Although government-imposed solutions to social problems almost always turn out worse than the problems themselves, frequent readers know that I believe that it would be in the best interest of the public at large for the government to be more involved in the plight of the mentally ill. I don't know the best solution to the problem of homelessness, but I'm pretty sure that it isn't ideal to allow drug-addicted, mentally ill people to live on the streets and wander aimlessly through public spaces. Such people are a danger not only to the rest of the citizens around them, but to themselves. Santa Monica, California, struggles with one of my region's worst homeless problems, and recently-elected city councilman Bobby Shriver is proposing a plan to deal with the city's homeless. I don't know if every detail is perfect, but it looks like a reasonable start.

Frustrated residents are asking a fair question: Why do we still have the same number of people—some of them the same individuals—living on our streets and in our parks as we did in 1990? ...

We need a new strategy to handle chronic homelessness. Programs the City now funds do help many homeless people move into housing—but only those who are physically and mentally able to follow the programs' rules. We have no program for the chronic homeless—most of whom are addicted, mentally ill, or both—even though they are the ones who need the most help, use the most resources, and cause residents to avoid certain areas of the city. Our police are reluctant to arrest chronic homeless people who are inebriated in public because of the significant time and expense required to complete the paperwork, only to release them back onto the streets. ...

I recommend two immediate steps:

1. A "sober-up" facility in the new Public Safety Building. Rather than repeatedly jailing and hospitalizing chronic homeless inebriants, police can take them to this facility not only to sober up, but also to receive access to substance abuse, mental health, and housing placement services.

2. A "housing first" approach. From San Francisco to New York, cities are realizing that their costly shelter programs only provide a temporary respite for some—not a solution. Many people will never be able to overcome addictions or mental illness as long as they are living on the streets, or in and out of shelters. Pilot programs have shown that a small, but stable and secure, living space connected to medical, nutritional, occupational, and social services can be much more successful in helping people turn their lives around. ...

Services that do not contribute to our goal of returning people to permanent housing should be eliminated. The City should do all it can to convince well-meaning groups to stop their outdoor feeding programs and instead donate their time and resources to provide housing. We should discourage any program that plays the role of enabler to addicted people living on the streets. Every dollar allocated to homelessness must be spent to support our goal of permanently moving people into housing.

Many of these people will never be able to care for themselves, and we're only fooling ourselves if we think that they're homeless from choice or laziness.

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