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Inland man self-publishes book on homelessness

Eric A. Gavin is a computer software developer who works out of his Upland home. During the past 10 years he’s developed a sideline: finding ways to reduce homelessness, a problem that seems to be getting worse by the day in some communities. In that time he’s attended conferences, put together Upland’s Community Restoration Team, which fights homelessness in that city, and worked with Fontana in a similar capacity.

Now Gavin has written a book. Real Talk About Homelessness, is a 227-page paperback that appeared on amazon.com May 6. In it Gavin discusses a number of topics, including the root causes of homelessness, how to eliminate it and why he believes the problem persists.

Gavin discussed his self-published book last week with IE Business Daily in a series of telephone interviews. The following has been edited for clarity.

 

Q: When did you decide to write the book?

A:  I think the idea first came to me at the end of 2021. By that time, I started to think that society wasn’t doing enough to solve homelessness, that we weren’t doing enough to move forward.

Q: You are a strong advocate of the “housing first” solution to homelessness, meaning the first step is to get a homeless person off the street and into a shelter. Then you work on eliminating the problems that got them there in the first place: drug or alcohol addiction, no employment, etc. The other way is the exact opposite: solve the problems first, then find them a place to live. Isn’t the housing first approach becoming the preferred method in most places?

A: Yes. Both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state of California will not give money to any [jurisdiction] to help it reduce its homeless population if it doesn’t provide shelter first. But fixing the problem isn’t that simple.

Q: What do you mean?

A: There are a lot of advocates on both sides, and they’ve become warring factions. They are not talking to each other. Each side believes the other side are the bad guys. That’s not going to fix the problem. So there are problems with both approaches.

Q: What do you believe they are?

A:  Housing first can end up meaning housing only, and if that happens you don’t focus enough on the drug or alcohol abuse or the crimes committed by homeless people. All of those things have to be addressed and eliminated. Most homeless people are not responsible citizens who have had some bad luck. A lot of them commit crimes, and we have to approach the problem from that perspective.

Q: What is the other approach called, and what do you believe are its shortcomings?

A:  It doesn’t really have a name, but I like to call it healing first. I address it in the book.

Q: How do you break it down?

A: Practically all homeless people have a drug or alcohol problem. Well, the streets are filled with drugs and alcohol, so why would you leave a homeless person in that environment any longer than you have to? Do you really expect them to resist that temptation? It’s like sending a person with a gambling addiction to live in Las Vegas.

Q: Another problem with housing first is there’s probably not be enough available housing to make it work. 

A: That’s true. Right now, there are about 75,500 homeless people in Los Angeles County, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. Is there enough housing, at the moment to accommodate all of them? If they all suddenly were able to support themselves and live on their own, would there be enough housing for all of them? Of course not. But we have to help whoever we can whenever we can.

Q: Who is the book aimed at? What is its potential audience?

A:  Mostly people in government who have some say in putting together policies that will eliminate homelessness. I don’t expect it to be a big best seller. What I’m hoping is that the people who read it admit to themselves that what we’re doing now isn’t working.

Q: Can you talk about some of the book’s more important points? Something you found that you believe is especially worth knowing?

A: I talk about how the term “homeless” is used too broadly. The federal government has two definitions. The first is anyone who doesn’t have a permanent place to live. I think we all agree that that’s a homeless person. The other definition is a person who lives in a hotel or motel, or who moves around living with friends or members of their family. They don’t own a home, but they do have a roof over their head. I don’t consider them homeless.

Q: How do you think city and county governments can use what’s in the book to solve their homeless issues?

A: They can learn that the different agencies and departments have to work together. Every city has departments that deals with homelessness, especially housing, economic development and the police department. The police are concerned with the crime that comes with homelessness, and they should be. That’s their job. The housing-economic people look at it as ‘how are we going to find housing for these people?’ Well, those agencies can help each other. I laugh a little when I hear local government people say “let’s work together,” but in the case of homelessness it’s true. They have to work together.

Q: How difficult was it to write the book?

A:  Not that difficult. I’m so immersed in this topic, I’ve studied it so much that I really know it.  It’s a very tough topic, and it’s easy to become jaded, but I had no trouble with the writing. Once I got started It really flowed. The editing was the toughest part. I had to soften a lot of my attitudes.

Q: In what way?

A: In my frustration with agencies that are set up to help the homeless, but they aren’t really helping. Too many providers are serving themselves. I said exactly that once at gathering of providers, and got I booed. And I’ve given up on landlords. Their idea of helping a homeless person is to have them fill out a rental application and then rent them an apartment. If the homeless person could afford an apartment then they wouldn’t be homeless. All of those things are hard for me to deal with. I knew I had to put it aside when I was writing  the book.

Q: Can you talk about the book’s format?

A:  Each chapter starts with the name of a homeless person – not their real name – and it examines one aspect of homelessness through that person’s experience, At the end, it proposes a solution to the problems they were dealing with. The first title of the book was The Story or Homelessness, but I decided to change it. No one thought it was an interesting title.

Q: Do you plan to write another book?

A: Yes, I plan to write two more. Some of my friends are already calling it the Gavin trilogy. (Laughs). The second book will be about poverty. As for the third book, I’ve got some ideas about what its subject will be, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

Q  Are you satisfied with the book?

A: Yes, I am. I think it makes the points that I wanted to make. About 25 people read it before it came out. They were my editors. My wife Cindy made some very good criticisms. I read it right before it went to the printer and I said to myself this is a very good book.

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2 comments

  1. I read Eric’s book and it is excellent. Its name is accurate:”Real Talk about Homelessness.” Eric worked with the homeless populations of Upland and Fontana for 3-5 years, long enough to him to see what was working and what wasn’t working with the many different programs designed to provide housing and other solutions. I highly recommend reading it for the valuable content that shares how we can avoid possible solutions by making other possible solutions wrong as we explore what does and doesn’t work and why. When we are willing to set aside proving our “point of views,” we can have authentic conversations with the homeless, the program providers, the governments, to discover and explore solutions without conflict.

  2. COLLENA MAYBEE

    Sometimes the homeless person is simply someone who rather live with their children, in their car, rather than the toxic envirorment full of emotional and at times physical abuse.

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