- "Homelessness is not an issue in California, it’s the issue," said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on a panel of predominantly West Coast mayors at the 88th U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington, DC on Thursday. The mayors had a frank discussion about new, creative ways they are working to confront increasing rates of homelessness in their cities.
- "Homelessness is this crisis of epic proportion, yet everything we do is optional and voluntary," Sacramento, CA Mayor Darrell Steinberg said. To step up the state's work against homelessness, a task force appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, co-chaired by Steinberg, is proposing a mandate requiring all levels of government to provide shelter for every person experiencing homelessness. Public education and foster care are mandatory, not optional, he said.
- Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also discussed a new solution in his city. In Dec. 2019, Honolulu introduced inflatable tent-like structures situated in parks. The setup, which includes police monitoring, has helped almost 100 people with the goal to have individuals stay for no longer than three days while they are stabilized and helped into transitional or permanent housing. So far, 68 individuals have exited the shelter within three days.
Calls for bi-partisanship and stronger collective efforts with the federal government were echoed among the mayors on the panel. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he planned to meet with U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to discuss a recent letter written to Carson requesting federal help on the issue.
Garcetti’s move to work with the federal government follows a recent HUD report that found the rate of homelessness in California has increased 16.4%, or by 21,306 people — more than the total increase of every other state combined. Newsom pledged $1 billion in state funding to help reduce homelessness in response to the report’s findings.
Honolulu’s new inflatable tents solution is also an interesting move in light of the Supreme Court's recent refusal to hear an appeal to a homeless camping ban. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Hawaii, ruled that cities can’t arrest people experiencing homelessness who sleep in public spaces if the city doesn’t provide alternative shelter.
Honolulu Housing Director Marc Alexander responded to the December SCOTUS decision by saying the city will still "sweep" people experiencing homelessness from parks and sidewalks. The inflatable tents situated in parks with some police monitoring could be a solution to that very problem, providing resources to people experiencing homelessness ideally without criminalizing them.
A point of optimism and potential learning lesson on the panel was delivered by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Anthony Love. Since 2010, the VA has served 780,000 veterans and their families, he said, which has resulted in a 50% reduction in veteran homelessness from 2010 — and the rate continues to decline. The recent HUD report found that homelessness among veterans and families with children dropped in 2019, down 2.1%.