Can the wealthiest resort in America end homelessness?
And if not here, where?
Surely the traditional remedies are readily at hand and will be proposed. Housing. Jobs. Bus tickets out of town. Zero tolerance. Drug treatment. All, by themselves, failures but perhaps taken together in a compassionate manner, the best course of action.
Let’s look at a few answers: Jobs — it’s hard to walk down the street here without being offered one. The mirror test is in effect: if a fog appears on a mirror placed below your nostrils, you’re probably employable, at least until our president finishes making the economy grate against tariffs and government shutdowns.
But a job, a second job and a third job here is no assurance of shelter. “Affordable” housing is less affordable than ever as the 1,800 units in the city are taken, for the most part, by people who need and qualify for them. The less attractive properties that once were rented are VRBO/third home investments.
Notwithstanding an obvious labor shortage, wages here haven’t kept pace with living costs. Housing and medical care for entry-level wages are slipping away from the planet most unskilled workers live on just as the moon inexorably separates itself from earth. What I earned as a dishwasher or was offered as a lift operator when I arrived here 40 years ago is worth about 25 percent less than what is paid for those same positions today.
Two or three jobs and a RFTA pass get you a seat on a long commute down a valley that is also moving away from affordability as those with the means and desire turn paradise into a parking lot and retirement theme park.
The middle class, if there is such, starts at six figures and those of us in affordable housing, renters or owners know that we are clinging by fingernails to the Dawn Wall at El Capitan: one or two whopper medical incidents and we are gone, not coming back when the lottery for ownership units can be 60 or 70 hopefuls, and the housing director reports 14 units opened up last year.
Too many stories from friends dropping medical insurance are accumulating to believe that anyone in the five-figure earning class is safe from joining the 600,000 or so Americans who annually declare bankruptcy because of medical bills that their insurance won’t cover.
Compare: Norway — hardly any medical bankruptcies or immigrants (92) fleeing to America. Obamacare blunted some of this but here on the Western Slope too many of us are paying as much for medical care and insurance as we are for housing, all of which leaves little for savings to meet an actual emergency.
Some portion of homelessness is a product of choice: there are people here and in the Los Angeles tent cities (Pop. 58,000) who don’t want or who have given up on the struggle for conventional shelter and would rather be outdoors where their wages go further toward other goals.
And another portion of the homeless are in the grip of substance abuse, perhaps voluntary self-medication at the start and involuntary after not long. If you think they merely lack education and willpower, I have a bridge over Castle Creek that you might want to buy for $90 million. The fact is that treatment of chronic substance abuse starts with a stable living situation and access to care, not the other way around.
While it is true that opioid abuse is something of a red county phenomenon where the economy has sunset and people are left with the dregs, it is hardly restricted to Trump country — we here in paradise have been self-medicating for a long time under the belief that education, skills and personal attractiveness immunize us to hillbilly ways or ghetto lifestyles.
We may not have had 20 million hits of oxy and hydrocodone shipped to our little pharmacies in recent years, but there is enough available to help people on the bubble to go “slippin into darkness.” Soon, we’re going to pay.
Some problems don’t have easy answers and this one won’t be a staple of local electoral politics anytime soon. We can be glad that people of good faith are working on a non-solution that recognizes that all of the moving parts need to be addressed and that a final perfect solution is the enemy of a good solution. Meanwhile, parking, traffic growth ad nauseam.
Unfortunately, we the voters demand novel, simple, elegant sloganeering; Three strikes you’re out, zero tolerance, build the wall, just say no or, locally, just throw the bums out every few years. We can do better. Will we?
Mick Ireland would rather write some days about hiking the bowl, getting to 100 days, vacations and such but that field enjoys saturation coverage by other columnists.