Homeless CA Council Member Fights for Others like Her: Five Key Questions

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

By Wendy Fry, CalMatters,

An estimated 172,000 people are homeless in California, the largest homeless population of any state in the U.S., and contrary to the stigma, many are working professionals. A 2017 survey of the homeless population in San Francisco found that 13% reported having part-time or full-time employment. A sign of how dire things are in California: advocates in San Diego have reported meeting doctors who are experiencing homelessness.

Ventura City Councilmember Liz Campos has been without a home since late 2022 — a couple months before she was elected to her first term. A former middle school teacher, Campos has lived in Ventura for about 22 years.

She answered the following questions, which have been lightly edited for space.

Councilwoman Liz Campos’s portrait at Ventura City Hall on June 4, 2024. Photo by Julie Leopo-Bermudez for CalMatters

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

I’ve been a strong advocate for the homeless population since college when I did an internship at a program for homeless people. I don’t think that has changed since my election. I am homeless because, during my campaign, my landlord disagreed with my politics, evicted me, and then sold the house. What that experience has caused is my advocacy, even battle, to bring clearly defined, enforceable tenant protections to Ventura.

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

I believe all cities and counties should have strong, enforceable tenant protections to prevent increasing the population of unhoused individuals. I would spend whatever it takes to provide basic services for individuals who are homeless, including showers, laundry, a change of clothing, and a “listening post” where homeless persons can tell their stories, vent, complain, or just receive a little compassion. This could be connected to housing services, sheltering, meals, etc.

I would also work to change the message about “solving homelessness,” and the message that building more expensive housing will open up more less expensive housing and be a solution. Each building that goes up where condos are a million dollars only causes the cost of lower-income rentals to increase.

Additionally, I would create strong, enforceable regulations for short-term vacation rentals. The owners of these push the message that they do not affect homelessness, but each rental converted to a short-term vacation rental takes a unit off the market, and one more family is without a home. We have hundreds of schoolchildren in Ventura who are homeless; how is that acceptable?  The homeless children are not “vagrants” or criminals.

3) 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 unsheltered homeless. I have a van I live in on private property where a family generously allows me to have a permanent address.

It still is a very difficult lifestyle as I am confined to using a wheelchair for mobility. The most difficult is hearing the hateful rhetoric against all persons who are homeless, as if everyone made a rational choice. It is hard to listen to without reacting, but as an elected official, I must simply listen carefully, and share my story to those who seem to care. It is also difficult not to have my own fulltime shower and cooking facility. I make do but feel bad when I have to appear for a public event with little sleep and having not showered for weeks.

The work of the city itself is not a burden, although it is not easy to have to utilize libraries and City Hall to keep up with the reading, email, communications, etc.

Speaking of making choices: I overcome the challenges by choosing to be happy and accepting and focusing on helping others who are less fortunate than me.

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

First, that they are human beings, like everyone else; not all are drug users, criminals, or bad people. Those who live in houses should smile and greet the ones they perceive as homeless, and they may be surprised at the experience.

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

By finding a way to regulate the vacant housing stock in each city and county Ventura has hundreds of empty units. If we can craft a way to force 50% of all new housing to be available to those with the lowest incomes, we would not have people living in the streets. We must define the term “affordable,” and we should not let “inclusionary” housing exclude the poorest among us.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.

CalMatters

Written by CalMatters

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. (Articles are published in partnership with edhat.com)

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6 Comments

  1. “I would spend whatever it takes to provide basic services for individuals who are homeless…”

    Totally disagree with that. I don’t think blank checks are the answer at all.

    Also would not agree that we should be restricting property owners’ rights to do short-term rentals with their own, privately-purchased, non-subsidized properties, as she is looking to do.

    Also, don’t agree with the feasibility or sense in this statement: “If we can craft a way to force 50% of all new housing to be available to those with the lowest incomes, we would not have people living in the streets”.

  2. This mindset and acceptance of “homelessness” is a detriment to CA and our entire Nation. There are places you can exist and survive in CA, or other States with limited income or living on min. wage if that is all you shoot your sights for… There are FREE opportunities (paid for by taxpayers) to get off drugs and alcohol- There are programs at local State Jr. Colleges to get you OUT of a min. wage job… Both the above take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Those who are “homeless” due to fried brains that have now become part of the exponentially growing “mentally ill” in our society, need to be housed in a government controlled living situation and kept away from the masses- Clearly, the families thay once had have abandoned them due to their drug usage, stealing and other anti social behavior.

    • ‘the exponentially growing “mentally ill” in our society’

      So, you would have lots of compadres, judging from the sanity levels of your rants, assuming
      that phrase had any validity, which it doesn’t.

    • COAST – you really have no attachment whatsoever to reality, do you? Funny how Cons like to say liberals live in a bubble, but then say crap like “acceptance of “homelessness”” and other nonsense like completely dismissing the entire population of drug/alcohol free mentally ill.

      Living in ivory condos (or basements) and completely detached from the very topics on which they pontificate.

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