“Eliminating” Homelessness Doesn’t Always Mean Housing the Homeless



April 7, 2014; Press-Enterprise

When a headline announces that a city will “eliminate” homelessness, you pay attention. That’s the headline for Aaron Claverie’s article in the Press-Enterprise about the newly announced plans of the city of Temecula, California. The first question that might be raised by that headline is whether “eliminate” means “solve,” or “house,” or simply “hide” or “move out of sight.”

What is Temecula’s homelessness problem? Mayor Maryann Edwards made the “growing homeless problem” a big issue during her election campaign, but it isn’t like there has been a flood of homeless into the city. As of 2013, according to the Press-Enterprise article, there were 80 identified homeless persons in the city, with 50 deemed “unsheltered”—that is, living in places not meant for human habitation, like parks or abandoned buildings rather than shelters or transitional housing.

The strategy, as proposed by city staff to the City Council, calls for collaborating with nonprofit organizations and churches, providing “comprehensive services that will provide support and a path to self-sufficiency,” and spending no taxpayer revenues. The program is “to eliminate homelessness in Temecula with a hand up, not a handout and to hold participants accountable for their actions,” according to a report from Kevin Hawkins, director of the city’s Community Services Department.

But which side of the hand will be held out? The Press-Enterprise article states that a major emphasis of the plan is to get the police, park rangers, and the city attorney to “increase surveillance and inspections of areas typically occupied by homeless/transients; provide consistent cleanup of problem areas; review legislation and recommend ordinances to mitigate aggressive solicitation/panhandling; and to have a continual, visible presence in order to deter unwanted transient behaviors.” In addition, the city plan will strategy will include an “‘extensive awareness campaign to educate the community’ about actions that enable and perpetuate homelessness.”

Somehow, that description doesn’t exactly convey the sense of a hand up. It appears that earlier this year, businesses began to complain about homeless people who apparently were being helped at a food pantry operated by the nonprofit Team Evangelical Assistance Ministries (TEAM) in a city-owned building. The city responded to the merchants’ complaints about the “transient population” by increasing police patrols and working with businesses to better monitor and report all “suspicious activity.”

After the complaints, the city began to look into TEAM’s operations and decided to put the pantry operation out for bids. Only one bid was deemed responsive—from Community Mission of Hope, a pantry operation arm of Rancho Community Church, where Mayor Edwards is a member. In addition to her job as mayor, Edwards is president/CEO of the Southwest County Boys & Girls Club, which has a clubhouse just north of the pantry.

At least based on Claverie’s reporting of the issue, it’s a little difficult to see the hand up in Temecula’s strategy. A very affluent community, Temecula could probably do a lot more to help the city’s tiny homeless population out of its own taxpayer revenues. It could probably generate services and supports for the homeless that look more like service and less like policing. In all likelihood, Temecula’s leadership means to do well with the homeless, because there’s no reason to imagine that a solution based on punitive actions solves the homeless housing problem in Temecula or any other community. But the strategy looks like it eliminates homelessness by driving out the homeless, rather than finding housing and accommodations to help homeless persons integrate into the community.—Rick Cohen

  • maryann edwards

    Mr. Cohen, With all due respect, you failed to mention the free comprehensive services that form the basis for this discussion and the contract between Mission of Hope and the city of Temecula. Mission of Hope is very active in the community and currently offers comprehensive services to low income families and individuals.

    The city crafted an RFP that included desired homeless programs and services and called the program Responsible Compassion. Several agencies submitted proposals, and Mission of Hope provided the most extensive with an existing track record of success. “Responsible Compassion” includes housing in new single family homes with counselors in-residence, comprehensive counseling and/or treatment for drug/alcohol addiction, mental health care services, physical health care services, nutrition program and nutrition education, skills assessment, job and life skills training, employment development services, job placement services, permanent housing referrals, and follow-up services once self-sufficiency is achieved.

