By Jovani Contreras
The homeless population in California has been growing at alarming rates in recent years; the last official count found over 150,000 California citizens homeless. Pablo Lopez is the vice-chair on the Parks, Recreation and Community Service commission and a lifelong California resident. Mr. Lopez discussed how the homelessness crisis affects his work and life as a resident, possible causes and solutions to the crisis and advice on what students could do to get involved.
- When was the last time you remember seeing a homeless person in California?
“Two days ago.”
- How often do you encounter homeless citizens in California?
“I would say once a week; I mean it changes right now since no one is going by the house, but in regular society once a week.”
- What do you think that number says about the state of California?
“That says that California needs more programs to build homeless shelters, I think that there are not enough shelters in place and part of that is due to the fact that California is so expensive. The rising costs of homes have affected the homeless population.”
- As a citizen of California, how does the homelessness crisis impact your daily life?
“It doesn’t affect me as a citizen; it does affect my work through the commission because we have to talk about homeless people in parks, and we also need to figure out ways to improve that; we need to figure out ways of moving them to shelter. We also discuss the different programs through recreation we could offer the community, which includes homeless people.”
- Do you feel that the local government is doing enough to aid the homeless and end the crisis?
“Do I feel like they are doing enough? I feel that they are doing what they can with the resources they have. I don’t think its enough but I think not enough attention is being paid to homelessness, there is not enough resources a.k.a money distributed to these programs to make it happen. So they’re doing what they can with what they have but it is not enough.”
- How does the California homelessness crisis impact local parks and recreational areas?
“Well, parks are for everyone, and some parks are diluted by homeless people, so, we as a city, what we try to do is try to offer places for them to go if they need to shower — Hoover park has a shower program for homeless people and a place to eat. However, in reality parks offer a place for homeless people to not be hassled by police since it’s somewhere that’s public and, unfortunately, that’s still frowned upon in our society.”
- Do you think California’s high housing costs play a factor in the growing homeless population?
“Absolutely, we have not been able to build homes at the pace that we need so it drives more people to the street. I think that there is not enough affordable housing, people who lose jobs and are already living paycheck to paycheck have no other options other than to start looking into the city system for homelessness, and that’s very, very limited. The Bay Area’s economy definitely contributes to homelessness.”
- What steps do you think California’s government can take to ultimately end the homelessness crisis?
“You can’t end the crisis; in my opinion, it’s too rampant; it’s too large, and because of the place that we live it is not something that can be dissolved. I think that there needs to be more programs in place; I think there needs to be more education in place in terms of resources for people to seek if people are homeless because of drug use there need to be more programs in place to support them. Unfortunately, we are hindered by the local laws, and also there are very restricted and limited resources when trying to provide the aid and need that homeless people require. So I don’t think it’s a problem that’s going to go away, but I believe that with proper funds, education and promotion of programs it could definitely be manageable.”
- How can citizens and more specifically students of California help?
“Students need exposure to the real world. I think young people need exposure to that part of society because up until high school you’re really sheltered from what the real world is. Students could help at homeless shelters, get involved with the programs, assist mobile food trucks and the feeding the needy programs, there’s a lot of different city programs that help build that exposure. So if someone was really interested, the best thing they could do is volunteer their time because volunteering is the best way to get exposure into different parts of society.”