Homelessness is Solvable, Here’s How – Episode 72

Homelessness is Solvable, Here's How - Episode 72Homelessness is truly solvable. The fact that it is a pervasive problem is a failure of creativity and practicality. Robert and Dave have been at the frontlines of this human crisis and will share with you some of the innovative and cost-effective ways this issue can be handled humanely with respect for all, including the planet, within the next 5 years. The nonprofit work that Robert and Dave have done through The Global Bridge Foundation focuses on bringing the bottom of the economic population up through the vision of creating communities with low-cost housing with job training and purpose. 

This multi-faceted issue requires multifaceted solutions which Robert discusses on the podcast including, creating flexibility with agricultural zoning and land use. It is now well known that existing programs can use manufactured substantial modular housing and not just tiny homes at a fraction of the cost, and regenerative agriculture which the community will be trained on how to grow food sustainably. There are at least 10 different types of communities that can be created to optimize benefits by being able to specialize in specific needs such as vets, drug/alcohol addiction, single women, and families. If the same sector of the homeless community is housed together it creates much more affinity and support to those living there and is also more economical. This could be a permanent home for those that choose it, as long as they stay within the required structure of the given community. The tragedy and the blessing is that homelessness is quite solvable. It will require not just a change from our lawmakers but a societal understanding that like all of us, the homeless deserve a healing and safe environment with an opportunity to work. Through Robert’s extensive work with homeless populations and as a psychotherapist for over 40 years he explores the formula to eradicate homelessness with dignity.

Mentioned in this episode
The People Concern
Permanent Supportive Housing
Homelessness Episodes (The Missing Conversation)
The Global Bridge Foundation

Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast

Narrator (00:00):

The Missing Conversation, Episode 72.

Robert Strock (00:04):

Homelessness is quite solvable. See the utter hope for our homeless brothers and sisters to actually not only be given houses and communities for the rest of their lives, but also for it to actually save costs for the government in the long term. It’s utterly mind-blowing.

Narrator (00:26):

In this podcast, we will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, amongst several others, and making a connection to how our individual psychology contributes and can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking, as we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view, your host Robert Strock has had 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist, author, and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation, and inquiry born from working on his own challenges.

Robert Strock (01:04):

Thanks again so much for joining us at The Missing Conversation where we do our very, very best to address the most pressing issues that the world’s facing today and where we look for the most practical, inspiring programs, innovative ideas and people to support survival on our planet, today. We are going to begin the new series on what is needed to create a variety of options to serve the needs of the homeless that truly brings realistic hope to everyone in the streets and those of us that are heartbroken, seeing our society’s maladies right in front of us as we walk or drive by almost every day. This is truly solvable. And with the graceful series of partnerships with other foundations and programs, we are gonna present a collection of alternatives that will elucidate what can be done to create options for everyone who is suffering from this fate.

We have a failed creativity, a failed practicality. and view of both the homeless and the options that are already available or on the verge of being available. In this series, we will address changes needed in government regulations, creating a broader, more accurate perception of the wide variety of homeless individuals and seeing that we can create a low-cost housing, food, work, accessibility, a sense of community that can be heart-centered and specializing in the multiple approaches for both temporary and permanent shelter. This will be a composite that has been shared amongst many other CEOs in the homeless field and there’s a wide consensus that this series will do its best to reveal. I hope that you will be a resource to spread the word, to understand, to contribute, and to bring genuine hope to this issue that can move from unsolvable to humane and humanistic care for everyone within five years in the United States.

This may sound a bit grandiose and the main issue that has to be resolved is the courage of changing regulations and allowing the human beings in the streets to live their potential, with support. I assure you, if you pay close attention to this series, that you’ll see this is utterly solvable. There are multiple obvious barriers and equally lucid solutions to homelessness. As a starter, I encourage you to go to the first 13 shows that highlight experts in the field of homelessness and one of the main supplemental strategies, regenerative agriculture. And before we go too far in, I’d like to introduce Dave, my partner at The Global Bridge Foundation and best friend for over 50 years.

Dave (04:12):

Robert, thank you. And I just wanna reflect that the uh, last couple of years you have dedicated yourself to this solution and creative solutions and aggregating the people you’ve described as the experts and are in a position to really reflect and express the consensus that you’ve seen of what is needed to get the job done.