    The goal of the city of Temecula and Mission of Hope is to restore every homeless person to self-sufficiency without using taxpayer dollars. The only requirement is that participants are actively engaged and demonstrate consistent progress toward self-sufficiency. The program realizes failures are a fact of life when dealing with serious and long-standing issues such as drug dependence, etc. So there is no “zero tolerance” clause. The goal is for self-sufficiency, not a desire to boot people from the program just because they are older, poor, cranky, or make mistakes. But at some point, they will be held accountable and may be asked to leave the program. At that point, they will receive nothing. NOTHING.

    Simultaneous to Responsible Compassion, the other elements of the program are in effect. Police patrols will be increased in areas where crime is more concentrated until the crime rate drops in those areas. This has always been the case and residents appreciate the high visibility of our police as an effective deterrent. It’s not so much the number of homeless people that is the concern; it’s that they commit crimes and sell drugs to our children

    Increased public awareness is the third link in the chain. People need to be made aware that the remaining homeless people panhandling on the off ramps are homeless by choice. They have rejected all forms of help and have chosen instead to play on the sympathy of generous residents. Through the communication piece, people will know that donating money is the same as donating drugs or alcohol. People will know that food was/is available, but the homeless have turned it down in favor of maintaining their homeless lifestyle. People will know that by giving food, money, or temporary shelter to a homeless person, they are actually enabling the homeless person to continue to live in the creek and use heroin.

    Responsible Compassion involves 1) Housing/Rehab/Return to Self-Sufficiency, 2) Stepped-up enforcement of the law, and 3)Communication with the public about avoiding activities that will enable the homeless to remain homeless.

    I hope this clarifies the program.

    Maryann Edwards
    Temecula Mayor

  • Lynn Jennings

    I can only hope the people of Temecula will see their way to make their willfully ignorant and heartless Mayor homeless.

  • Rob Robinson

    Mayor Edwards-

    I know it’s unsolicited, please consider this modest proposal; for the ultimate in “responsible compassion”, perhaps your community should consider capital punishment for repeat offenders?

    Obviously, everyone would be better off in the long run if you could deal with transients, vagrants, and other undesirables in an efficient and permanent manner as opposed to having the police process them and setting them loose on your streets, free to spend all day doing nothing but living the “high life” through drugs and alcohol.

    Eliminate Homelessness indeed!

    thanks, Rob

  • Tim Younglove

    Mr Cohen,

    Great article, and what a wonderful way for the lovely mayor to expose her true hatefulness. I wonder if she is going to also want to rid the community of all Arab-Americans because they are all terrorists, or African-Americans because they are criminals, or White Americans because they are hateful and enable hate crimes. These examples are as wildly hateful and insane as the reasons the mayor gave for hating homeless people. She has taken a single stereotype and applied it to the homeless individuals in her community.

    Based on her views I would not accept food from a city run food pantry either, you will probably be poisoned. The Mayor has decided that a police run city and hatred of the homeless is the best way to “help” them. Drive them out by forcing them to accept the minimal assistance from a mayor that hates them anyway or receive no assistance from the community who feed off the hatred of the mayor.

    It makes me sick to think that a person who cares so little about other humans is voted into office. I will ensure I pass this little rant on to my local and national news channels, she needs to be exposed for the hate filled person she is.

  • August

    The mayor of Temecula has ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM with her PANHANDLING FOR CASH when she runs for election….and we all know a lot of that money GOES FOR BOOZE!

  • August

    I can’t wait for Temecula to run out of water and watch it’s residents START BEGGING DESPERATELY for water; it’s coming.

