Ask Paul Leon Personally
Every day, we receive all sorts of questions about the homelessness crisis and what we’re doing, specifically, here at Illumination Foundation. Our CEO, Paul Leon, answers each of these questions.
Do you think it was a good idea for the city to remove homeless from the riverbed?
What are some existent law/policies that address/control homelessness in Santa Ana?
Does the government have a responsibility to fight homelessness?
How do you think different resources and programs will help decrease the homeless population?
Do you think all cities should be involved in helping the homeless? I recently found out that 52% of the homeless population in Santa Ana are from other cities.
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Q. What is the main reason as to why people become homeless?
A. Homelessness is a complex issue that can’t be attributed solely to one reason. 25% of the entire nation’s homeless population can be found in California. Economics play a large part in this crisis. California, especially Southern California, is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Currently, the vacancy rate in rentals across the county is an unprecedented 2%. This means the competition for housing is not only competitive but expensive. The addition of a mental illness makes finding housing for the homeless nearly impossible. Whether people were born and raised here or transplanted from another state, the cost of living is extremely high. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck. Should there be any change in their employment, they can easily find themselves out on the streets or living in their cars. The cost of health insurance is high and not everyone knows how to access it if necessary. A severe illness can wipe out a person or family’s savings entirely in trying to pay for treatment and prescriptions.
Mental health issues left untreated or undiagnosed, make it difficult for some individuals to connect with the services and medications they need to function. Whether they have become isolated from their families because of these issues or whether or they never had a safety net of people to fall back on, untreated mental health issues make it impossible for someone to hold down a job, find housing and function in a healthy way and this can lead to life on the streets.
The rise of drug use in the United States and the ease of attaining drugs can also be another factor in homelessness. Addiction is a disease that needs to be treated professionally to reach a state of recovery. A lack of resources for those that are poor and addicted, with no treatment options in site, can also lead to a life on the streets, just scraping to get by.
These are just a few examples of some of the socioeconomic and behavioral/mental health issues that can drive an individual into a cycle of homelessness.
Q. Do you think it was a good idea for the city to remove the homeless from the riverbed?
A. Yes. The homeless encampment was becoming a health and environmental hazard, not only for the residents of the encampment but for the Orange County community at large. A few dozen homeless individuals living under the train tracks and overpasses above the Santa Ana riverbed in 2016 were displaced by a public works project. A little more than a year later the numbers climbed to the hundreds as rain displaced this group again to the east bank of the Santa Ana river south of Angel Stadium. Those few hundred totaled close to 1,000 “tent city” residents by January 22, 2018 when the permanent removals began.
There have to be solutions when an entire segment of the population is being isolated and trapped by homelessness. 1,000 people numbers more than some cities in the United States. There have to be solutions when miles of public space are needed for homeless citizens. The Orange County Register interviewed multiple homeless residents of tent city and found one common denominator – most would rather pay rent than live in a tent.
Q. What are some existent law/policies that address/control homelessness in Santa Ana?
A. This is a concise summary: http://www.calhealthreport.org/2018/01/25/anti-homeless-laws-crop-santa-ana-line-statewide-trend/
Q. Does the government have a responsibility to fight homelessness?
A. Yes, as do all of us.
Q. How do you think different resources and programs will help decrease the homeless population?
A. We can only speak to the effective solutions of Illumination Foundation. In order to decrease the homeless population, we have worked to successfully create programs that combine healthcare with housing for the homeless.
It’s not enough to simply put a roof over someone’s head or provide them with food. There has to be medical intervention to treat the whole person; primary healthcare, behavioral healthcare, psychological counseling, substance use counseling and social counseling. Life on the streets brings with it a constant state of transition and uncertainty. When your entire life is in a shopping bag or a cart or hidden under a tarp, there are survival skills needed that have nothing to do with a person’s own self-care.
Illumination Foundation has highly skilled and trained staff across all disciplines. We work closely with our homeless clients to remove them from the streets and provide the necessary services to gradually transition them back into society as functioning members of society no longer on the fringe.
Q. Do you think all cities should be involved in helping the homeless? I recently found out that 52% of the homeless population in Santa Ana are from other cities.
A. Yes. All cities have an obligation to be a part of this solution because it affects us all. You can’t turn a blind eye to the 55,000+ homeless people on the streets in Southern California. Without solutions being enacted, homeless people will continue to seek shelter wherever they can. They will continue to use hospitals as ER’s, they will continue to live with untreated mental issues and addictions and they will continue to drag their children down without hope of a better future.