Robert Strock (04:34):

Thanks so much and yes, it has been the central passion of my life for the last couple years really focusing on this, and you also have been a major support. So one of the central overall visions of The Global Bridge Foundation is bringing the bottom up, the bottom of our economic strata and having the vision of creating communities with low-cost housing, with a purpose, whether it’s a healing purpose or whether it’s actually a work purpose in communities around cities throughout the United States starting in Los Angeles. This is something that is utterly inspiring and really goes beyond homelessness to actually also include low-income housing. As you’ll see over the next couple series. It involves many, many things, one of which is the use of agricultural zoning that is adjacent to most cities throughout the United States and how that land, especially the land that isn’t being used is millions and millions of acres owned by government agencies that could be bought for very low cost and creates the alternative of reducing NIMBY, which is an acronym for “Not in My Backyard” and is an alternative that could house potentially close to half the homeless population.

Of course, we’re gonna need to keep the existing great programs that are here, but starting with the existing law in California, which is a special exemption for farmworker housing and allows housing to occur in our agricultural zoning, whereas there’s no possibility of using agricultural zoning in California right now because you can’t create housing other than for farm workers. There are many other states in the United States where actually there isn’t this problem and they could start right away because they don’t have these same types of strict zoning requirements and planning requirements and other county agency requirements. One of the key factors is that housing itself has an alternative where there are literally hundreds of manufacturers and at least 10 national manufacturers that are able to create substantial housing. Not just the tiny homes that we’ve, many of us have heard about, but actually small homes for a fraction of the cost.

And we’ll be getting into the details of that, which is very important. And I’m just summarizing here real quickly what we’re gonna be getting into, which is these communities that I referenced earlier, many of which, from low-income housing, as well as the higher functioning end of the homeless community, can have a purpose of using regenerative agriculture as part of the community and can be trained how to do that very important work and create a product that the world badly needs. This also creates a way for carbon to be pulled down from our atmosphere and for those that are following closely, 200 out of the 400 nations in the Paris Peace Accord have signed on to regenerative agriculture to pull down carbon from the atmosphere, cuz the richness of the soil is really a central source of being able to make progress. Many people believe it’s even more of a solution than clean energy because clean energy stops it from getting worse, but actually, regenerative agriculture pulls it down from the atmosphere.

So as I mentioned, the tragedy and the blessing is that homelessness is quite solvable, which I hope the press, those that have political power, will listen to these key points that are corroborated with CEOs of homelessness throughout California. And it’s going to require a change of laws, a new understanding by the US government of what it will take to create healing environments, better use of funds, creating communities, recognizing that homelessness or homeless people are not cloned into one category. I have clearly mentioned, or we have clearly mentioned, that there are at least 10 different types of homeless communities that could be created, which will optimize the benefit by being able to specialize on the specific needs of each community. One of the key places that needs to change is that there is something called Permanent Supportive Housing and that is the national program that is funded that goes to the state and then to local communities throughout the country.

And it has very strict requirements and there are a lot of dedicated people in the field, including the main program that Global Bridge Foundation is working with The People Concern that are doing great work. But they’ve had to follow these regulations cuz they had no other alternatives. And one of the key regulations that needs to be changed is that as of now, only one-bedroom units can be funded. That itself, even without the other creative changes in housing, makes it be a one-bedroom unit rather than a three-bedroom unit or a four-bedroom unit, which would so frequently be one-third or one-quarter of the cost. So the configuration of the laws of permanent supportive housing need to be changed. Now, this is something that virtually all the CEOs that I’ve talked with agree on. Starting with the funding of housing in California right now has gone up 60 to 70% in the last two years.

So it’s costing as of this year, $900,000 for a one-bedroom unit that has a kitchen, which is required by permanent supportive housing and a bathroom and a living room and a bedroom, rather than having a central kitchen where it would be absurdly more affordable. So now we’re talking about something that reduces the cost by four-fifths. If you have the kitchen taken out and you have a four-bedroom unit without having to have a kitchen, or perhaps there would still need to be a kitchen depending on the local laws, but either way you can see the alternatives would be vast, depending upon what is allowed in a given state. Then we add the possibility of utilizing modular construction. Modular construction as we’ll elaborate later in the podcast, can build a three-bedroom unit, not counting hookups, not counting land, just for the structure itself.

It can build a 950 square foot unit that has three bedrooms for a hundred thousand dollars. Now that’s a hundred thousand dollars compared to $900,000 and it has three bedrooms rather than one bedroom. So you start to see the multiple possibilities that exist. If we utilized modular housing in smaller configurations and we also used modified construction for larger buildings, both situations would be alternatives that would allow the cost to be reduced. There’s also another alternative that’s existing in Los Angeles that is being utilized by one of the programs we’re gonna highlight today, where there are three separate general contracting firms that are building 10-bedroom, six-bath duplexes that are available for approximately 1.3 million having gone up $300,000 in the last year. Now that could house 10 people. Now that would sound like it’s not relevant, but you’ll see later when we’re talking about each city doing its own share that comes into play enormously because a lot of cities like LA County comprises 87 cities.

