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Doctors ‘prescribing’ housing to combat homeless is continuum of opioid mentality
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

“Health care and housing should no longer be divorced. Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin and antibiotics.” 

— Gov. Gavin Newsom in his State of the State Address


I get that Gavin Newsom has a tough job. He deserves a lot of points for insisting California step up its game to address homeless issues. But either he needs to stop being a comedian, get a better speech writer, or try or go live for a while in neighborhoods where the homeless are.

I say that with all due respect.

Housing will not solve the homeless problem. While that sounds counter to common sense it is far from it.

Giving the homeless housing does not get at the root of the problem. It is like saying you’re going to combat hunger by making sure every child has an unlimited supply of Cheetos, M&Ms, and Red Bull. It will fill their stomachs but that’s about it.

Sure, it sounds humane to solve the homeless problem by the government building a house for everyone but it solves nothing unless your goal is to simply put a roof over someone’s head – assuming they will adhere to whatever rules are needed to qualify for it.

You need to ask yourself about the people who aren’t homeless but should be under today’s standards. I’m talking about people who don’t make wages high enough to qualify them to rent a house let alone buy that aren’t living on the streets.

They are swallowing pride, coping with reality, being pragmatic – whatever you want to call it – and renting rooms or following rules relatives might set down as a condition to living under their roofs, such as not doing drugs.

You can go down almost any block in any town or city in California where well-heeled people do not live and find people who aren’t relatives sharing housing or who are strangers renting rooms.

If you are to take the state’s annual housing shortage statistics – the one that insists there is at least 70,000 less homes being built than are needed each year – there should easily be 40 times more people on the streets in California than there are now.

Two years ago, during a weekly lunch for the homeless in the parking lot of Metal Tech on Moffat Boulevard, Manteca Police Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly approached two homeless men. One had been laid off from construction for six months and was living in his truck. Another had been on the streets for three months. Both appeared to be sober. Kelly was aware of what income the two had. He found housing in Stockton they could afford if the pulled their resources. Both were adamant. They did not want to live with another person.

Another individual I encounter quite a bit has been on the streets for five years. Taking him at his word he simply doesn’t want to work anymore. That may be the case but he also has a heavy drinking problem.

I personally know of three homeless who spent most of their lives burning bridges with every relative who tried to help them. Either they wanted to do things their way, not work, are essentially jerks, and are into booze and/or drugs. They may have mental issues now but rest assured they would have developed them through their behavior whether they had a roof or not over their heads.

You will also notice an inconvenient truth being ignored by those who think the first thing you need to do to solve the homeless problem is build housing for them. School districts follow federal guidelines in identifying homeless students.

Many are “housed” in less than ideal situations, such as living in garages, sleeping along worn their family in another family’s house or similar unconventional or non-permanent housing situations. Yes, there are kids living with their families on the streets, in cars, or at campsites.

Newsom is right in that people who have fallen through the safety net and who do not have a mental illness or substance abuse problem need temporary housing and need it quick.

It is why his direction to state agencies to make unused state property available to local jurisdictions for emergency housing makes sense. People need to be able to get back on their feet in communities where they have ties. If this means pitching tent cities through coordinated efforts working with the California National Guard in places such as the unused state-owned park and ride lot on Austin Road at Highway 99 so be it. Schools would be obligated to or provide bus service and the city could provide connecting transportation to the city and regional bus system so they can access employment and such.

It is far from ideal but it is a way to give some stability so those on the streets that aren’t mentally ill, drug addicts, or who have serious issues with wanting everything on their terms can join hundreds of thousands of other Californians who have found a way to be sheltered in a state where they can’t afford do rent, let alone own housing on their own housing.

For the rest of the homeless, hardcore or otherwise, you need to essentially teach them to fish instead of giving them fish to eat. That means tackling the real issues that are making them homeless – substance abuse, mental illness or what might best be described as severe case of entitlement not to follow any rules or having to compromise – and not simply putting a roof over their heads.

Even if a doctor was able to write a prescription for housing and have it filled, they are not treating the patient but enabling them. The lack of housing in a lot of cases is a symptom and not the real problem. Given the government — including California — has rightfully come down on doctors for prescribing opioids that mask pain instead of treating the cause of the pain it is ironic Newsom would use the analogy of doctors prescribing housing to solve issues facing homeless that end up in the emergency room of a hospital.

California has a rough road ahead. We need to concentrate using what resources we can and afford to do so in such a way that it will have a lasting effect and not just being the equivalent of popping pills to relieve pain.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.