Sunday, December 29, 2019

WHAT MAKES A SANCTIONED ENCAMPMENT WORK (OR NOT WORK) FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE?

City-Sanctioned Encampments That Deny Self-Determination – An Innovative Idea in Surveillance and Policing 

One of the most obvious non-solution solutions is the shelter system.

Shelters were created and were effective as an emergency option for people on the streets. They were never intended to be used as a long-term solution to give people shelter. Shelters were also absolutely never meant to become a permanent tier of housing because they are not housing. The shelter system is also not a viable or safe solution for many homeless people but that does not stop politicians from promoting them as if they are a real solution.

An innovative idea, that has been circulating for years but has recently seen a re-investment, is the idea of creating city-sanctioned encampment shelters. These initiatives create legal encampments in large abandoned areas – usually far away from city centers — that are run by the city or a non-profit and function like outdoor shelters. This is different from encampments that have gained legal exemption from cities but are run by and for their residents and don’t involve criminalizing, surveilance or policing people.

The formation of encampments does not represent an end to homelessness. Rather they are an indication of a critical need to create more effective local systems for responding to homelessness. Official strategies should focus on connecting people to permanent long-term housing solutions and not creating and operating city-run encampments. At the very least, official strategies should honor the creative ways that homeless people are housing themselves and their communities, such as building tiny homes and other structures, in response to the lack of housing.

People sleeping in encampments are diverse and interventions must address a range of needs, challenges, and goals. The forced dispersal of encampments is not an appropriate solution though city-sanctioned encampments have been used as a justification for increased police and sweeps of homeless camps by entrenching the idea of non-city sanctioned encampments as an illegal public safety/health concern. This forces the constant packing up and moving of elders, disabled, and physically injured individuals sleeping in encampments while ignoring reasons why people would choose a non-city sanctioned encampment over a city-sanctioned one. A person’s refusal to enter a city-sanctioned encampment can also be used to justify the criminalization and/or arrest of that person.

Homeless people who live in encampments use many strategies to keep themselves and their community safe. One of these strategies involves petitioning the city for code waivers, exemptions, or pushing for them to simply ignore that the encampments exist. These solutions are useful so long as they are not used by cities to pit homeless people against each other by naming some people’s encampments legal while others as illegal. They are also helpful as long as they do not increase the criminalization of these communities. Cities should not be congratulated for doing this most basic work of allowing people to sleep and rest without being criminalized but should be celebrated when they invest in long-term housing that meets the needs of homeless people in their neighborhoods.

From: Western Regional Advocacy Center, excerpt of a longer article, "Non-Solution Solutions to End Homelessness"

Photo by Jonesy, Joe Rodota Trail Camp, Dec. 2019. 
Photo description:  A single tent with a large cloth draped across one side with a picture of a panda on it.  A wooden pallet and another construction make bridges over a small ditch.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Weighing In on County Proposals

I just got back from spending two hours on the trail with my staff distributing new socks to the people living there.  If you haven’t been to the trail, please make sure you go.  It’s a huge eye-opening experience.  Everyone we talked to were very grateful for the help but it was clear that many of the people living on the trail need a different housing solution to what is currently being proposed.  From seeing people that were strung out to those that clearly have a significant mental illness, the level of care and housing needed goes well beyond putting roommates in single family homes.  Even with significant social services, I see greater success in a group residential setting with round the clock care.  Additionally many have dogs (primarily pit bulls) that would be challenging to manage in a single family home.

I tried to look at the situation and think about the best way to help the people living on the trail.  I think many need to go through a drug rehab program but may not consent to that.  Putting them in housing with a substance abuse problem would not be good in a shared housing situation.  We spoke to a young man, probably 12 years old, living on the trail with his stepmother.  She told us she has six of her own children but it appeared she was dealing with her own addiction issues.  It’s heartbreaking to see a child living in these conditions.

Unfortunately there isn’t an easy solution to the situation.  I think that resources needed to help these people are going to be significant and need to include comprehensive case management, drug rehabilitation and significant mental health counseling.


