Lompoc has 200 unhoused people, largely thanks to government 'helping hands'

I have been trying to figure out the “root cause” and some potential solutions for the homeless issue for the last several months. First, the “homeless issue” has been with us since homeless pilgrims arrived on our eastern shores in 1620. The difference today is that in 1620, “homeless” folks homesteaded land and built not only homes for themselves but also farmed, ranched, and built industries as they moved west.

Large numbers of today’s homeless seem to wander around waiting for the next handout and rarely apply themselves to anything other than salvaging other people’s junk or simply stealing whatever they can carry out of a business.

So, how did they get this way?

Government contribution: In the 1960s, then Gov. Ronald Reagan and President John Kennedy wanted to solve a problem that was centered on the treatment of mental health patients. The strategy at the time was to lock them up and forget them; this was and still is an inhumane way to treat people.

Their solution was two-fold: First, close all the “treatment” facilities, and second, fund and build new treatment facilities with a focus on returning the patients to productive lives. They only completed the first phase because of the inability of the state Assembly and U.S. Congress to address the issue and simply tossed the mentally ill out on the street.

What started as a “helping hand” has evolved into an endless supply of new and much improved handouts, including cash payments with no strings attached. Meanwhile the mentally ill have been largely ignored.

The solution is to fund and construct (through Medicare, Medi-Cal, and Medicaid) sufficient mental health facilities to handle the mentally ill on our streets. Why? Because these are the neediest. The county recently opened a “treatment hub” in Santa Barbara, but it only has 10 beds.

Education: School systems in California have lost focus. Teachers’ unions run the school systems, dictate working conditions that do not include any accountability for student achievement, and school boards/administration continue to stress social change rather than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Poorly educated or self-indulgent parents don’t have the time or ability to help their kids when they bring home self-study (homework) assignments. America’s youth have been indoctrinated to believe that there are no winners or losers; simply showing up is enough the “earn a trophy.” No effort is required to succeed.

The solution is to overhaul the education system; public schools have failed, so parents should be allowed to remove their kids from these schools and use private schooling (the funding would follow the child). 

Secondly the public education system needs a total overhaul; the whole focus of school when I was a child was to prepare our young minds and bodies for future work. That should be the focus today, not choosing your gender.

Not all students are college candidates but might have aptitude for trades—skills that could be taught in trade schools would allow a young person, or even an older homeless adult, a marketable skill. What if retired carpenters, sheet metal workers, electricians, and plumbers provided free training in community-funded programs? 

Heritage: Families that consist of “career” recipients of monetary aid provide the example to their children that they don’t have to work to have a place to live, food subsistence, health care, cellphones, transportation, and some spending money. All they must do is exist and complain because they aren’t getting more benefits.

Public housing now includes amenities that people who work and earn low and medium wages can’t afford. The residents are not expected to do anything to maintain their homes, not even mow the lawn, water the shrubs, or pay for utilities.

When I was in the military, I slept in a canvas tent on a canvas cot for a year while deployed; hundreds of thousands of military members have done the same thing. Sailors in the U.S. Navy sleep in very cramped “berthing spaces” the entire time they are at sea. It seems that if these “accommodations” are good enough for the military, they are certainly good enough to temporarily house the homeless.

The solution is to provide a warm, dry place to live and require the occupants to mow their own lawn. Those with a job should be first in line for governmental housing programs, as this equals incentive.

Counseling and spiritual support: Faith-based groups could provide free counseling to serve as emotional and spiritual support. This spiritual side may not be for all people but should be offered to those on the streets or in low-income situations or needing work. Churches in all denominations in our community currently provide meals and care for many of our homeless and assist in helping those in need with clothing and support. This is rarely deemed newsworthy, but it happens daily. 

Summary: If a person is provided with everything they need, have low self-esteem because of poor education, and are rewarded for not accomplishing anything, why would they want to work? And if they don’t like to follow the rules, probably because they weren’t taught that any existed, and know that people will give you money for doing nothing, why wouldn’t you want to be homeless?

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

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