Stockton, Calif., Mayor Anthony Silva is determined to put an end to homelessness in his city, but before he could make any meaningful changes, he decided to see for himself the challenges that people on the streets face.
So, on May 15, Silva fashioned himself a shelter out of a cardboard box and duct tape, and settled in for the evening under a highway where a number of homeless people have taken refuge, FOX 40 reported. Stockton partnered with Inner City Action, a Christian organization that helps people in need and arranges a barbecue every Thursday night for homeless people, according to the Record Net.
"I thought I’d come out here for a night and spend a night with the homeless to see what it is that they go through," Silva told FOX40. "It’s about giving them a light at the end of the tunnel that there is hope, and that’s why I’m out here to give them that hope."
A spokesman for the Stockton Mayor's Office told HuffPost that the city has an estimated 5,000 homeless people. San Joaquin County has between 10,000 and 15,000 homeless people.
The mayor was overwhelmed by the squalid conditions and the heart wrenching stories he heard on Thursday evening.
One couple, an unemployed concrete worker and a college graduate with a cosmetology license, is expecting a baby in six months, according to the Record Net.
"It's shocking and it's absolutely awful," Silva told the news outlet. "This is not a second- or third-world country. It's Stockton, California, and it's a shame that we, as a community, have let things get this bad."
To help make a difference in the lives of local homeless people, Silva has proposed setting up job-training centers in warehouses that would be run by existing nonprofits, Stockton City Limits reported.
While advocates commend this initiative, some say that it and his "media moment" sleeping outside, just aren’t enough.
What the homeless really need, some experts say, is affordable homes.
A single, full-time minimum wage worker in California earns about $1,450 a month, which leaves less than $500 a month to spend on rent and utilities, Stockton City Limits noted.
Rent in the Stockton area often far exceeds that.
A standard one-bedroom apartment in San Joaquin County costs $709 a month and in the less desirable areas nearby, the rent is typically in the $580 range.
"If we as a city -- or society as a whole -- are serious about helping reduce and end homelessness, it’ll take a wider concerted effort. And money," Jon Mendelson wrote in his Stockton City Limits piece. "Money to build housing that is affordable to people who need help getting back on their feet. Money to subsidize rents for existing apartments and houses."
Note: This article originally cited homelessness figures from the city of Stockton reported by Fox40. HuffPost followed up with the mayor's office on the figures for the city, which have been updated accordingly.