Homeless discussion brings crowd | TheUnion.com

Homeless discussion brings crowd

Patrick Marino, a homeless man from Grass Valley, addresses a large crowd Tuesday during a community discussion at Grass Valley City Hall.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

An informal discussion held by the Grass Valley City Council Tuesday regarding homelessness brought a large turnout that included service groups, first responders, property owners and homeless people.

The evening began with updates from both Grass Valley Fire Chief Mark Buttron and Police Chief Alex Gammelgard, who gave statistics regarding the amount of time that local emergency first responders spend dealing with issues related to the homeless.

During a two-year time frame, Gammelgard said roughly 1,700 calls were taken when 911 callers used descriptive words such as homeless, transient, or panhandler, though he said it was hard to really gauge the magnitude of how much time his department actually does spend on homeless issues. After informally asking his various sworn officers, Gammelgard said that roughly 30 to 70 percent of an officer’s shift is spent on calls relating to homeless people — three times larger than the rest of the county and six times larger than Nevada City.

“We want to do the best to get them out of homelessness,” Gammelgard said. “We understand their state is fragile and we understand that there are worries, if there is someone who lives near an encampment.”

Gammelgard said there isn’t a day that goes by where he isn’t talking to someone about how to help solve the homelessness problem.

“We need to set, as a community, our standards for public safety,” said Gammelgard, whose comments received a large round of applause from the audience.

Local landlord Nicholas George, who owns property near where the Auburn Fire occurred in September, spoke up during the meeting and said at times his property can be almost completely surrounded by homeless encampments. George said his tenants are scared and suggested having homeless people apply for voluntary identification cards in order to receive services.

“We have the opportunity to reduce the homeless population by having service groups that help those that want to stay. We don’t want to help those that come here just because they find out that it is easy,” George said.

Patrick Marino, a member of the local homeless community, also made his voice heard and painted a picture to audience members of what life is like to be homeless.

“As far as fires go, you haven’t had to put out one of my fires,” said Marino, who has a fire permit. “We have to go to sleep late and we have to get up early. We have those free Obama phones, but we can’t charge them because we get run off. We have basic needs too, food, water, shelter. If you treat us like animals, we act like animals.”

Marino added that most people are one paycheck away from being homeless and that drugs and alcoholism can be a result of trying to cope with being lonely, dirty and cold. He described coming across three homeless people who were drinking in the forest and each of them had college degrees.

“Keep in mind that we’re humans and we’re trying,” said Marino, whose comments also received a large round of applause.

“I’m proud that we can get a whole group of people here with a variety of issues,” said Mayor Jason Fouyer. “I think we all heard some helpful things, from pamphlets, to better conversations with the community, to who do we call, from big things to work on from relocation, to building houses. Those are large needs, but it’s a step … We can’t do it alone; we need each and every one of you and now you get to hold us accountable for the next steps.”

To contact Staff Writer Elias Funez, email efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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