Saturday, September 23, 2017

PSA: Homelessness and California

There is currently a deadly Hepatitis A outbreak in Southern California. If you are currently homeless in Southern California and simply cannot leave, please get vaccinated.

The San Diego Reader says:

The county is giving away the vaccine at no cost, and it’s available at the Family Health Centers, the San Ysidro Health Center and Vista Community Clinic, and La Maestra’s City Heights and El Cajon clinics.

If you aren't absolutely, positively stuck there, please consider leaving. It would be the best way to protect yourself from contracting hepatitis. Also, if even one or two percent of homeless people leave, this might help put a stop to the epidemic. 

Epidemics thrive on crowded, dirty conditions and tend to run like wildfire through concentrations of poor people. Crowding makes it harder to keep things clean. Etc.

I do realize that the large military base north of Oceanside is a physical barrier to trying to leave San Diego County on foot. I also realize traveling can be expensive. Here is a previous post on this site detailing how to get to the High Desert or Central Valley cheaply (it is the route I took to leave):

Oceanside to Victorville for $15.25 in bus fare (or less)

Parts of the High Desert and parts of the Central Valley are generally more affordable than San Diego County and the Los Angeles area. They are retirement destinations for some people from those areas. In both Victorville and Fresno, I ran into people who left the Los Angeles area after retirement to make their retirement check go further.

If you want to leave and aren't sure where to go, check out this previous post:

Relocation Research Basics

TLDR of the rest of this post:

Going to California as a homeless person may well be a great recipe for remaining stuck on the street. Leaving California may help you get back off the street, especially if you have any kind of portable income.

From what I have read, California seems to have a lot more long term homeless people than most places. I am sure that one factor is the high cost of living, especially the high cost of housing. But, I suspect another factor is the very dry, temperate weather in large parts of the state.

San Diego County, the Los Angeles area and San Francisco have a lot of homeless. Those three areas also all get less rain than most parts of the US and are generally pretty temperate. Los Angeles can be hot in summer, but all three areas tend to not have freezing weather.

I became homeless in Georgia and intentionally returned to California. I had lived there previously, and I knew from firsthand experience that the climate on the West Coast was better for my health than other parts of the US.

While homeless in downtown San Diego, I ran into other homeless people who took homelessness as a good opportunity to relocate cheaply. In other words, some people who are homeless in California became homeless elsewhere and decided to move to California while homeless. I did that and I am not the only person to have done that.

I recently left California and got back into housing. I am writing this post to suggest that other people who are homeless in California also try to leave these high cost, dry areas and try to get back into housing someplace cheaper, if possible. 

This does not necessarily mean leaving the state. Some parts of the state are more affordable than others. But, there is currently an exodus of poor people leaving California. California is exporting large numbers of poor people. If you are homeless in California, consider joining them. It may even be a means to get back into housing.

Sleeping in a tent in temperate, dry weather is not a terrible experience. But, this past rainy season saw deadly record breaking rains in California, and some climate models are predicting that global warming will cause wetter weather to be the new norm for California.

This was a factor in my decision to leave the state. The urban areas of the state are not designed to handle that kind of wet weather.

Downtown San Diego has a five story open air mall. It is cool and looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book (and he lived in San Diego County, so this may be no coincidence). But, it is not practical in wet weather. It only makes sense because San Diego gets 10 inches of rain annually. If it gets a lot wetter there as the new norm, such designs will no longer make sense.

There are sidewalks in California that get dangerously slick when wet. They are perfectly safe to walk on in dry weather. They are a falling hazard in wet weather. This, too, will be a big problem if things get a lot wetter as the new norm.

There are lots of sidewalk caf├ęs in the state, especially in downtown San Diego. These, too will make a lot less sense if the state gets a lot wetter as its new normal, thanks to climate change.

The current hepatitis outbreak started November 2016, after the California bag ban went into effect. The bag ban is statewide. I believe it is a factor in this deadly epidemic.

However, another thing that started in November 2016 is the record breaking rains. The wetter weather may be another contributing factor. A lot of infections thrive in damper conditions and rain can spread fecal matter where homeless people have been using the streets as toilets.

