Photo by Tyler Meuter

The capitol building of Sacramento, California was the location of an important protest over the winter holidays. The city has a no camping ordinance, which hurts the city’s homeless population a great deal. Understanding the problem the ordinance creates, many non-homeless people protested by deliberately camping outside the capitol building.

My initial reaction to the protest — which I did not hear about until approximately two weeks in to it — was “don’t these people have jobs of their own that they need to be at or family to be with during the holidays?” Despite this initial reaction, I do commend these activists and think their protest highlights a significant problem in our country.

As politicians debate whether or not to allow refugees into the country, a large portion of our population remains homeless in unwelcoming cities with nowhere else to go.

In regards to Sacramento, as well as any large city with any sort of homeless population, I believe the answer is clear: they should follow in the footsteps of cities like Salt Lake City —or rather the state of Utah as a whole — and provide proper housing for the chronically homeless.

In addition to housing, the city of Sacramento can also, following Utah’s example, provide on-site counseling for those dealing with substance abuse issues. The capital can also give the homeless small jobs to pay a small rent, so the city is not just funneling money, but rather making an investment.

Utah is real life proof that this strategy is both cost effective and successful, so it does not makes sense why other cities and states feel the need to spend more taxpayer dollars to get a less than desirable result with the current regulations?

Let me be clear, when I say “provide decent housing” I mean modern units that are free of rats, roaches and termites and are not located in the seedy part of town. Though modest, these accommodations need to be attractive to the homeless and not right next door to their old crack dealer otherwise nothing will change.

Realistically, I understand that it is not a problem that can be solved with the snap of my fingers, but I do believe that if cities like Sacramento put forth an effort to treat the homeless problem in a similar fashion to what Utah has done, they may find it to be a rewarding endeavor. It may take a decade, but short-term solutions is not the way to long-term success.

Many of our homeless are children, family, victims of circumstance or even veterans; living on the street should not be permanent, nor should it mean that they are beyond help or criminalized. It is depressing to see so many homeless on the streets in any city, but especially in a first world heavyweight country like ours. We should be treating our homeless not as criminals or as festering problems that need to be hidden, but as real life people who need a helping hand.

This season, every hot shot politician in the country is weighing in on the big issues, and everyone is looking to the national stage for a leader to fix all of our problems. It might be a good time for individual cities and states to take a hard look at how they treat their homeless “problem” and re-evaluate how effective their approach is, whether it means modeling themselves to Utah’s approach or redesigning their own.