Poverty and Homelessness

Poverty and homelessness are daunting challenges for our community.  Though most poor people do not commit crimes, we cannot avoid the association between a life in poverty and crime. Incarcerating desperate and neglected persons failing to overcome the traumatic effects of poverty and homelessness is inhumane and a drain on resources better used for violent offenders. 

Reducing homelessness and addressing poverty will lead to safe, secure and economically healthy communities. In our county, 33,000 children are insecurely housed as families often double and triple up in small living spaces.  The trauma and insecurity that these children and their families face is a direct result from the lack of affordable housing and inadequate wages.  A person earning the minimum wage must work 80 hours per week to be able to afford a one bedroom apartment.

One in four children in this county does not have enough food to eat and 40% of our households live below the poverty line.  Under these conditions it's no wonder that poverty is associated with trauma, hunger, fatigue and stress.  Sadly, many of our children feel the impacts of poverty as they walk to school each day. Our teachers then, not only teach; they must also feed and sometimes clothe their students.

If we are serious about wanting safe and secure communities we must strengthen our social safety net and expand access to social services.   With access to food, shelter and health care our most vulnerable population can begin to overcome the trauma that they've lived under.  

We must also expand access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment through the expansion of Covered California.  Expanding this program is a very effective strategy that costs county taxpayers very little.  For those unable or unwilling to voluntarily seek treatment, if they commit a crime they should have access to treatment court.  To be sure these courts are not get-out-of-jail-free cards.  The person will be closely monitored by armed probation officers; must undergo intensive treatment; report to court each week; and remain trouble-free for 18 months.  Treatment courts around the country are proven success stories.

When a person commits a crime such as theft and there is no evidence of addiction or mental illness, he or she would undergo a needs assessment and a risk analysis  to determine their level dangerousness.  Mitigating factors, such as homelessness, hunger, or real need would be considered and the per son would be diverted to resources to ensure upward mobility.  If the person fails in the prescribed course of action he or she would face more severe consequences.  There would be very little lenience for home burglaries and car thefts which attack our sense of safety and privacy.

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