Chamber of Commerce’s homelessness meeting sparks debate

MICHELLE GORE / AGGIE

Search continues for solution to end homelessness

On Oct. 24, the Davis Chamber of Commerce held a panel discussion at the Veterans Memorial Theater to address the growing homelessness issue in Davis.

The discussion was free and open to the public. The panel was made up of 10 local leaders, including a number of social workers, downtown Davis business owners and government officials. Guests were encouraged to share their input on the issue.

Darren Pytel, the City of Davis’ chief of police, opened the discussion by touching on the challenges of panhandling.

“From a constitutional standpoint, panhandling in a nonaggressive way is protected speech,” Pytel said.

Pytel also indicated that the City of Davis’ police department recently hired a social worker whose sole purpose is to reach out to the homeless community.

Davis resident Jack Armstrong, the co-host of the Armstrong & Getty radio show, told a chilling story about an expletive-filled interaction he, his wife and two young children had with a disheveled man at Dos Coyotes in Davis.

“I would like [Davis] to stop being a magnet for those people,” Armstrong said.

Pytel commented on the severe drug and mental health issues these individuals are dealing with and how low drug prices are leading to more rampant drug use. Pytel also attributed the rise in car burglaries to drug use.

Many guests, most of them residents of Davis, expressed their concerns over such actions and the number of homeless people in town.

Jon Adler from Harm Reduction Services in Sacramento attended the meeting as a guest and shared his thoughts from his unique perspective as a former “unhoused” individual.

“Living on the street is a traumatic experience,” Adler said. “Until there is compassion, there won’t be any progress. There are people who go to Davis High School who commit crimes.”

Davis Mayor Pro Tempore Brett Lee stressed the importance of behavior when describing the homeless. He pointed out the parallels between his fraternity-row neighbors with their “non-neighborly” actions and the homeless population.

Lee also noted the necessity of cooperation between Yolo County and the City of Davis in solving the crisis.

Adler, who lived on the streets of Davis for five years and has 20 years of experience working with the homeless in the Sacramento area, stressed the importance of compassion and understanding.

“People don’t want to live outside,” Adler said. “That is a myth in itself. It’s not something you choose. When you hear the term ‘homeless,’ you hear ‘drug addict,’ ‘criminal,’ ‘mentally ill.’ The fact is there are more drug addicts, criminals and mentally ill that live in houses.”

Adler also touched on why Davis is an attractive place for the unhoused.

“This is a f–king great town,” Adler said. “Community Gardens. I can eat like a king. Everybody recycles. I can make $20 an hour recycling here. I can go to sleep and not worry about getting my head kicked in. That’s going to be attractive to everyone.”

Bill Pride, the director of the Community Meals program in Davis, believes the cause of the issue is a lack of affordable housing in the region. He noted the increase in students living in his hometown of Woodland, which is 15 minutes north of Davis.

According to the Yolo County Homeless and Poverty Action Coalition, homelessness is slowly on the rise in Davis. Homelessness is up 11.4 percent from 2015 and 28 percent since 2009.

In 2016, the State of California’s homeless rate was 30.1 people for every 10,000 people, according to the most recent study on homelessness conducted by the U.S. Interagency Council. In Yolo County’s most recent homeless count in 2017, Davis’ homeless rate was 21.4 people for every 10,000.

 

Written by: Dylan Svoboda — city@theaggie.org

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