How the Formation of “Homeless Outreach Teams” Would Benefit Homeless Populations Better than Housing Plans

by Ian Chang, November 17, 2021

Since the 1980s, homelessness in California has been a significant issue with around 160,000 homeless individuals living in the state as of 2020. During the Reagan administration, federal funding for mental illness institutions declined, leading to a rise of homelessness. Today, the rate of homelessness continues to increase, especially in the Bay Area where demand for housing is high. Several cities have created plans to reduce the homeless population, and while some have succeeded, these programs have their flaws.

In San Francisco, the mayor, London Breed, has strived to reduce the homeless population out on the streets. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, several citizens have been left jobless as businesses close down due to lack of customers. According to the Guardian, Breed has created a homeless recovery plan in which she hopes to create more permanent housing units along with providing rental vouchers, sums of money to help pay rent for property, to individuals who have recently become homeless.

However, this program has several drawbacks. Individuals such as Linda Smith were granted access to shelter inside of a hotel room, but were forced to move back out onto the streets due to the curfew of the hotel not aligning with her DoorDash job. Back on the streets, she states that public cleanup workers began tearing down her encampment and seizing her possessions while she was still inside. While the San Francisco plan does ultimately create more shelters, it does not guarantee that homeless citizens will occupy them as many of the shelters in San Francisco have restrictions that prevent homeless citizens from carrying out their daily activities.

Unlike San Francisco, the city of Pleasanton has taken a much more personal approach to solving the homeless crisis through a group known as the Homeless Outreach Team in which a team of liaison officers identifies encampments, whether they are reported by citizens or identified by the trash left behind. After the encampment is reported, a police officer is sent to assess the individual’s situation and report back to the team, who then tries to find what can be done to help relocate the individual or find them shelter. The homeless individual is then given resources in order to help them out of their situation. Unlike the San Francisco plan, the team formed by the city of Pleasanton is much more focused on the individual needs of homeless citizens.

Ultimately, the city of Pleasanton’s homeless outreach program seems to better benefit the unique needs of individuals compared to San Francisco’s housing plan. In order to help solve this homeless crisis which has been an issue for over fifty years in California, other cities should strive to implement programs similar to Pleasanton's which try to clear up the streets while valuing the lives and activities of homeless individuals.