Among the proposals Governor Gavin Newsom is pursuing in dealing with the homelessness crisis is to open state owned land to be used for temporary homeless shelters. While temporary sites close to city centers may appeal to the homeless as a temporary residence, it is a question whether lands away from locations the homeless currently occupy will be rejected.
The governor’s proposal and reaction from the homeless community will become part of the ”right to shelter” debate.
The right to shelter would require governments to offer shelter to the homeless. Newsom’s move is designed to assist it that effort. With the US Supreme Court denying a hearing in a case out of Boise, Idaho, that stopped police from citing homeless who camped on city streets, state and local governments now have to offer housing opportunities before seeking to remove homeless.
The right to shelter issue gained steam last year with leaders of the governor’s homeless advisory task force with co-chairs Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg promoting the idea.
A bill to demand a right to shelter failed the California legislature last year but new legislative efforts are expected this year.
In Governor Newsom’s order dealing with the homelessness crisis, besides seeking new funds, he asked state agencies to identify properties that could be used for short-term housing, offering trailers and tents on vacant state land. The properties could be areas adjacent to state roads, decommissioned hospitals or even fairgrounds.
But fairgrounds are usually built away from population centers. Land next to state roads also in many cases will be out of the way for a homeless population that by and large has remained close to cities.
If offered a bed in a distant location would the homeless resist?
My concern is raised by a visit I took to a Los Angeles homeless facility last fall. Many homeless camped outside the facility in a small courtyard—even though there were empty beds indoors. When asked why, answers ranged from lack of trust to not wanting to follow all the rules the homeless center set up, to wanting the freedom to remain on their own. A homeless shelter far away would also likely discourage some homeless from accepting a spot on state lands.
Governor Newsom’s effort to find solutions for the homeless crisis is both a humanitarian action and a political must. Offering state land should be explored. But, like many solutions floated on homelessness, resistance and obstacles await.