  • jonathan gantz

    Well her arguments sound reasonable. I think before we go defacing anyine a reporter needs to find the supposed homeless who fail the program and interview them

  • Kyle

    I agree with the Mayor. I took off one year and spent it “homeless” in our state capital. (I left my house and money in the bank, neither of which I used in my experiment of how that lifestyle worked, and took what was on my body to live a year “as a homeless person.”) My intention was to figure out another issue unrelated to the attitude of the homeless: I just wanted to experience that lifestyle and its problems/issues/benefits. In doing so, I discovered that the homeless IN GENERAL are there because they want to be. The ones who are there out of misfortune manage to find a way out. Those who like it stay homeless for years and even a lifetime. People never remember that one does not leave his hand in a boiling pot of water or remains sleeping on a bed of ants.

  • Linda McDonald

    I am NOT surprised at this type of response from our “mayor”. This is a woman who only joined the largest church in the area to get votes just before an election! She was “placed” in a vacated city council seat when Jeff Stone left for the board of supervisors position. She is totally clueless and her suggestion to “criminalize” homelessness and “discourage” those of us who ARE good Samaritans from helping them, is disgusting, to say the least. Although not a “bible thumper” myself, I was brought up to believe, and still do, to always help those in need – it was top of the list for Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Therese and many more enlightened beings on this planet, for Maryann to think she can just wave her hand and make these downtrodden people disappear is indicative of not only her arrogance but ignorance as well. I am disgusted with our entire city council, they are arrogant, rude, ignorant, and only care about themselves, I hope we can vote them all out soon, but Maryann tops the list!

  • Linda McDonald

    Hey Maryann – blah blah blah blah blah – actions SPEAK louder than your words honey!!

  • Linda McDonald

    I’m glad others are finally exposing the hypocrisy that is our city council, I’ve been exposed and sickened by it for years now, and disgusted that people keep electing and re-electing these hypocrites. Thank you for the response Tim!

  • Linda McDonald

    Why don’t YOU volunteer for that program Jonathan? Are you familiar with the plight of the majority of homeless people? Are you aware that most of them are untreated mentally ill and have nowhere to go and nobody to help them? If not, then I suggest you educate yourself first. Maryann is NOT reasonable, she’s a selfish, hypocritcal, backstabbing, tyrant, I’ve seen her in action, two faced is an understatement for her, three faced comes to mind.

  • Linda McDonald

    I see Kyle, and are you mentally ill??? Are you AWARE that the majority of those sleeping on the streets ARE mentally ill??? EDUCATE YOURSELF KYLE!! You are as ignorant as Maryann, no wonder you agree with her! Hopefully one day YOU will be at the bottom and people will look down at you and say “he’s there because he WANTS TO BE!”

  • Linda McDonald

    I consider Maryann Edwards a “repeat offender” she has repeatedly offended the citizens of THIS CITY – so can we use that capital punishment on her??? Sounds reasonable to me! She seems to forget whom she works for and that even the poor CAN VOTE and HAVE RIGHTS! Not in “her world” thought I guess…..!

  • Linda McDonald

    And, Maryann, if you or any of your thugs EVER try to stop ME from helping the poor and downtrodden – God help YOU!! Your little rant is rather unpopular here isnt it? You forgot to mention that the majority of homeless people are also dealing with a little thing called “mental illness” so to expect them to act “normal” is NOT appropriate or “normal”. So much for being a “christian” in the church eh? WWJD Maryann??? Hmmmm?

  • R Rtz

    Excuse me “Mayor” Edwards. When I became homeless in late 2002 it wasn’t by “choice.” It also wasn’t any “compassionate” conservative or so-called “Christian” such as yourself. I spent 5 YEARS homeless, not by choice. If you had to spend 5 years living in a homeless shelter you would not dare say such a thing. It took an ATHEIST to help me get back on my feet and get the help I really needed. Would you like to know what kept me homeless? Health issues. Not a single “Christian” church I approached would spend the time helping me get the assistance I need, not a single “Christian” offered to help. It sure taught me a lot about the Christian faith I was raised in though. It took an Atheist to show me true Christian compassion and love. Today I am in my own apartment, have the medical assistance I need to make it day to day, and switched my political affiliation to the Democratic party. II grew up because 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I grew up once I became homeless, perhaps you and others like you need to grow up as well.