Mary Stompe
Executive Director
PEP Housing
625 Acacia Lane
Santa Rosa, CA 95409
Work: 707-762-2336
707-762-2336 ext. 104

 PEPLogo_0915_HIcmykTAG-small

Poor Measurement of What Works

I always feel frustrated about this kind of thing, which is so right on here and there, and so deceptive and partial overall. It’s very difficult to write accurately about this subject, because whatever you write has to talk about complexity, and be longer and clearer and less definitive than this. We have to  illustrate better how stupid it is to talk sweepingly about whether communities are healthy or unhealthy. We have to demarcate much more precisely what kinds of communities work, and which work partially (warehouse shelters; Oakland’s city-run villages.)

Our solutions, which are city-sanctioned and technically city-run, aren’t mentioned, and appear to be clearly castigated. And this very counterproductive point echoes the CDC bully pulpit point that is killing us, and will be read wrong by everyone: “Official strategies should focus on connecting people to permanent long-term housing solutions and not creating and operating city-run encampments.” In fact we can use both, the latter much more that the former, and this shining straw man of CDC’s, of what we “should focus on” is always dangerous, because there has to be lots of foci. And the article barely mentions “even tiny home” solutions, when what we are shooting for is a key innovation: eventually converting part or all of our permanent village locations into partially self-managed,  permanent supportive housing in tiny home or RV communities. Individual inexpensive homes, whether they are called permanent or not, are a holy grail that we can’t find our way to in any of these visions. We need statements that don’t just show our solution as possible, but that emphasize them as more broadly applicable and cost-effective than conventional PSH, warehousing, and navigation centers.

We WANT “city-run” camps that are partially self run, run by an informed agency, and that strike a compromise between their caricatures of city-run camps (deny free agency, a great evil we should stop, cause illegal encampment sweeps, far from downtown) and self-run camps (inferred as wonderful when they are not because management is often poor and services aren’t integrated, and inferred as only necessary temporarily while we “focus on” something.)

In general, i would recommend everyone read this sort of thing very carefully, and try to note how many confusing concepts are being mixed together and dumbed-down to get across something simplistic. Messages are either missing or embedded that hurt our clients. Each partial truth or deceptive phrase ruins the whole piece for us, especially with policy setters: 

we must focus on permanent solutions; 

effectively extol official neglect as proletarian self-management; 

not mentioning the compromise and possibility of a healthy agency approach; 

not tying to the notion of desired services, individual plans, and individual focus; 

Discounting (not mentioning) how the challenges of mental disease and addiction and trauma and very poor child-rearing affect the health of a community, requiring essential compromises to idealistic anarchic visions of autonomy and self-organization;

not mentioning these villages can become PSH, and if run well imitate successful PSH in the meantime; 

not making clear the massive heterogeneity required in solutions, beyond everything they (and I) mention here, including the great applicability of hybrid solutions that incorporate lessons from independent camps, RRH, PSH, intensive mental health solutions, CIT, motivational interviewing, etc.; 

infer that “city-run” encampments get put in the wrong place.

What makes a Sanctioned Encampment work (or not work) for homeless people?

What makes a Sanctioned Encampment work (or not work) for homeless people?

... City-Sanctioned Encampments That Deny Self-Determination – An Innovative Idea in Surveillance and Policing Of course, one of the most obvious non-solution solutions is the shelter system.

Shelters were created and were effective as an emergency option for people on the streets. They were never intended to be used as a long-term solution to give people shelter. Shelters were also absolutely never meant to become a permanent tier of housing because they are not housing. The shelter system is also not a viable or safe solution for many homeless people but that does not stop politicians from promoting them as if they are a real solution.

An innovative idea, that has been circulating for years but has recently seen a re-investment, is the idea of creating city-sanctioned encampment shelters. These initiatives create legal encampments in large abandoned areas – usually far away from city centers — that are run by the city or a non-profit and function like outdoor shelters. This is different from encampments that have gained legal exemption from cities but are run by and for their residents and don’t involve criminalizing, surveilling or policing people.

The formation of encampments does not represent an end to homelessness. Rather they are an indication of a critical need to create more effective local systems for responding to homelessness. Official strategies should focus on connecting people to permanent long-term housing solutions and not creating and operating city-run encampments. At the very least, official strategies should honor the creative ways that homeless people are housing themselves and their communities, such as building tiny homes and other structures, in response to the lack of housing.

