General Real Estate News June 17, 2024

Homeless California Council Member Fights for Others: Five Key Questions

Ventura City Councilwoman Liz Campos, 70, uses an electric lift to reach ground level from the van she lives in. June 4, 2024. Photo by Julie Leopo-Bermudez for CalMatters

In Summary

Just before her election to the Ventura City Council, Liz Campos faced eviction. Now living in a van, she shares ideas on assisting others without homes.

With an estimated 172,000 homeless individuals, California has the largest homeless population in the U.S. Contrary to common perceptions, many are employed. A 2017 survey in San Francisco revealed that 13% of the homeless population had part-time or full-time jobs. The severity of the situation is highlighted by reports of homeless doctors in San Diego.

Liz Campos, elected to the Ventura City Council in late 2022, has been homeless since shortly before her election. Campos, a former middle school teacher, has lived in Ventura for about 22 years.

Campos answered the following questions, which have been edited for brevity.

How has your personal experience with homelessness influenced your perspective and decisions as a city council member?

I’ve advocated for the homeless since college when I interned at a homeless program. My stance hasn’t changed since my election. I’m homeless because my landlord, disagreeing with my politics, evicted me and sold the house. This experience has strengthened my fight for enforceable tenant protections in Ventura.

What specific policies or initiatives would you advocate for to address homelessness in your city? What about in California?

I believe in strong tenant protections to prevent homelessness. I would invest in basic services like showers, laundry, clothing changes, and “listening posts” for the homeless. These could link to housing services and shelters.

Additionally, I would shift the narrative about “solving homelessness” and oppose the idea that building expensive housing helps. Each high-cost condo increases lower-income rental prices.

Regulating short-term vacation rentals is crucial. These rentals reduce available housing, contributing to homelessness. Ventura has homeless schoolchildren, and this needs urgent addressing. Homeless children are not “vagrants” or criminals.

What challenges do you face serving in your role as a city council member while homeless, and how do you overcome them?

My situation is better than many as I live in a van on private property with a permanent address. However, my wheelchair dependence and lack of facilities like a shower and kitchen make life difficult. The most challenging part is the negative rhetoric against the homeless.

Despite these challenges, I choose happiness and focus on helping others less fortunate than me.

What would you like other people to know about people experiencing homelessness?

They are human beings, not all drug users or criminals. People should greet them and they might be surprised by the interaction.

How can the city and state better support individuals at risk of becoming homeless?

By regulating vacant housing stock and ensuring that 50% of new housing is available to low-income individuals. Defining “affordable” and ensuring “inclusionary” housing includes the poorest is crucial.

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