A lot of those cities would only need two or three or four or five of these 10-bedroom, six-bath units and it would be a fraction of the cost. Another issue is the county of Los Angeles has been buying motels and hotels without consulting the CEOs of the programs and many of these motels have pools. What they’ve done literally is they’ve put boards over the pools, which could be perfect kitchens and instead have insisted on building independent kitchens in the 50 or a hundred units. So we’re building 50 or a hundred kitchens, having them be isolated, instead of having a community kitchen. All these motels and hotels could be bought and utilizing the centralized kitchen with a pool area. We could also use mobile home parks, we could use malls, we could use central office buildings that are old buildings that are ready to be torn down and utilize these larger commercial areas and then use modular housing or construction or multiple unit configurations.

Dave (14:18):

Taking one step back, you mentioned 10 communities or 10 elements, the connection between those populations of people and how they can mix in with the multiple, you know, people being able to be three, four or five, six in a particular house and a community. Uh, how would you mix and match that? How have you found the receptivity to the different populations?

Robert Strock (14:44):

Yeah, when you identify the 10 different communities, and I’ll just mention a few of the 10 right now. Single women, or you have families, or you have people that have come out of prisons, or you have people that have addiction problems, or you have high functioning homeless people that are more recently on the streets, or you have people that are under and unemployed. You would keep those groups as neighbors so they will feel safe with each other. Or if somebody’s suffering from addiction, you’d be able to specialize psychiatrists that specialize in addiction solving. So the cost for care would be less. So you have multiple advantages. You have communities that are really feeling like communities because they identify with their neighbors. I don’t wanna forget vets; vets is another area. You have vets who identify with vet issues. Then the counseling that goes along with that component also is specialized for the specific needs of the communities.

Some communities won’t even need counseling. So it depends on really localizing the community to be homogenous. And in some cases some will blend a little bit with each other, so I don’t mean it in an absolutely rigid way, but dominantly you have the same sector of the homeless community being together so that it will be so much more cost-effective. It will feel so much more like a community. It will be so much more desirable for the homeless or the specific target population to be able to feel at home. And this can be a permanent home. And the beauty of it focusing on permanent shelter is they can stay or they can leave, but they know they don’t have to leave as long as they’re staying within the requirements and the structure of a given community. It’s important that we do keep the existing programs as they already are because all of them are deeply devoted to the work they’re doing and they are really quite efficient and it would be a tragedy to tear them down, even though they are expensive, they are highly functioning as a general rule, it would be chaos to try to change all that and then basically disrupt the whole system.

What we’re talking about is adding on from here on brand new types of solutions. I have been encouraged by the CEOs because I don’t have any stake in the game, I don’t have anybody that’s gonna attack me. I’ve, I’ve actually been approached by a number of CEOs that said, listen, if you wanna be a whistleblower and cite the issues that are going on, go ahead, no problem, I’ll be happy to provide you with stories. And I’m not even going into the controversial stories of corruption, which is a whole other level that, that we’re not even gonna deal with other than what I’m saying right now. So one of the major solutions immediately is that agricultural zoning is something that can be used not only for farmworker housing, but it could be used for addiction or it could be used for people that are mentally unhealthy in a cost that’s so much more efficient than the large buildings that have to be built.

And there’d be so much more dignity for somebody that is suffering from addiction to have their own home and have roommates rather than probably 10 times the cost approximately of what it would be to create essentially a mental hospital and all the staff that would be required. Of course the staff would be required, but the dignity itself and the treating people like they have a potential sanity, and they’re not institutionalized, and they’re in and they have space around them, and it’s a lower cost land—is just a gold mine. So now, now I’m gonna mention the different types of communities that I’ve, I’ve just alluded to. They’re veterans, single mothers, under and unemployed, alcohol or drug addiction, serious mental health issues, newly released prisoners, families, people that are displaced from national disasters. So as you can see, imagine a specialized series of needs that are really focused on each community.

