Bureaucratic solutions to social problems are always problematic. Human beings are notorious for failing to adhere to a standard set of guidelines that seek wholistic solutions in an individualistic context. While a study of systems may lend itself to a wholistic approach and give direction, the complexity of some issues such as homelessness is composed of so many factors that a one size fits all approach, while helpful in one context, may miss the mark in a multitude of additional considerations.
A $500 million block grant through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) was established in 2018 by the State of California to address the problem of homelessness. Alameda County received approximately $16.2 million of those funds… and the gold rush was on! In order to capture a piece of this pie, municipalities were, understandably, asked to follow a set of guidelines including cost-sharing and time deadlines. Declaration of a “Shelter Crisis” was an easy bureaucratic maneuver that simply made an ongoing and increasingly visible issue an official goal. However, capturing the prize of grant dollars became a driving factor in place of civic engagement, obscuring the goal of eliminating population displacement, a terrible waste of human resources.
A major stumbling block for bureaucracies in a democratic system is the time element. By their very nature, governments tend to move slowly, searching for consensus and adequate public disclosure. Sometimes, in their haste to accomplish even a worthy goal, the most expeditious path may prove detrimental, inciting unnecessary opposition and antagonism. HEAP grants are an example of a governmental response to a societal problem that must be addressed with humility, humanity and a clear understanding of its how’s and why’s. The temptation to bypass public scrutiny, controversy and criticism is inviting but the consequences are grim if and when exposed. The Fremont City Council is learning this lesson as they consider locations for a Navigation Center and face outrage from many in the Niles District who feel shortchanged by the process.
[An additional example of bureaucratic quiet haste involves an 802,340 square foot Class A Industrial Office Park complex – two five-story office buildings, two six-story office buildings, two five-story parking garages – in Ardenwood [Fremont] approved through a Zoning Administrator Permit without Planning Commission or City Council approval.]
While HEAP is a laudable effort to address homelessness, a major core problem remains… how to survive economically in a system that encourages rampant exploitation and wacky economics. Those at the lower end of pay scales are not inherently lazy or inept, but pay the price for conspicuous consumption by others and skyrocketing prices. While some financially fortunate individuals and families are the consequence of excellent personal skills and work ethics, others occupy a select financial status due to good fortune, fate or factors irrespective of ability. A comparison can be made with those less fiscally stable… some have significant personal problems while others find themselves in untenable situations due to factors beyond their control.
As we assess the trials and tribulations of fellow human, it is a good idea to consider the phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Whether in a religious context or not, the meaning is pretty much the same. Politicians and residents alike must be aware, engaged and amenable to constructive criticism that comes with exposure to public sentiment.
As we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America, the Declaration of Independence declared the core values of this country: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We need to remember this; if not, we could be in a HEAP of trouble.