Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Gala to garbage
A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to be asked to attend The Center for The Arts Annual Gala. It was a black-tie affair that raised over $134,000 toward the cost of their extensive remodel. My friend bought a table and after I accepted her invitation, she told me the price of admission would be helping to clean up a homeless camp the following morning. Of course, I said I would be happy to help. A few members of our party enlisted the services of The Cinderella Project to rent gowns for the evening. It was an opportunity to contribute to that nonprofit as well!
The gala was a ridiculous amount of fun. My all-female table mates consisted of some of the county’s heavy hitters and good friends. We had an absolute blast.
The reality that we may have had a little bit too much fun arrived early the next morning when my girlfriend picked me up and we made our way to the meeting area to begin clean- up efforts. We signed releases and received some safety tips from law enforcement before donning gloves and grabbing garbage bags, rakes, and other tools and then taking a short walk into a wooded area and to the evacuated camp. I noticed several of the previous evenings table mates were moving a slower as well, but we all moved forward to complete the task at hand.
I thought I had an idea of what a homeless camp would be like, but nothing prepared me for the size of the area or for the immense volume of trash we found there. I have no idea how many people were using the expanse as their makeshift residence, but it was clear the need to find a solution is great. The housing issue is a growing concern and one lacking a simple solution. The Sheriff acknowledged receiving criticism for moving people from these camps and cleaning up the areas. The feeling is that it is futile and disruptive. They merely go somewhere else and leave another huge mess. Her response (paraphrased) is that this is our community and our responsibility. So, we cleaned it up.
Not to overstate the obvious, but the issues surrounding homelessness are complex. The lack of housing in our community means the problem will grow and people will be forced to leave. At the recent Economic Resource Council Summit, just as he did two years ago, keynote speaker Dr. Christopher Thornberg spelled out the issues surrounding the health of our community quite succinctly. “We have a housing shortage.” He made it clear that it is as simple as that. Without enough housing, we will not grow. Our economy will suffer. Our community will eventually age out. We have to decide, as a community, what we want to be. We have stop complaining about the lack of workforce if we are not willing to build housing to support them. Our children cannot afford to live here. Many leave (as they should) but cannot afford to come back home to raise families of their own.
For over a year and a half my husband and I have housed two of our adult children. They had both moved out of the area and had lived independently for more than five years, but life brought them back home. They each took some time to “regroup and rebuild.” Then, the time came for them to get back out there on their own. I struggled with the fact that there is room for them here, in their childhood home. But the reality is, they need to live their lives and my husband, and I need to live ours. I have had my time with roommates. We sacrificed years of privacy and priority while raising our children. It is our time too. We deserve to have these years together as a couple. And, it is just not healthy! So, out the door we push.
If it were only that easy! The sad reality is that it is incredibly difficult to find a place to live when you are working for minimum or close to minimum wage. Our service workers cannot afford to live where they work. We have both have adult children and friends working multiple jobs to afford housing. Property owners are hesitant to rent to them. They have difficulty securing housing and stretch to their financial limits when they are fortunate enough to secure a place. Those going to college, carry an added burden and some programs there require students to fulfill their education out of the area. How can we hope to grow our local economy? The next generation is simply leaving.
Sadly, this is not only an issue for the young. The homeless population and all the issues that go with it will grow until a workable solution is implemented. In the meantime, community leaders and organizations and members continue to collaborate to find answers that work for the greater good — be it raising money for the center or cleaning up a neighborhood. I do not want to go from a gala to garbage again, but chances are, I will.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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