City Employee Thong Phan-Quang Shares
His Perspective on Homelessness in Elk Grove
This past winter, as part of my graduate research project, I had the honor and privilege of meeting and getting to know a few of Elk Grove’s residents as they were having dinner and enjoying each other’s company. All told, I met and interviewed over a dozen local residents to gain a unique perspective on life that could only be viewed through their lens. At the end of each conversation with John, Linda, and Ed, I had a greater understanding and appreciation for their shortcomings. I also discovered that for Joe, Phyllis, and Brian, there was no such thing as a small victory. Success was measured day by day, hour by hour, and self preservation literally meant just that. It is difficult for many of us to truly know and grasp what it feels like to live on the fringe of our society. We see what’s on the surface, nothing more, because it is easier that way, and being self absorbed takes up much of our time. These individuals I have mentioned, and many others, all share the common experience of living without a place to call home as we know it, without shelter from the elements, without safety and security because they are homeless and suffer all the ailments that are associated with it.
I see both sides of the coin. I work for the City as a senior code enforcement officer, and respond to resident complaints of homelessness and its related issues. Most reports involve trash, encampments, shopping carts, graffiti; quality of life factors that affect property values. There is no shortage of literature and research by scholars on homelessness. It remains an unsolved problem for many cities and counties exacerbated by the lack of funding and affordable housing. More importantly, a political will is missing from the equation. If asked, people will say it is a dilemma that needs to be fixed, but few are willing to make the hard choices and sacrifices to do so. NIMBY remains pervasive.
Government has recognized homelessness as a problem and has committed resources via HUD, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and other continuums of care by local agencies and providers. (The current administration is slated to drastically reduce, if not eliminate much of this funding.) Evidence based models such as Housing First, which includes components of transitional, permanent, supportive, and shared housing programs have been implemented across the country with great success. The degree of success is tempered by the level of community support and buy in from local leaders.
For its part, the City’s efforts towards combating homelessness is increasing. It has already purchased two transitional homes operated by Sacramento Self Help Housing, plans to open two more, and hired a Navigator to do outreach with the homeless population. But much more work needs to be done and non profit groups like HART, which rely on volunteers and donations, fill a crucial void by providing important services such as the Winter Sanctuary. Also known as EG WINS, it’s a program that depends on local churches and volunteers to provide food, shelter, transportation, and safety during the cold winter months.
I won’t recite old rhetoric that everyone can make a difference if only they tried; in the age of social media, instant gratification, and opaque politicians, I will say it is long overdue for residents to ante up and kick in, to put some skin in the game. For those that don’t have the time, money, nor inclination, these folks can still perform their civic duty by voting for worthwhile, benevolent initiatives and supporting philanthropic organizations. You don’t have to be a member of HART to show that you have a heart.
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou