Soon after I was sworn in, I visited Beard Brook Park, the former homeless encampment here in Modesto. It was an experience that has stuck with me.
More than 400 of our neighbors were living in tents and had just the clothes on their back.
One story I heard was particularly poignant for me.
As I walked through the rows of makeshift shelters, a man about my age named Dan approached me. He told me that a year ago he had a wife and kids, a stable job and a home. But he had an accident at work and got addicted to pain pills. He lost everything: his job, his home, his family, the life he’d worked so hard to build.
When I asked him what I could do, he told me that all he needed was some support to get back on his feet. He was dead set on rebuilding his life but just didn’t have access to the resources to make it happen.
As I drove away, I promised myself I’d do something to help.
So, for the past three months I’ve been working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put together a truly comprehensive bill to tackle this problem, not only for people like Dan who had a tough break, but also for folks who have been chronically homeless for years.
A quarter of our nation’s homeless live in California. In just Stanislaus County, there are upward of a thousand people without a place to call home. Hundreds of folks in our community don’t have a bed in homeless shelters and spend their nights in the street, under bridges or in abandoned buildings.
Many local shelters are doing amazing work and local governments are making strides in bringing stakeholders together to coordinate efforts. But our communities need resources to close the gaps and invest strategically in addressing the root causes of this crisis.
Our bill, the Fighting Homelessness Through Services and Housing Act, does two important things. First, it provides robust funding at the local level for more beds to get our neighbors off the streets. Second, it prioritizes comprehensive services to address the underlying causes of homelessness – addiction, mental health issues and poverty. Access to mental health services, addiction counseling, job training and life skills classes mean that our neighbors will actually have the tools to rebuild their lives for the long term.
While there’s still more work to do, this is a critical first step to make sure every person in the Central Valley has a place to call home, and I won’t stop until we reach that reality.
Josh Harder represents the 10th Congressional District covering Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County. He wrote this commentary for The Modesto Bee.