I agree with Patricia Fong (October 3–9 Northwest Asian Weekly issue) that there is a big homeless problem in the Chinatown-International District (CID) and that the issues of Covid-19 exacerbate the situation even more. What I don’t agree with is the idea that removing these encampments is going to magically solve this problem. In fact, the city swept the CID encampments just a few months ago only to see the camps come right back. As a resident of the CID, I watched on May 21 as the Navigation Team, which included over 40 police officers and only four social service workers, tore down people’s camps and threw all of their possessions away. There were no plans for where people were supposed to go once the encampment was removed.
Now the camps are back. So, are we going to do the same exact thing again expecting a different result?
What we really need in the CID and this whole city is to look at what actually works in ending homelessness instead of just asking the city and the police to remove people experiencing homelessness from our sight. It doesn’t take much research to find that using the housing first model for homelessness assistance actually helps people remain stably housed. What housing first does is provide basic needs like food and a place to live before attending to other needs, like getting a job or attending to substance use issues. Different studies have shown that between 75% and 91% of households were able to remain stably housed for long periods if they were rapidly rehoused. Studies have also shown that it is cost effective, with one study showing that it costs $23,000 less to use the housing first model than to utilize a shelter and emergency service program. So, why isn’t the city using programs like this to actually end homelessness? Especially as the pandemic worsens, we should be expecting even more people to lose stable housing. In this time of world crisis, we should be showing our humanity to other people.
I do think we need to contact our mayor and city council members. But, not to remove the camps with a sweep. Instead, we should ask them to use proven solutions to end homelessness in the CID so that people aren’t having to live in these conditions anymore. What I want to see in my neighborhood is for these camps to disappear, not because police came and tore them down, but because the people have found stable housing and can lead stable lives. This is a way to get to the root of the problem instead of constantly doing police sweeps, which we have seen don’t work. Let’s hold our city officials accountable for our neighborhood, but let’s try an approach that will actually work.