West Coast homeless epidemic causes cities to declare state of emergency

As housing prices continue to rise in West Coast cities, there has been a disturbing parallel trend of increasing homelessness in metropolitan areas including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.

The Associated Press states that official estimates of the homeless population in California, Washington state and Oregon total 168,000 as of early 2017.   Ten cities in these three states and Honolulu have declared states of emergency due to the overwhelming amount of homeless people in their respective jurisdictions.

Recent reliable statistics are hard to come by, but both the AP and a report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness supports that the national homeless population actually decreased in 2013: 33 states had less homeless, while 16 saw an increase.

Even in Salt Lake City, it is common to see individuals camped out on the sides of streets and Mormon homeless shelters filled to capacity.   Due to the high cost of living particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area where rent starts at $3,000 per month in many neighborhoods, some hold down jobs while living in shelters, cars and RVs.

“Living wage” ordinances have been passed in many of these cities, not including Salt Lake City, to address the problem, but much work is yet to be done to reverse the epidemic.

“This is not a crisis of unemployment that’s leading to poverty around here,” said the executive director of Mountain View, Calif., based Community Services Agency, Tom Myers. “People are working.”

Some jurisdictions have gone beyond mandating increased hourly wages, like Sacramento Calif., where the county government approved a $44 million plan to provide healthcare services for the homeless population.  In San Diego, city workers have been scrubbing the sidewalks with bleach to prevent an outbreak of hepatitis A; and in Portland, a popular food festival had to burn a large amount of incense to dull the scent of urine from a nearby encampment.

Every holiday season, Americans provide for the less fortunate.  With the cost of West Coast living an insurmountable challenge for some, giving a homeless person a place to live this Hanukkah and Christmas may be the best gift one could give.


[AP] [Sacramento Bee]