For example, some communities would need to have much more security and especially ones that are in the cities and that has to be bulked up of course, but it’s viable. It may even be that there would be a high fence to have it be a closed community other than with permission. But whatever is needed, it’s crucial that there be a separation for both affinity for community and for efficiency. So in addition to the ordinary mental health issues, another area of cost savings that Dave and I did 50 years ago on a halfway house for schizophrenic patients, 128 of them, is utilizing college universities psychology programs or like programs that would dedicate their students that are in master’s programs, in some cases even undergraduate, that have the empathy, that have the, the wisdom to see that they could be trained to elicit groups where people would tell their life stories, where they would be given empathy, where they would be given life skills and they’d have the affinity and the community of support.

This would be reducing the costs from $150 to $200 an hour to $10 to $15 an hour for the supervisors, as the interns that would be also there from specialized counseling centers that are training people for marriage, family therapy hours could be utilized throughout the country and especially in California. There’s, there’s something like 100 to 300,000 married family therapist intern trainees that could be utilized for homelessness and they’re always hungry for good placements. And I believe while we’re on that vein, that even the Department of Mental Health needs to redefine therapy as being storytelling and life skills and empathy. That that’s the central theme of what this population needs. They don’t need to be in some kind of a strict therapy orientation. They need the empathy, they need to tell their story, they need guidance, they need to have a big brother or big sister that’s there really rooting for their next step, whatever it is.

A second theme that’s such a core theme in these new facilities, especially in the agricultural zoning, they can be given job training right on site. And regenerative agriculture is the one that you’ll see that we’re working with directly, not only here in California with The People Concern, but several other programs in Los Angeles and a couple of other that are out of state. And what that allows is the esteem for the individual to utilize their skills for the population—the part of the homeless community, or as I mentioned earlier, even the low-income community that can create a product that the world badly needs like food or clean energy. And there are foundations that are there that are ready to teach skills for learning how to create clean energy and utilizing solar power. So one of the key issues that needs to be changed by either the legislature, the Governor, Mayor, City Council, it needs to be made law that there has to be proportional responsibility in the counties that have a homeless population.

And so for example, Los Angeles County has, depending on the count, let’s just say 60,000 homeless people, and there are 87 cities in Los Angeles. Each city has a certain population, if you proportionalize the responsibility for homelessness based on the population of each city and the, the responsibility was shared by those 87 cities and it was not going to be the responsibility of the local politician to be making a decision, well, are we gonna put a homeless facility in our community or not? Well, that’s the way it’s been forever. And there’s been the encouragement for the local politician to be putting a homeless community in their city. Well, of course they’re not gonna do it because they wanna be elected, they don’t wanna piss off their neighbors. So unless it’s mandated by law and it’s overseen by a state czar and a local community czar, it’s not going to happen. So it needs to be made law that there must be proportional representation where there is this problem in any county in California. And for that matter in the country,

Dave (24:08):

It seems to me the political aspect of what you’re talking about applies as much to local, state, federal politicians that are gonna support that kind of thing. And, and one of the major hurdles is this politics, is the effort to try and make laws in the face of community resistance, in the face of NIMBY—Not In My Backyard—and uh, it, it’s a huge thing and it’s, it’s pervasive. In fact, you could say it’s across our country.

Robert Strock (24:41):

The beauty right now, and it really is a beauty tragedy, is that it is such an obvious issue that homelessness is a national and a California huge problem that Governor Newsom will be the hero if he institutes this policy. Even though some people will be pissed off because a local city will choose a certain neighborhood that they have to choose in their community. Yeah, you’ll piss off a few neighbors, but we’ll be solving the homeless problem and he will be a hero for being the one that finally has the courage as a politician to say, no, we have to take this, every community has to take the responsibility. We’re not gonna be unfair to everyone and we’re not gonna let anybody off that’s a part of a county that has this problem. So I believe that what’s a danger 10 years ago for Governor Newsom, or the Governor then, is now a huge victory of vision.

And that’s why the CEOs throughout the state have come up with a solution. And I’m simply just voicing a group consensus, especially in this area. This area is really the one that is agreed upon by virtually everyone. Now the idea of having a proportional representation is a nuance that we’re adding to that, but it seems like that’s the only way that there will be a broad consensus endorsement. But everyone agrees that it has to be mandated or else the local politicians are not going to really have the courage to go against their community cuz they won’t be reelected. They will, they will really piss off the local people. But when it’s statewide and you solve the homeless problem, you’re a hero. So there need to be appropriate safeguards that are added, you know, for the particular communities that can’t be farmed out literally into the agricultural zones, but have to be for people that have serious mental health issues.

