Op-Ed: Bridge Housing; The Homeless Encampment Challenge
By: Michael Estes
Like many of you, I often get frustrated in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Hwy 99 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. when leaving Sacramento and headed towards home in Elk Grove. As the traffic is moving at 10-20 mph I start gazing at the exits. One thing that’s prevalent at just about every freeway exit are homeless encampments.
This exit has become a homeless encampment, and seemed to have popped up overnight. It has become permanent housing for the unprotected and unhoused. Many have been without a home since 2019, but for others it has only been since the start of 2022. As we live our lives safely raising our children, and try to take care of our neighbors and neighborhoods, these encampments have become the backdrop that’s becoming so common that it’s almost invisible.
But our city leaders and ‘experts’ say the rise in homelessness is driven by Covid-19; rising housing costs; scarcity and mental illness, but are they even seeing what we see? Or have they become desensitized to even think about focusing on a real solution.
Going from living on the sidewalk to living in your own private secure legitimate space, cities can create a form of “Bridge Housing” where hope can be renewed. Residents can get jobs and break free from addictions. Most importantly, they can get the help and support services that they need that are funded by our cities.
Creating a Continuum of Care
To better understand the issues and potential solutions, I’ve been reaching out to other concerned Californians over the past seven years hoping to create a solution that provides a continuum of care, and something that would relate to, “Bridge Housing,” which is a term that has been previously coined. Make no mistake, I strongly believe in the concept of Bridge Housing. But as I travel throughout the Sacramento region, and throughout California, I’ve come to see that focusing primarily on permanent housing is an insufficient solution to the current crisis.
California simply does not have the housing stock necessary to address the current homeless crisis.
The Sleep Pod Innovative Semi-Permanent Housing Program
Converting hotels and building affordable housing will take too long, and cost too much. So instead, we pivot topics and hope that the crisis will just go away. What we need is an infusion of short-term shelter; support services; and housing options to serve as a bridge for those currently living on the streets.
The Sleep Pod Innovative Semi-Permanent Housing Program is an aesthetically pleasing bridge that transforms the homeless from, “tent city,” and RV encampments, into city managed temporary shelters.
Also, affordable housing solutions will offer a pathway and an effective plan for the homeless to get back on their feet so that they can be productive citizens again. Our problem here in the Sacramento region is not unique to the homeless problem in almost every city in America right now.
Interior of Sleep Pod
Rendering by Mimas (massbeverly.com)
A Plethora of Possibilities
For many years, our elected officials have refused to view homelessness as a solvable challenge. They do not view it as a symptom of our state’s affordable housing crisis either. Instead, we witness campaigns that address the problem of homelessness as though they are tied to a drug addiction. Millions of dollars are allocated each year towards untreated serious mental illness. These politicians are running campaigns and giving speeches, touting messages of a unified; appropriately funded, civic, regional, and state-wide approach that focuses on the mental challenges of people that are not necessarily homeless.
Consequently, they are providing millions in tax dollars in what politicians’ campaign on, and shifting money to recovery services; medically assisted drug treatment facilities; psychiatric beds; conservatory assisted outpatient treatment; and residential care facilities.
After the pandemic hit and in the 2 years following, many cities stopped enforcing anti-camping laws. Residents in the Sacramento region started seeing the rapid proliferation of tents everywhere. These tent cities started sprouting up at major freeway exits; underpasses and on the side of many rural roads and highways. These encampments come to our cities along with the creation of major drug scenes in the open air. Additionally, there has been an increase in robberies and other types of crimes.
According to the Cost of Homelessness Report of 2015 by Sacramento Steps Forward on page 2 under Findings it says:
“The City of Sacramento spends more than $13.6 million annually on costs related to homelessness: approximately $6.6 million on services and support for persons experiencing homelessness and approximately $7.0 million on mitigating community impacts of homelessness.”-Sacramento Steps Forward, 2015
Currently, the solution is to provide homeless individuals who accept temporary or permanent housing the opportunity to move into hotels. But after the hotels, where do they move on to next? We have a shortage of affordable housing in California as it is. Let’s not even talk about the “cost per door;” the time it will take to convert hotels into housing solutions, or build newly constructed affordable housing.
The Plight of the Homeless
Homeless advocates like myself have concerns about the plight of the homeless. It’s not hard to see firsthand the failure within our cities, politicians, mayors and even our governor. There are different City and County rules; regulations; legal interpretations, and budget priorities, it’s no wonder why we don’t see any progress outside of growth within these encampments. Furthermore, likopen-air drug scenes, increased crime and additional encampments that pop up again, and again.
That’s why you meet people like me that will continue to advocate for the safety of both housed and unhoused neighbors. More times than not, I am dismissed as a troublemaker by city officials and other homeless advocates alike. It’s as if I am complaining about a thorn in the eye when that thorn is actually a beam.
The City’s short-sighted formulation of the issue has only enabled the growth of these encampments. Instead of allocating funds to create more bridge housing solutions, funds are being allocated for more popular solutions like mental Illness. But without compassion, and without an effective plan for Bridge Housing, it will only guarantee one thing; Homeless victims living on these streets have a high risk of dying from the elements living on those same streets.
Fortunately, 2022 will provide frustrated voters with an opportunity to show up at the polls. They will possibly elect new mayors, council members, city managers and other city officials. I truly hope we are all willing to see what this crisis is doing to the cities of our Golden State.
I know in my heart that homelessness; homeless encampments; and a temporary Bridge Housing issue will not be tackled or solved through the lens of only drug addiction rehabilitation, and mental health care alone. The challenge we face is much deeper than that.
About the Author
Michael Estes is a proud Military Veteran, Real Estate Professional, Community Influencer and
Transformational Businessman who has dedicated over 20 years of his life to helping people through
Functional Life Coaching, Business Development, Financial Literacy and Real Estate. He believes that
each person deserves the chance to fulfill their purpose in life and considers property ownership to be
an integral part of the path toward financial freedom.
Over the years, Michael discovered he had an aptitude for real estate. As an agent at All City Homes,
Michael specializes in first-time home buyers and military families. He brings passion, integrity, and
honesty to the firm and is driven to serve. With a background in business, strategic planning, community
development, project management, marketing, sales, and finance, Michael is a qualified guide with
many resources to draw on. His certifications include CalHFA Homeownership Financial Certification and
NeighborWorks Homeownership Certification.
In 2015, Michael co-founded KAVANAH, a non-profit housing organization that teaches undeserved
populations about home ownership and finance. They improve communities by buying houses, teaching
at-risk youth how to renovate them, and then offering them on the open market. Michael also created a
tiny house program that currently is in nine different high schools that provides paid summer
internships and employment in the building and trades industry while also providing housing to
homeless veterans. In 2021 Michael again co-founded Housing Works USA, a second non-profit
housing organizations with a partnership with MASS BEVERLY plans to launch the Sleep Pod Innovative
Semi-Permanent Housing Pilot Program.
Michael’s dedication to humanity goes beyond his nonprofit. When not working, he enjoys volunteering
at The Roberts Family Development Center and The Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps. He also
relishes the time he spends with his four adult children and three grandchildren.