Root Causes Can’t Be Ignored

All big cities have some kind of homelessness problem. San Francisco’s is worse than most. To address it, San Francisco adopted a “housing first” policy and dedicated millions of dollars of the city’s $1.1 billion budget for the homeless to implementing it. The concept was to tackle the issue by getting homeless people off the streets and putting them into “single room occupancy” (SRO) hotels purchased by the city for that purpose.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle investigative report took a look at the program and concluded that the results have been “disastrous”–as the headline above indicates. The Chronicle article is behind a pay wall, but an article in the City Journal summarized the gist of the Chronicle article as follows:

“The horrors of SROs were put on display to the public in a recent San Francisco Chronicle feature. The story tells of people living in buildings with collapsing ceilings, toxic mold, vermin, noxious odors, constant noise, broken appliances, and unchecked violence. It also notes that at least 166 people fatally overdosed in these hotels in 2020 and 2021. This official number, however, is suspicious for being so low. San Francisco’s medical examiner reported at least 1,300 overdose deaths citywide in the last two years, most commonly for illicit fentanyl combined with other drugs.”

The City Journal article indicates that life in San Francisco’s SRO hotels is a nightmare. The article quotes one former resident:

“’There needs to be a better vetting process,’ says 25-year-old Darren Mark Stallcup, who until recently lived in an SRO. ‘The city was moving everyone in; people who were sketchy, violent. They were fentanyl addicts, just out of jail, or in gangs. People were breaking my door down. I would wake up having to throw punches.’”

The “housing first” policy may be good hearted, but it evidently isn’t working because housing is only part of the problem. Mentally ill people need special care; drug addicts need treatment to kick the habit. And putting violent people, mentally ill people, current users, and recovering addicts into the same facilities is only going to create a toxic stew and dangerous environment that won’t help anyone. The City Journal article quotes another “long-time SRO resident,” who explains: “If you’re a woman, your life will be a living hell. No one cares. High functioning people regress. Some want to stay sober, but they can’t. Eventually they pick up a pipe again because almost everyone around them is using.”

Homelessness is probably the most complicated social problem we face in America these days, encompassing a host of challenging issues like drug use, mental illness, spousal abuse, education, affordable housing, and employment, among others. San Francisco’s experiment with its “housing first” policy indicates that providing housing, by itself, isn’t going to solve the problem. If you don’t tackle the root causes, you’re not going to make any progress.

On The West Bank

Paris has the Left Bank; Columbus has the West Bank.

Columbus’ West Bank is the western, Franklinton side of the Scioto River. I’ve been trying to explore the various trails and walking paths that the Columbus Department of Parks and Recreation has created in the downtown area, and yesterday after the rain and drizzle stopped I decided to follow the Scioto Mile down to the Main Street bridge, then cross over to the west side and double back along the river trail. When you get to the point where the Olentangy River joins the Scioto you can cross a bridge over to the east side again, make a few turns that take you past the Boathouse restaurant, and then loop back along the river to downtown.

All told, the walk is a little over three miles, and it is a quiet, pleasant walk that yields some interesting views of the downtown area, like the photo above of the north part of downtown and the condos along Riverside Drive. The walking paths on the west side of the river are far less used than the east side, if yesterday’s experience is any indication, and the trek allowed me to walk through a part of the Franklinton area, just north and west of COSI, that I really haven’t explored before. The walk winds through a grassy and woodsy area between the railroad tracks and the river and ends up at the North Souder Avenue bridge, just past the confluence of the two rivers.

To its credit, Columbus has worked hard to try to establish and maintain walking, jogging, and biking paths to allow people to get away from their cars and use their legs instead. It’s been a challenge because Columbus has traditionally been a car-centric city, and much of the downtown area is a snarl of highways and roads that really aren’t well-suited to walking. Fortunately, the rivers provide a kind of natural opportunity for trails and pathways that take you under the highway bridges and allow you to walk and cycle without constantly having to stop for traffic lights.

I’m hoping that Columbus continues to emphasize non-vehicular ways of getting around, and takes the next step of cleaning up some of the riverfront areas. The trails are a nice feature of our town, they promote a healthier population, and they will come in handy if gas prices continue to climb.