There is a way in our community to turn around the growing tide of homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness and crime that has plagued us for so long.
Barbara Franklin, an experienced shelter manager, and I, along with others, are developing a new local effort to help the homeless successfully live in homes that we call the CoLiving Network. We offer to rent affordable beds to the homeless in safe, drug-free homes when space is available and they are ready to commit to doing what it takes to build a better life.
It hasn’t been easy, but it is working, and in about a year and a half, almost all of the 42 residents who entered our program homeless are either still there learning to be self-sufficient and healthy and are paying the rent or have secured alternate stable housing.
The CoLiving program began three years ago by making rooms available to the homeless for rent without a deposit or credit check in a large Grass Valley home. But with a program that was inadequate, and after learning from a difficult start, a more practical and supportive program was devised. We now offer affordable, secure, drug-free, family-like housing coupled with the training and support necessary to build a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.
The CoLiving program includes coaching and walking hand in hand with our clients as they learn how to take responsibility for themselves and to contribute as members of a family whose mission is to achieve sobriety, independence, mental health and a clean lifestyle. It is likely that the majority of the homeless in our community — who now roam the streets addicted to drugs, camping illegally with dangerous campfires, etc. — can achieve a good and a stable life if given this opportunity.
Creative sentencing of offenders to CoLiving homes in the courts could also play a role. We make this program as easy and accessible as possible, but if our clients can’t follow the rules, they are required to leave immediately. This rarely happens.
In February, we are opening a fourth location at a local former horse ranch, and in April, we plan to open a fifth. By summer, we are looking to have a bed count of 48. So far, the neighbors around our homes have been glad to have us. We will be adding on-site group and individual psychological services, basic education, job apprenticeships and other opportunities to deepen the program. Our clients also play an essential role by helping each other.
CoLiving Network’s reputation has been growing mostly by word of mouth through our clients, and Barbara’s phone constantly rings due to people wanting to move in. This work is new, though, and out of the box, and it is operating on a shoestring budget. We do receive the help of government and private outside services, but it has been difficult to connect with a funding stream. It is good that our community has a variety of safety net services, yet it is essential that we also have an accessible means like this for those who want to move upward and secure an independent and healthy lifestyle.
People all around us are trapped in a hell bounded by ignorance, drugs and a lack of opportunity that they can escape from with help. It is our responsibility to help if we are able. There was a reason to not act because we didn’t know what to do to help, but that is no longer the case. This is a credible plan; it will have challenges; it is working, and we can improve it. Each of us should consider carefully what we could do to contribute and listen to our conscience.
CoLiving Network needs financial assistance and furniture; we also need mentors, employers, teachers, organizers and helpers. It is going to take a village, but it will be absolutely worth it. Please contact Greg Zaller at firstname.lastname@example.org or Barbara Franklin at 530-615-1014 and give us a hand.
Greg Zaller is the founder of CoLiving Network.
It hasn’t been easy, but it is working, and in about a year and a half almost all of the 42 residents who entered our program homeless are either still there learning to be self-sufficient and healthy, and paying the rent, or have secured alternate stable housing.