Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tent Cities

I must admit to being impressed by the speed with which President Obama's economic recovery proposal is being addressed in Congress. Of course the Republicans are dragging their heels a bit, hoping to convince the new president and their colleagues that no bill without steeper tax cuts can possibly work, but it still should be possible to pass the proposals by early February. That is just the bare bones beginning to the recovery process, and it will be months, perhaps even a couple of years before the economy begins to chug along again. In the mean time, there are a whole lot of people unemployed, homeless, and destitute. They don't have the luxury of months or years. What do we do about them?

California, where the unemployment rate has reached 9.2%, is in the midst of its own economic meltdown. The legislature still hasn't come up with a budget to staunch the bleeding, so the state has had to abruptly halt major infrastructure projects, some already in progress, in order to hold down the cash flow. The result is more unemployment and more homelessness at a time when the state has also begun cutting programs designed to deal with those issues. And that means local authorities are left with some pretty challenging problems which will only grow over the coming months.

Sacramento, a mid-sized city and the state capital, has begun exploring some rather unusual temporary solutions to the problems. From the Sacramento Bee:

Sacramento homeless who illicitly camp along the American River Parkway and on city sidewalks may soon be able to live in tent communities sanctioned by government and police.

Police, city and county leaders and homeless advocates are seriously considering several potential locations for communities that would allow campers to live free from police interference and offer basic services such as running water and portable toilets. ...

Beyond the effects on surrounding areas, Trimm and others said, officials are considering potential costs of establishing the homeless communities and how the sites would be governed and policed.

The potential sites, which could accommodate 50 or more tents, were picked with the help of Sacramento officers who patrol areas used by campers, Merin said. They were chosen based on their proximity to agencies that offer services, access to bus and light-rail routes, and potential impact on residential neighborhoods.

Clearly such a solution is at best a temporary measure, but it may very well be the best Sacramento can do right now. What this means, however, is that any economic recovery plan has to do more than throw money into infrastructure and hope that the resulting job creation will move people back into the kind of solvency that will allow for housing. The states have to be allowed to use some of the recovery money to provide for emergency shelter and other necessary programs until the federal programs have the intended effect.

Hopefully folks in Congress and in the White House are taking that into consideration.

Labels: ,


Blogger dmarks said...

They could repeal the "prevailing wage act", which causes at least 10% wasteful overpay on government contracts. If this act were repealed, and government instead sought the best contracts at a fair market rate, the savings from having fair contracts could be used to both increase infrastructure spending AND provide more necessary services to the poor (assuming that you split the savings between infrastructure and social services).

That would help things a lot in the long run. But it is not immediate.

The "tent cities for the homeless" thing has to be done carefully. So it does not seem like a refugee camp or something run by Sheriff Arpaio (sp?) of Maricopa County, Arizona. Perhaps large recently-built-but-empty office buildings or hotels could be used. Surely there are some of those in the areas where the homeless are.

In Michigan, our unemployment is even higher than California's. Our governor refuses to cut waste spending. For example, we have some state employees pulling in a half million a year. A re-alignment of priorities in "public service" should be in order.

7:51 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home