This first step cannot be end of city’s efforts
Davis City Council took a critical first step toward serving the city’s homeless population on Dec. 17, 2019 by approving construction plans for a daytime respite center to be built on Fifth Street. The Editorial Board commends the city in making progress to solve this state-wide crisis, and we hope these efforts will be expanded upon in the future.
The center, staffed with employees from the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency and Communicare Health Centers, will provide shower and restroom services, storage facilities and connection to social services. These amenities will play a vital role in mitigating many of the immediate issues of homelessness. But in a state that makes up the bulk of the national unsheltered homeless population, and in a city with a homeless population of 190 — 60% of which are unsheltered — a daytime center alone will not adequately address Davis’ homelessness issue.
The next step must be to open an overnight center and to ensure that such centers offer essential services like health care to address mental and physical illness. A lack of such care often results from, and at times contributes to, homelessness. The UC Davis administration also has a duty to address the issue of homelessness as many of its students are dealing with, or have already experienced, homelessness first hand.
Since 2009, the number of unsheltered homeless people in Davis — which differs from the total homeless population — has steadily risen, with the most recent number reported at 114 in 2018. Seven percent of UC Davis students experienced homelessness for a period of time, and 18% “experienced either homelessness or some form of housing insecurity,” according to UC Davis’ Affordable Student Housing Task Force page. Yet the administration’s response to this issue, as detailed on the page, has been meager.
The most substantial attempt by the administration to address housing issues has been the construction of more housing units through the expansion of West Village. And while a lack of housing availability is one contributor, the larger issue exacerbating the homelessness crisis, both in Davis and across the state, is housing affordability. Much of the student population cannot afford to pay West Village’s minimum rent of $700. Building more apartments at this price rate will do little to aid those most at risk of housing insecurity.
The task force has recommended adjusting UC financial aid budget calculations to reflect actual market value of rental units. But the Editorial Board feels that the university should more immediately address and adjust tuition rates, which are staggeringly high and have increased almost annually for the past two decades. Lowering tuition would alleviate many issues impacting current and potential university students — most importantly, in this case, being the ability to afford housing.
At the heart of California’s homelessness crisis is an economy that works for few. Yes, the lack of physically available housing units is substantial and we hope that the possible approval of $1.4 billion of the state’s budget to address the homelessness crisis will help mitigate that issue. But building more housing units is only effective in so far as individuals are able to afford it.
Combating homelessness must be a comprehensive effort on the part of the state government, local governments and communities across California. Money must be allocated where it’s needed, and the state and its localities must ensure that the services they provide tangibly address the causes and effects of homelessness. This issue will undoubtedly take time to solve, and establishing this respite center in Davis is a critical first step in doing so. But with an issue of this scale, we cannot afford to stop here. More can and must be done.
Written by: The Editorial Board