Practices that were not so problematic when things were dry may now be helping to spread this deadly infection. This may be getting magnified by the lack of free bags. In fact, I suspect it is. 

The bag ban is statewide and the state as a whole may be getting wetter as the new norm. Thus, some of the conditions that may have helped foster this epidemic are statewide. 

The deadly hepatitis A outbreak in Southern California started in San Diego. According to a Los Angeles reporter who recently interviewed me, it has now spread to L.A. It may not stop there.

I believe that two of the factors that account for high rates of long term homelessness in California are:

1) The dry, temperate weather, which makes camping out not terribly burdensome.

2) The high cost of living, especially housing.

I think the weather actively attracts homeless from other states. But the lovely dry weather may already be a thing of the past. The high cost of housing in California is actively an obstacle to getting off the street. There is zero reason to believe the extreme lack of affordable housing in the state will be solved any time soon.

Traveling to California for the lovely weather while homeless only to find it is impossible to find affordable housing may be part of what keeps some people long term homeless in California. My firsthand experience fits with that. I could not get back into housing in California. To my shock, I left the state and promptly got back into housing in just three days.

The situation in California is sort of a perfect storm for creating long term homelessness: The weather plus high housing prices work together to keep you trapped on the streets. The weather makes homelessness in California not too horrible to endure while housing costs make it especially hard to get back into housing.

But, it is a reversible process. You can also leave California -- or even just leave the most expensive parts of it -- and look for affordable housing elsewhere. 

This is especially doable if you have any kind of portable income. This can include a retirement check, social security, alimony or disability. 

If you do not currently have portable income, you can make that a goal. You can develop a portable earned income, even while homeless. That is exactly what I did. 

I have alimony and I do freelance writing online. It empowered me to relocate to a cheap small town and get back into housing.

If you are homeless someplace else in the US and thinking that California sounds like a good place to go, think again. There is a deadly hepatitis outbreak. The state banned free plastic bags, which means you have to pay for bags at grocery stores, et al. The dry weather may not be coming back. The egregiously bad affordable housing issue seems unlikely to be solved for the foreseeable future. 

Because of the crazy high housing costs, going to California as a homeless person may well be a recipe for staying stuck on the street for years to come. If the weather is getting wetter (and hotter), this may be much more miserable than the laid back, hippie style van living you might be imagining.

Also: In the many years I lived in California, both as a housed person and as a homeless person, I never found that laid back hippie vibe for which the state is famous. Instead, I discovered it elsewhere when I left California earlier this month.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

For the Record

This blog was recently mentioned in the San Diego Reader. It lists me as a homeless man. While I was still homeless at the time the reporter contacted me, I am not male.

It also quotes me as saying “The outbreak was completely predictable — it's why I left San Diego.” This is a fabricated quote. I never said that. The exchange was via email. I have a written record of it.

Some things I actually said to this reporter which may have inspired the made up quote:

I wanted to vote against the bag ban, but failed to manage to vote due to being homeless.

I was in downtown San Diego for about six months. I then went to La Jolla for a while and later to the North County. I spent a bit over 3 years total homeless in various parts of San Diego County. I also had a class on Homelessness and Public Policy at San Francisco State years before I became homeless. As part of that class, I did an internship at the homeless shelter in Vacaville.

If it matters to you, let me tell you up front I left San Diego County over two years ago and I left California yesterday/today. I was still in the Fresno area and still homeless when the bag ban began. 

So, no, my departure from San Diego was not related to the bag ban. Though the fact that the bag ban was passed was a factor in my decision to leave the state entirely. I think it is a very problematic policy and especially burdensome for the poorest of the poor: those who are without housing.

But, yes, I did feel ahead of time that the bag ban was a bad idea. This is why I wanted to vote against it. No, I did not psychically predict that it would specifically cause or exacerbate a hepatitis outbreak amongst the homeless.

However, I am also not shocked by this turn of events. It certainly does not surprise me to see the passage of the bag ban followed promptly by bad health news in the homeless community.

As stated previously, the author of this blog is no longer homeless. I left California earlier this month and managed to rent a cheap room.