into housing,” Pride said.
Additionally, he said that mental health funds in the county have gone down which has proven detrimental to getting individuals into treatment.
“The two main problems are mental health issues and/or methamphetamine or prescription drug abuse … As a general rule everyone in the world experiences problems, homelessness is sometimes the end result of what happens over the years,” Pride said.
A UC Davis student-run non-denominational community service club, Help and Education Leading to the Prevention of Poverty (HELP) also provides free meals to the Davis homeless community. Their programs include two free meal nights per week, bringing awareness to local Davis elementary students, Thanksgiving Dinner and an annual Empathy not Apathy program.
For current HELP president Steven Reeves, a fifth-year landscape architecture major, what started as a decision on a whim turned into four years of dedicated community service work.
He says people should try not to judge homeless people, and he encourages people to say hi and treat them like human beings.
“On Picnic Day by Central Park, there was a group of people I know from the meals, an older guy named Kevin. They were sitting on the steps with all their luggage and there were all these people that are walking past them. I just want students to know they don’t have to be afraid … Don’t judge them. Some of them were in college and now they’re homeless. Don’t assume what they’re going to do; some of them can be really nice,” Reeves said.
From his experience, he’s found that big challenges among the Davis homeless community are drug use and family issues.
“I know a couple [people] that come from foster backgrounds. Also people don’t realize some of them have mental disabilities … We try to find local middle schools and high schools to educate the class on homelessness to raise awareness,” Reeves said.
Davis resident and DCM volunteer Robb Davis, currently running for City Council, said that while all these programs are vital to supporting the homeless community in Davis, he feels that more can be done to ameliorate the prevalence of homelessness in Yolo County. He said that homelessness is rarely about a single thing and is much more complex — it is often the effect of multiple problems such as addiction, mental health and broken families.
“With fairly small nonprofit organizations, their funding is always tenuous. They’re all doing a great job but I wouldn’t say anyone is really dealing with the problem in a fully comprehensive way … We don’t have, at the county level and certainly not at the city level, a comprehensive drug or alcohol rehab program that’s widely available,” Davis said.
He adds that people need more than a place to live — they need counseling and support, and that in our county individuals tend to pass from one program to another.
“We dont really have programs with long term housing. These people can have serious problems… I don’t want to discount the work they do because I’m part of it,” Davis said.
For the programs to be more cohesive, Davis said, they would have to spend a lot of extra time and resources to change, which is a huge challenge in itself. That being said, he believes that the work the programs are doing is invaluable and necessary to move forward.
Zeck held similar sentiments. He said that we need to realize handouts don’t solve problems, and that homelessness is everyone’s responsibility and we can all play a part in ending it.
“The policy changes need to be focused on real outcomes quantified by lives changed through supportive services that are run effectively and efficiently,” Zeck said. “Policies that encourage more affordable housing, fair paying jobs and that eliminate the barriers to obtaining them.”
GABRIELLA HAMLETT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.