By George MullenAmerica needs a bold new strategy to deal with homelessness — a combination of federal leadership and local control — and San Diego can lead the way.
The reality is that homelessness has always existed, and always will. But the current homeless crisis on our streets — a humanitarian, public health and environmental disaster – is new. But it is resolvable with the right leadership and strategy.
Unfortunately, it is painfully clear that our state and city leaders are unwilling or unable to solve the problem. If they could, they surely would have done so by now. Thus we need to look for leadership elsewhere.
Setting aside the passionate spectrum of opinions regarding President Trump, one thing we can all agree on is that he is unconventional and willing to take risks. Most politicians are not, and this is a big reason that America’s homeless crisis continues unabated.
President Trump’s unique persona could prove beneficial in this arena. He has repeatedly spoken out about California’s homeless devastation, and he just appointed a new chair for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. He is itching for action.
With this in mind, here is my proposed plan:
- President Trump declares a National Homeless Emergency across the homeless-hotbed states of California, Oregon, and Washington.
- The federal government designates 12 separate sites of 200-plus acres of federal land on the outskirts of every homeless-epicenter city from San Diego to Seattle to be each region’s Sunbreak Ranch — my two-year-old plan developed in San Diego for helping homeless start a new life.
These would be location-solution centers designed to welcome all homeless persons, who could come and go as they please. Individuals could reside in a community tent or camp on their own in a series of designated (and protected) areas for families, single mothers, elderly, veterans, those with dogs, and so on.
There will be port-o-potties and port-o-showers aplenty, as well as mess halls, medical tents, storage facilities, and onsite service providers. These will include dedicated teams of mental health professionals, drug rehabilitation specialists, and vocational trainers.
There will be a free daily shuttle-bus service going to and from the nearest metropolitan downtown. Each Sunbreak will have private security as well as a permanent 24/7 police outpost in order to provide safety and security to all residents.
Importantly, the point is not to park homeless people out of sight. Rather, the Sunbreak goal is to be the location-solution center focused on diagnosing each person’s unique situation, and then assisting every able person back to work and independent living. And for those unable, the goal is to get them the services that will best help them.
Some will argue that state and local jurisdictions should just do this on their own. The reality is that it would be near impossible for them to accomplish this. Local jurisdictions attempting to designate a 200-acre site for a Sunbreak Ranch will be beset by political infighting, approval processes, permitting, NIMBY opposition, environmental protests, and endless red tape. In other words, it will never happen, and the homeless status quo will prevail.
This is why the federal option is our “silver bullet.” The federal government can indeed designate 12 Sunbreak sites of 200-acres each on federal land without any of the aforementioned red tape or headaches. (The Navy’s new amphibious training base just built on the south side of Coronado on federal land is a perfect example — erected quickly without any input or red tape from the adjacent local jurisdictions.)
The first 12 Sunbreaks are targeted for San Diego, Orange County, Riverside/San Bernardino, Los Angeles south, Los Angeles north, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento/Stockton, Portland, and Seattle. More will likely follow
- Once the exact Sunbreak locations are identified, the federal government would send FEMA and the military to construct graveled roads and tent cities using surplus military equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan deployments. With our military’s help (and unique expertise), these tent cities will rise within weeks and be able to house tens of thousands.
Congress will likely have to approve funding, but perhaps there is executive leeway for such a humanitarian emergency. Either way, funding should be minimal for erecting tent cities with surplus military equipment.
- Once built, each Sunbreak would be handed over to a local consortium (with a dynamic proven leader) that includes representatives from the county, local cities, police, fire, homeless service providers, charities, churches, service clubs, et al.
Homelessness at its core is a local issue. Thus, each Sunbreak will need to be managed and operated by locals who best understand that community’s unique situation. The Sunbreak modus operandi is designed to be “local control” without federal red tape.
Furthermore, every major city has dozens of organizations that are dedicated to providing services to help the homeless. As such, all qualified homeless service providers will be given rent-free space at Sunbreak Ranch in order to help them facilitate their outreach and services. The size of the area given will depend on each provider’s capacity to serve.
- In exchange for providing the land and support, the federal government could require the three West Coast states to enforce laws regarding public loitering, camping, littering, defecating, urinating, illicit drug use and petty theft on the streets, canyons and river basins.
Courts have ruled that the Constitution does not allow prosecuting people for sleeping outdoors if there is no shelter available. But with 12 operational Sunbreaks, shelter will now be available. Thus, the three West Coast states will have met the legal conditions and can return to enforcing the rule of law on their streets and canyons.
Most significantly, 12 operational Sunbreaks will provide nearly every homeless person on the West Coast with the attention and services they need, as well as enable the clean-up of our feces-laden cities and natural environments.
George Mullen is spearheading Sunbreak Ranch in the effort to end America’s homeless crisis. He is the author of “The Coming Financial Tsunami” (2005) and “Welcome to the Bubble Economy” (2006). He is a principal of StudioRevolution.com in San Diego.
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