People sleeping in encampments are diverse and interventions must address a range of needs, challenges, and goals. The forced dispersal of encampments is not an appropriate solution though city-sanctioned encampments have been used as a justification for increased police and sweeps of homeless camps by entrenching the idea of non-city sanctioned encampments as an illegal public safety/health concern. This forces the constant packing up and moving of elders, disabled, and physically injured individuals sleeping in encampments while ignoring reasons why people would choose a non-city sanctioned encampment over a city-sanctioned one. A person’s refusal to enter a city-sanctioned encampment can also be used to justify the criminalization and/or arrest of that person.

Homeless people who live in encampments use many strategies to keep themselves and their community safe. One of these strategies involves petitioning the city for code waivers, exemptions, or pushing for them to simply ignore that the encampments exist. These solutions are useful so long as they are not used by cities to pit homeless people against each other by naming some people’s encampments legal while others as illegal. They are also helpful as long as they do not increase the criminalization of these communities. Cities should not be congratulated for doing this most basic work of allowing people to sleep and rest without being criminalized but should be celebrated when they invest in long-term housing that meets the needs of homeless people in their neighborhoods.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

A Christmas Future


The village was quiet when I drove up.  I parked at the entrance, and rang the bell.  In the distance, I could see the remnants of the shopping center in the sunset, the buildings in varying stages of repair.   

Through the fence, I could see a young man come out of an Airstream, parked not far away.  “Hello”, I said, as he approached me on the other side of the gate. “I wonder if you might have a space for us tonight?  It’s just the wife and I”. He squinted, and Julie smiled through the window of our Volkswagon Vanagon. “We’re trying to stay close to town, in case her time comes.”

It’s become harder to find a place to stay since the earthquake, but I don’t know how we would have survived before when every year there were such large fires.  More and more of our friends have taken to the road, and are living in these parking-lot villages.  

“You’re lucky’, the young man said.  One of our tenants left yesterday to head east, and we haven’t filled his space yet.  But we expect to in a couple of days, so it has to be temporary”.

“We’re used to that.”, I said.  “Aren’t we all” came the reply as he swung open the gate.

Once inside, the young man led us to a parking space.  We passed rows of cars and RVs, and here and there were tents in the spaces.  “The bathroom, shower, and laundry room are over attached to the community room.  Village rules are on the bulletin board.   The passcode to the door is PEACEFUL”.

“Thanks”, I said, as I saw him walk into the cold night.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

PORTRAIT OF DEVIN


I met Devin* as we passed on the E Street sidewalk, April, 2015, and he asked if I had a couple of quarters. I said no, then turned around and asked if he’d had anything to eat today. He hadn’t.

We had lunch in a little Mexican restaurant on 4th and I learned that he loved his family, felt he had a good childhood, that he’d been in and out of psych wards, and that more than anything he wanted to work, earn a living, be able to pay rent and buy food. "A warm, dry space with a roof!” he exclaimed, eyes brimming with tears.

He didn’t feel he had anything to say about how he grew up, what school was like, except that after he graduated “I made mistakes and drifted. Didn’t spend my time right."

Devin graduated from Analy. I learned this from his mother after he’d given me her phone number so I could keep in touch with him.

He entered kindergarten on his fifth birthday, a year too early. Mother and school made a dreadful mistake, and later he wasn’t ready to go on to 1st grade. He never recovered from the humiliation and ignominy, particularly among former neighborhood playmates. His best friends were brutal. The school didn’t do anything to help his tormenters understand that failure to learn was not his fault.

When he was 13, ADHD riddled him, making school and home relationships full of pain for those around him. He was prescribed Ritalin. It calmed his body, but made life ethereal. Ritalin sometimes makes the patient’s mind almost unendurable day after day. Smoking pot will knock the buzz off the top of Ritalin.

His mother smoked pot.

He began smoking pot which gave some life back, but he went on to other drugs, finishing with Meth. He had given his psychiatric social worker permission to talk to me. She was interested in his history. When I told the PSW about his meth addiction, she said, "That's very interesting. Meth and Ritalin are chemically analogous, we consider Ritalin to be a precursor to Meth."

How many rattly kids given Ritalin are now Meth addicts? How much can we blame addicts for their condition? I’ve had Ritalin kids in my classes. What became of them?


The PSW knew none of his history because he would only say his childhood was wonderful, there were no problems, his family was loving. I learned from his mother, and reading between her lines, that after he began school, life for him was very difficult, often miserable.