It may very well have to be a closed facility, but that will require many more safeguards. There will be guards around there, or as I said earlier, it may be that it’s a locked facility, but with homes inside it so it won’t feel like a prison or a mental hospital. There will be a dignity to it. Also, part of the proposal here is not only after we prove the concept of agricultural land being used for regenerative agriculture, that hopefully the agricultural land will be able to take on some of that responsibility, so it that won’t be as concerning to the neighbors within the community. But that will require another change in zoning that will say a special exemption for homelessness or maybe even low-income, that housing can be in agricultural zoning and change the zoning or whatever you have to do to make it work.

So in broad strokes: for approximately 15% of the cost of the construction of the facilities, we can have new creativity, alternative mental health, alternative housing, food development, and training. Each program representing a community that will be more cost-effective because we can target the population so much more specifically what the needs are. Some communities won’t require any security, so we’ll be saving, having to duplicate services or cover everything for every single community that we have. It will take a combination of government change, philanthropic involvement, private organizations, individuals, and a different view of how we as a society view our relationship with our fellow human beings that are in the streets. We need to speed up the bureaucratic slowdowns and have a special fast track in every part of the development. Whether, whether it’s environmental or whether it’s plumbing or whether it’s electric, all of those need to have a fast track where they’re doubly as fast or maybe triple as fast where there’s fast track approvals that’s gonna again, require cooperation within all the county agencies.

There’s a big blind spot not to make this viable and we need to face as an issue the key psychological liability that, that the wealthy communities are pissed off when the homeless community comes up to their car when they’re coming off a freeway, but they don’t wanna pay an extra luxury tax. So I would also propose that the wealthiest of the wealthy, people that are selling their houses for more than 10 million dollars, people that are buying cars that are more than $75,000 or a hundred thousand, have a percentage of a taxe that goes specifically toward the homeless communities and the development of the homeless community, so the government doesn’t have to bear the whole burden of this. One of the things to understand that’s crucial to understand, if you understand this, you go, oh my god, this isn’t even gonna cost us anything on an ongoing basis once we set up the communities, because the cost in California has been proven by numerous studies to be $3,000 per person that’s in the streets because of the intensive use of emergency medical care, of police incidents, the spread of disease, crime, all of that is costing $3,000 a month.

The cost per person, once we have these facilities set up, is gonna be a thousand dollars. We’re gonna be saving money once we set up these lower-cost facilities. Try to let that in. What a transformation that will be for our county, for our state, for our country as a model for the rest of the world. While we’re creating communities that actually feel at home and can be a home forever. Now there are a few examples of things like this having been done where in Trieste, Italy, they’re providing housing for the mentally ill and they have this comprehensive program where they have more of a lay approach to mental health and nutrition and healthcare and skills development and really isolating the needs in a holistic way. Another system that really rewards development, which is again, what I would suggest within these facilities is a kind of behavior modification where as a addicted person evolves and they haven’t, they’ve been free from the use of any kind of drugs, whether it’s 60 days or 90 days or 120 days, they can have an experimental buddy system where they go out and they have a couple days where they can go out and be in the community.

And you can have these reward systems like in the German prisons, which have shown themselves to be so much more effective by giving free passes for people who are nonviolent criminals, they can be given rewards for good behavior. US has several programs that are successful, that are more effective, including The People Concern in Lancaster, where they built for approximately $300 a square foot rather than this $900 a square foot. We’re just waiting for the government and for the communities to utilize these alternative building structures, the alternative laws of mandating these changes in the permanent support of housing to be allowing for the three or four-bedroom units, allowing for the module housing, allowing for the speeding up of permits to allow these to go on the fast track. I truly believe that if this is followed, that within five years we can solve the homeless problem.

So I ask you as you’re listening, hopefully some of you that are listening are in political power, are in the media, that you will spread this word that the CEOs throughout California and The Global Bridge Foundation is trying to sponsor because it’s utterly viable. There are so many manufacturers that are ready to go, the laws need to be changed, it needs to be mandated. So I ask you, please take this in. Please spread the word. Ask other people to listen to this, especially if you know anybody that’s in power in the political system, if you know anybody that’s in the media, so this word can be spread. And see the utter hope that’s there for our homeless brothers and sisters to actually not only be given houses and communities for the rest of their lives or some interim housing, but also for it to actually save cost for the government in the long term. It’s utterly mind-blowing to see that we can save money in long term and we can spend approximately one-eighth to one-tenth of the cost to create the infrastructure. So I thank you for your rapt attention and I ask you to spread the word. Thanks so much.

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