There is no question that homelessness has spiked in San Joaquin County over the last few years. It isn’t just a Stockton problem any longer; our homeless crisis is visually evident in all our cities including Manteca, Tracy, and Lathrop. According to figures released earlier this year, cities like Manteca saw a drastic increase in its homeless population. While local city leaders are on the front line doing everything they can to solve the problem, the root cause remains failed policies out of the State Capitol, including regulations that contribute to California’s ever-increasing cost-of-living, horrible early release laws like Proposition 47 and AB 109, failed substance abuse programs, and inadequate resources to combat mental health problems.

But as with many previous issues, San Joaquin County can’t wait for legislators in Sacramento to fix the problem. The fact is we need a new targeted, and deliberative, approach to reversing the homeless trend locally. The high cost of housing is an important contributor to homelessness, but it is only one part. We need to take into consideration other factors. Substance abuse problems, high rates of recidivism coupled with failed early release policies, a serious lack of available resources to address mental health issues are just a few of the circumstances that can lead to homelessness. As a law enforcement officer for the better part of two decades, I encounter individuals who experience each of these firsthand. We must get tough on those that require it, but we also need to be compassionate with those that need it.

The simple fact is unless we look at this crisis holistically and regionally, we just kick the can down the road. Our San Joaquin County region needs to look at the mistakes made by cities like Stockton, San Francisco, and Sacramento on this issue and learn from their failures. We also need to explore other policies around our state and replicate successful efforts, like the City of San Diego in recent years. After San Diego committed more resources to bolster its city trash and sanitation department, sanitation crews removed 4,000 tons of trash from city streets, lots, and sidewalks over a two-year period. The city is also implementing new programs to stop the revolving doors of hospitals and jails that just dump individuals out on the street again and again.

We also must do everything we can to make housing more affordable, not just for the population experiencing homelessness, but for everyone. I know many residents in San Joaquin County that are forced to commute hours to work every day due to the cost of rent or a home. That’s unacceptable and cannot be our new normal. If state leaders are not going to give serious attention to reforming outdated laws like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that add thousands of dollars to rents and mortgages, then we need to do everything we can at the county level to reduce barriers to building affordable homes.

This is a humanitarian emergency for California, and a cost of living, mental health, public health and safety, and substance abuse crisis. We must do better and rise to the occasion once more, because our state leaders have largely failed, and I don’t see their help on the horizon any time soon. We have risen to the challenge in the past and we can do that once again. I am confident that working together and working locally, we can attack the root causes and make significant strides to decrease the rate of homelessness in San Joaquin County’s cities and neighborhoods.

Published: January 22, 20020 / 209 Weekly