The city’s 2019 homeless count numbers will be released soon. I believe these numbers are useful, but they may not tell the whole story.
As with any numbers, they can be used to support just about any argument or point. Don’t get me wrong, the homeless count is very important, but it is a single point-in-time count that should not be used to conclude major trends up or down regarding the complex topic of homelessness. The homeless count provides interesting data, but may not capture the real trends that fluctuate yearly, monthly and weekly. Tracking homelessness throughout a city as large and diverse as ours takes more than one morning in January.
Homelessness and the “solutions” continue to be heated and polarizing. Some claim the solution is simple and that this crisis would end if only we did this or that. Oh, how I wish that were true.
There is no silver bullet to solve homelessness, no matter what anyone tells you. This is why my Council colleagues and I bring forth ideas based on our areas of professional expertise, or that have proven success elsewhere. Together, we look at one new policy or approach at a time, and develop new ways to tackle homelessness from every angle.
Personally, I continue looking at just about every creative policy used around the country and have brought many of those to Council for consideration. These include exploring new funding sources through “social impact bonds,” developing homeless-job opportunities, proactively evaluating our public spaces to reduce crime, incentivizing more rehabilitation services, creating new ordinances to reduce growing crime trends like bike theft, funding a specialized neighborhood impact prosecutor, audits of city and regional beds/rehab facilities, reducing opioid addiction, arming our officers with Narcan to stop overdoses, and even more to come in future months.
As a 20-year prosecutor, I have worked with homeless individuals my entire career, and see how they navigate the criminal justice system, the pitfalls, and how they fall in and out of services. I have accompanied homeless outreach teams in operations in LA and OC counties, I volunteer at homeless services, and I’ve done significant legal research on laws surrounding enforcement and incentivizing treatment. And with this, I would never claim that any one solution will end homelessness. But, I do strongly believe substance abuse and addiction are major factors.
Recently I requested a report on the number of services and beds available to homeless individuals. From the report, we learned that Long Beach needs an additional 120-150 residential substance abuse treatment beds, and 100 detox beds to address the current homeless needs. These treatment services would not be limited to homeless individuals, but would also be available to prevent homelessness. This allows for help and treatment before addiction causes job or housing loss.
Long Beach must have services for those in need of rehab or medical detox so our first responders can get someone into treatment the moment they are willing to accept services. The fact is, these are the type of services needed most by the people our outreach teams encounter.
As a city, we should use technology to provide our first responders and homeless outreach teams the tools they need. They should have access to who someone’s caseworker is to reconnect them, or if they were just given a warning for the same violation, or if they are mentally stable, or recently declined services, or other helpful information, whether it’s outreach, enforcement, or transportation to a rehab center.
Additionally, there is no reason our first responders should not have access to real-time information on available rehab beds within the region. Knowing when rehab beds or medical detox beds or county beds are available at the exact moment of outreach can mean we get people into services without unnecessary delays leading to a change of heart.
There is no one solution to homelessness, but we cannot have this conversation without talking about substance abuse and making supportive rehabilitation a viable option for our first responders and outreach teams. We can’t expect our police to arrest their way out of the city’s homelessness problem. That is not a long-term solution.
What we can do is support them with the tools they need to continue making a difference. Our East Division Quality of Life Officer and the city’s Street Team placed more than 70 people into rehab last year. This is amazing! We should be helping them in every way we can.
Suzie Price is the Third District City Councilwoman.