Gary Horton: Deciding to decisively end homelessness

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The vote on Measure H was held Tuesday. Plainly, as I write this on Election Day, I don’t know which way the wind will blow.

This much I do know: I’ve been cajoled, pressured, called, texted and marketed by dozens of Measure H support groups – many of which would likely be recipients of those funds.

And with Measure H’s 40 separate initiatives there’s “something inside” for every service provider, landlord, social worker, and all the other folks entwined in our Homeless Industrial Complex.

Let’s not mince words – homelessness, and our “cure” for it, have become a “thing.” An industry. A place where money goes and people are “served” and still, after hundreds of millions spent, we only see the problem growing.

Maybe we are approaching this wrong?

The practical man sees Measure H as a diffuse boondoggle of epic proportions. In Measure H we read slippery words like “should,” “may,” “plan,” “study,” “advocacy,” “outreach” and “qualify.” We don’t read defined statements like “Move (quantity inserted here) into housing.”

The proposed $3,500,000,000 tax appears an avalanche of dollars sprayed across the county in seemingly sufficient quantity to cure almost everything, including cancer.

But H proposed to scatter this $350 million annual money machine across 40+ separate “strategies,” across 4,550 square miles, at 60,000 homeless with more coming. After deducting the inevitable county overhead, we might see $2,000 to $3,000 actual dollars hitting each of those in need. How far will that go? How will that actually turn around lives or house people in a city where monthly rents alone equal nearly that much?

Measure H displays we simply don’t have the will or backbone to do what it takes to really end homelessness meaningfully. Ending this plague against our humanity takes owning up to what’s wrong with our society and what’s wrong with our own attitudes.

The homeless are homeless because something in their lives failed. Something in our society has also failed as, societally, we’ve allowed honest-to-God human beings to live in worse conditions than our pets.

Face it: most have greater emotional response to lost dogs and cats than we do folks wrapped in blankets under freeways. Think that one through and look in the mirror.

Something went wrong on our way to capitalist nirvana. Some of our fellow humans got messed up, swallowed up, and spit out.

“It’s their own fault,” we like to rationalize, but even those lost pets pulling our heart strings made mistakes and ran away from their owners. People make mistakes, too. We just don’t care so much for lost humans as we do dogs and cats.

Things have to change within us if we want to be a humane society and really, truthfully and forcefully end this homelessness thing: We’ve got to have the backbone to declare homelessness plainly unacceptable and even “illegal.”

One cannot overstay one’s reservation at a public campground. One cannot homestead in Yellowstone and expect the rangers not to kick you out. Similarly, we cannot tolerate folks loitering in public spaces designed for kids, family sports, shopping or hiking.

Our public spaces are purposed and paid for to support healthy public life. Tolerating homeless loitering, many with social and mental problems, degrades our communities and lowers the quality of life for the vast majority.

As a society, we’ve developed zero tolerance for many things averse to public well-being. Homelessness and loitering must be added to that list.

However, with this determination, we are fully and morally compelled to provide proper facilities and services to move these folks into safe and appropriate spaces – and hopefully full reintegration into functioning society.

Therefore, we must end our “not in my backyard” syndrome. The homeless need homes, and that means zoning to allow both government and private enterprise to build affordable, or even free, housing.

And what we build must be appropriate for the needs of those requiring assistance. From transitional housing, to medical service, to permanent – what needs to be built must indeed be built – and built in the locations where the needs are present.

Most homeless suffer mental stress or disease. We must rebuild permanent mental facilities sufficient to care for, and house, thousands of homeless individuals throughout Los Angeles.

These facilities must provide mental health care, life planning, directive assistance, and employment skills. The half steps of Measure H won’t cut it.

Many homeless are U.S. veterans. The V.A. must step up and provide real living assistance to these soldiers we say we hold in such esteem. We want more jobs in America? Hire folks to reach out and help our needy vets. We’ve got to move beyond Hometown Hero flags on our streetlights to pulling our domestically fallen heroes back into society.

All of this takes real guts, determination, and public generosity. It takes real community resolve. Ultimately, it takes a change of personal hearts where we value our lost humans at least as much as our pets.

Passed or not, Measure H, unfortunately, won’t accomplish any of this. But we’d feel better as public dollars are spewed across Los Angeles like the natural gas that blew out of that Porter Ranch gas leak.

Against this dire assessment, in the future I’ll address the real, tangible ways we actually stop homeless here in the SCV.

Here, I’m optimistic. Here, we can get a handle on it. And here, where Measure H funds would largely pass us by anyway, we can still – with minds now aware – solve homelessness, making Awesometown even more awesome.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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