Devin's a tidy, handsome man with luminous blue eyes who reads with intelligence, wants a regular life, a job, to go to college. His brain seems to be too scrambled to do more than apologize for his incompleteness and the trouble he's been to his family, worn out by 20 years of disruptive behavior they do not understand. They have no interest in letting him back into their lives, even though he sleeps in his parent's backyard most nights, hopeful for a shower, clean clothes and a hot bowl of cereal on the rare morning when he rings the doorbell.

His mom has no evident understanding about a child/man like Devin, and is of two minds about giving him clean clothes and hot cereal. She really doesn’t want to see him, wouldn’t tell his father she’d seen Devin, but still has a small, flickering, lingering Mother’s feeling for the man at the door.

She doesn’t let him in. When I tell her we know a great deal more about brain growth and chemistry and ADHD than when Devin was a child, and tell her what I know, it doesn't change how she views him or make her want to understand.

"He's 12.” (He was 32) "He acts like a child.” She makes no allowances for his anxiety, his desires to be self-sufficient, his brain burned by meth. "He makes lousy decisions." "He likes presents.”

She said her marriage is wrecked, there's more ADHD in the family and into the next generation. His mother is worn out, confused, not interested in understanding how he got there, nor in seeing that her grandson has better care and education than Devin had. His father, who owns a a small business and I'd suppose has reasonable intelligence and would want to know how his kid got that way, never wants to hear his son's name again.

The shoes he’d been wearing for weeks were a size too small, making him lame. I’d said I get him the right size.

In late summer, we had a great Parkside country breakfast. He was calm, immensely grateful for our continuing friendship, and we talked about why he’d dropped out of sight for several weeks. He’d had some sort of episode and been sent to a hospital in Napa to get his "marbles lined up again". After breakfast I told him I had a pair of new hiking boots for him.

He was ecstatic, couldn’t wait to get to the car, to get the box in his hands. I had talked to the PSW at his former group home and knew they would take him back that day. We’d talked about it during breakfast and I kept returning to that as our destination. When he was living there, he liked it, but today he rattled off reasons it was an ill-begotten place to live. I had visited and knew it was clean, orderly, comfortable, quiet.

Once I opened the back door of my red Honda hatchback and handed him the box, that captured every ounce of attention he had. We drove a couple of blocks and he made it clear I was to drop him off immediately right there on Sonoma Avenue. The last I saw, he was running, box in hand, west to a bench where he could sit to change shoes.

I knew I had to turn my time and energy to convince our electeds they could house our homeless neighbors in dry, warm, lockable quarters at no cost to city or county.

//////////////////////////

UPDATE: Six years later.    I should have stuck with Devin. Except for three city council members, the electeds are immovable, requiring $1.2B stick-built housing for which there will never be money, showing no care for estimable homeless men, women and families rotting on doorways at night, on the creeks, in the brush, on the River. Residents they don’t know, and have no idea that’s essential when making policy.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////
*His name has been changed. Details are as told to me by his mother or observed by me.
Photos: "Eye Got U" and tent under canopy, by Jonsey 
Neither picture is of Devin or his sleeping arrangement.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Hometown # 4


 By Ernie Carpenter                                                                      
Now all around,
Grapes abound,
apples once found.
Wine economically sound,
A farm jewel crown.
That juice so fine,
Wherever you dine,
Comes Sonoma wine.

Over yonder by the trail,
Under the overpass,
In the forest, by the vineyard,
Near the River,
Your ‘hood, airport, sidewalk,
Drainageway,
They camp in soggy squalor. Garbage
Strewn about, unwashed mass,
They cling to each other
Like a ripe cluster of old zin,
Deep purple,
earthy, a certain royalty.

What you say?
How can it be, in this land of plenty?
In the land of castles and chateaus,
Gingham shirts,
Salmon puffs,
Happy cow cheese balls,
Wine maker extraordinal.
When the homeless lady
Craps on the waiting ground,
The gilded chandelier,
Wine finery,
La salle de bain, does it weep?

The mother in her tent
Cries softly each night.
How this weary plight?
The Chef pops the cork
On a sparkling cuvee of
Alexander Valley bubbly,
Server ladles bisque around,
“The prime rib is rare,
Pear and walnut salad all local,
And, all for your delight,
Salud, and bon appetite.”

                     ©Ernieman, Sebastopol, Ca. 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
PHOTO:  by Jonsey.   
"Mary" age 61 & her dog "Daisy May" living on  the Joe Rodota Trail
Santa Rosa,California 12-5-19