When it comes to no-growth politics and economic inequality, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond does not pull any punches.
At a United Way of Ventura County symposium on homelessness on April 9, the Princeton sociologist described NIMBY-ism as a root cause of rising homelessness because of the way it breaks the bottom rungs of the housing ladder for people at the margins.
In response to a question from United Way CEO Eric Harrison, Desmond said the “not in my back yard” mentality is “a moral failing of communities, and there is no state in the country where the moral failing is more acute than California.”
Desmond began his research in the wake of the financial crisis, moving to Milwaukee to study people on the edge of poverty in trailer parks and in the inner city. In his 2016 book, “Evicted: Poverty and profits in the American city,” he chronicled dozens of stories of people who were hanging on to their rental properties by a thread — and when the thread broke, they fell into homelessness.
“Evicted” unmasked the problems that working-class Americans face in living day-to-day and the extraordinary costs they impose on society when they fall into homelessness. It has become a touchstone for experts looking for solutions to chronic homelessness. In California, the homeless surge has triggered a massive legal settlement in Los Angeles and prompted cities like Goleta to enact new homelessness strategies.
Perhaps no place in our region has made a bigger effort to deal with homeless populations than Ventura County, which has a successful partnership with the city of Ventura to create a center that houses homeless people and offers a suite of services, in addition to active participation in a state program that converts vacant hotels into housing.
Oxnard is working on attacking the problem through its Housing Authority, and the Ventura County Health Care Agency’s countywide network of clinics delivers backpack medical care to homeless people to cut down on unnecessary emergency room visits.
Desmond’s research prescribes just such a comprehensive approach, with a lot of data analysis, public-private partnerships and input from landlords. Speaking of partnerships, United Way and the Amgen Foundation have succeeded in a matching program that brought an additional $400,000 in resources to bear on this important issue.
A DATA-DRIVE APPROACH TO HIGHER ED
Since Richard Yao was named interim president at CSU Channel Islands, he’s elevated his vision of bringing a more data-centered approach to higher education and philanthropy.
It is an approach that paid off during his earlier posting as vice president of student affairs, where programs like mentorships helped dozens of first-generation students graduate on time. Now he’s working on new ways to engage the community, particularly businesses and large nonprofits, in better connections for career development.
With the economy on the rebound, a renewed focus on connections with the people who will be employing CSUCI graduates is a welcome development. And with the Yao approach, it is a given that as results come in, they will be tallied and studied.