More women and young people are without reliable shelter
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter
Communication is key! That was the main consensus reached from IMPACT Homelessness, the May 27 community forum hosted by Hemet Christian Assembly and moderated by Hemet City Councilwoman Karlee Meyer. Stacie Olson, Founder of Project Hope II and Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown both stated that there was a need for all agencies that provide services to communicate with each other.
Meyer opened the forum talking about poverty and homelessness. The audience also watched a video of testimonies given by three people who, at one point, had lived on the streets. The panel was asked preselected questions; no questions were taken from the audience during the forum, which ran more as an educational seminar. There was however, opportunity to ask panelists questions individually after the forum.
How many people are just one paycheck from being on the streets? How many families face living on the streets if one person in the household lost their job? How many single people would end up on the streets if they lost theirs?
More women are becoming homeless
Diana Barnes-Fox, clinical director at Center Against Sexual Assault (C.A.S.A.), explained to the audience of about 150 attendees that there is an increase in younger women on our streets and sexual assault is prevalent.
Lynne Brockmeier, Housing Crisis Response Team manager and HomeConnect (CES) lead at Riverside University Health System – Behavioral Health (RUHS-BH), gave the audience some statistics about those on the streets in Riverside County. According to the data collected from the coordinated entry system, youth make up about a quarter of those on the streets and women account for 45 percent.
Mental health is a big reason. Brenda Scott, Director of NAMI Mt. San Jacinto, explained that police officers essentially became mental health responders because beds in mental health institutions became severely limited as a result of their closures in the early 1970s. This resulted in Cook County Jail and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility becoming the two largest mental health institutions in the United States.
Why are people homeless?
There are a multitude of reasons ranging from economics to abuse to mental health and drug addiction. Trauma is the reason 75 percent of people live on the streets, according to the coordinated entry system. The longer someone is on the streets, the more of a barrier they create between themselves and others.
The panelists are seeing an increase in youth who “age out” of the foster care system. Chances are that they already experienced trauma prior to being in the system. If they age out and have nowhere to go, then they are often forced to live on the streets – compounding the existing trauma.
It is very important for people to understand that homelessness can happen to anyone. Brockmeier stated that most people do not want to acknowledge those on the streets because of their own fear of being homeless themselves.
Poverty and homelessness – what are the numbers?
In 2015, 43.1 million people lived in poverty in the United States, according to the United States Census Bureau. Hemet’s poverty rate is 26 percent.
“The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics reports that in 2010, 22 percent of children under the age of 18 lived in food-insecure households, and one percent of households have very low food security. Food insecure means that at some point during the year, the household had limited access to an adequate supply of food due to lack of money or other resources.”
According to the Point in Time (PIT) Count conducted by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 119 people are classified as homeless/unsheltered in Hemet. That number, according to HUD, is up 12 from 2016, which calculates to an 11.2 percent increase from 2016 to 2017.
However, the PIT count numbers are misleading and the real numbers are much higher. Why? Because approximately 10 percent of Tahquitz High School’s student population is classified as homeless. That is just one school in Hemet Unified School District and does not include the number of people you see on the streets. There are also a number of people who couch surf, as well as people living in motels. Valley Restart Shelter is limited to 35 people and has a waiting list.
Chief Brown said that when we talk about the homeless we need to remember that they “have real families and real life situations like the rest of us and that is something that the police department and the officers know.”
Brown went on to say that, “Officers in any community probably have the most consistent interaction with our homeless population on a day-to-day basis. And so, we really have a sense for who these people are – and first and foremost – they are people.”
All panelists agreed that giving to panhandlers was ineffective and suggested giving to organizations instead, which they called “responsible compassion.” The consensus was that giving to an organization that knows how to help is a more effective way to use one’s time and resources.
Three additional forums, hosted by Hemet Christian Assembly, are scheduled for July 29, Sept. 23 and Nov. 18. They will start at 10 a.m.