  • Tom

    I’m sure if you check into this pathetic puppy’s background you find several cases of her sucking off the public tit! But not now and not for those who really need the help, the majority of whom suffer some form of mental illness.

  • lizzy

    I am so tired of being told I chose to be homeless. I have been homeless since 2006. Every single day is a challenge to just eat, and find a proper place to maintain hygyien. The stress that is caused by perpetual homelessness, cant even be described. I am a human being, I have feelings, and I have some things to tell you oh so informed .idiots who believe I chose this.
    when you become home homeless you have a 30 day window to get your life back together or your screwed, the first 30 days everyone of your credit cards, car payment car insurance and other bills dont get paid, ( really would you chose a cheap motel or pay credit card bill) now every one of your creditors has just reported on you , your 710 fico score just sank to below 350, your trying to put out job apps but your cell phone was shut off and you have no address, your moneys gone and your living in your car. your only means of transportation and shelter, when I law enforcement warn you that it is illegal to sleep in your car. you have nowhere else to go so you drive away and try and park and sleep elsewhere, well since the officer warned you once your car is now being impounded wuith everything you had left. no you have no clean clothes, your more down and depressed than when it all started, you find little help because you have no minor children and most shelters give homeless with kids first beds. you try to gather recycling from area dumbsters, only to have law enforment notify you that your are in the commision of a FELONY offence. yes taking someones garbage is a felony. you go to welfare and they will give you $170 in cash and $180 in foodstamps for a month and you can only collect the cash for 90 days . CAN ANY OF YOU FIND PROPER HOUSEING AND FEED YOURSELF ON THAT. WHERE CAN YOU STAY AN INTIRE MONTH FOR 170. NOW YOU HAVE NO MONEY FOR SOAP TOILET TISSUE DISH SOAP. AND WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO COOK AND EAT ON. . LADY IF WE HAD REAL VIABLE MEANS TO GET OFF THE STREET WE WOULD. TAKE OFF YOUR ROSE COLOURED GLASSES AND SEE US FOR WHO WE ARE. THE FORGOTTEN THE UNWANTED THE HOMELESS.. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS I CHOSE NONE OF THIS AND FOR THOSE WHO WONDER WHY I DIDNT FILE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT? I DIDNT QUALIFY BECAUSE I WAS SELF EMPLOYED BUSINESS OWNER WHO LOST BUSINESS IN RECESSION. AND BELIEVE ME I PAID HIGHER TAXES THAN THE AVERAGE EMPLOYEE.. . we dont want this way of life. but we are left with no other options.

  • Coach Ron

    (:Amen. Like to Help ? Who do we contact ?

  • Hannah Zachwieja

    I guarantee you no person who is homeless in TEMECULA or anywhere else for that matter intended to end up where they are. Do you really think anyone would just say “you know what I feel like being homeless would be fun” no, something got them there, wether it be drugs, losing a job, etc, they did not want to end up there. No matter the reason why they are homeless, they do need help however. I know this because a very close family member of mine is homeless in temecula. My family member has no choice however wether or not he is homeless and I myself have seen first hand that they don’t want to be there. They all need help wether it is food,shelter, or even mental help. Yes some homeless people are junkies but they need help too. Addiction is a disease and every addict has a story that most people never read, they are often judged and discriminated against and most of the time just looked at as worthless. most people would kick dirt on a person like this when they walk by, only making matters worse. Addiction is a highly complex issue that few understand, I don’t understand it myself, I will not pretend like I have been through it but I have witnessed a person I know and love very well hit rock bottom stay there partly because people like you look at them the way you do. So when you act on your plan to get rid of all these human beings from your cookie cutter community remember drugs are the crime not addiction, addiction is a disease, and judging by your actions I can guarantee you have never been emotionally effected by it.