Charles Durrett: Want the homeless to ‘disappear’? Give them homes and resources | TheUnion.com
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Charles Durrett: Want the homeless to ‘disappear’? Give them homes and resources

Winter is coming, and the Supreme Court just ruled that asking homeless people to pick up their belongings and move on (Bell v. City of Boise) is unconstitutional.

As many of us are hopeful El Niño will deliver us from the worst drought conditions in history, some of those among us will be looking for dry, safe shelter.

Two winters ago, I stopped after a particularly hard deluge and offered to take some of our local homeless residents’ wet belongings, such as coats and sleeping bags, to the laundromat for drying.



They were as uncomfortable and unhappy as wet cats. It left me thinking there must be more that we can do.

We can organize a village in our county that is better than sleeping outside, better than foraging for food and spare change — bringing more dignity to the individual and to our society, as a whole.

Following the lead of other cities and counties that have done extensive and expensive research, we can implement a housing-first solution that works for Nevada County.




We can organize a village in our county that is better than sleeping outside, better than foraging for food and spare change — bringing more dignity to the individual and to our society, as a whole.

The average homeless person in America today (HUD just published that number at 3,500,000 people) lives to 49 years old. The average American lives to be 79 years old.

It’s a death sentence to leave someone, anyone, out in the cold (therefore the Supreme Court ruling based on the eighth amendment: cruel and unusual punishment). And it’s a glorified littering program to just give them coats and sleeping bags, while not expecting to see them in the woods soon after, wet and discarded.

We know that to help them realize a portable but dry tiny dwelling, a village where services can be combined (such as water, sewer, medical, legal, etc.) needs to be efficiently rendered.

We know from the Eugene Opportunity Village, that:

— The vote of the City Council was 6 to 2 to permit a one-year pilot project, with the City leasing a piece of underutilized land at $1 a year, that has since been renewed a year later by an 8-0 vote following no public opposition.

— The police have been very supportive of the village, admitting it has gone better than they thought it would and that it has not been an impact in terms of crime.

— The most recent studies across the U.S. show the cost per homeless person to taxpayer’s ranges from $20,000 to $40,000 per homeless person per year. Opportunity Village Eugene’s operating costs, to house on average 34 people, are $1,200 per month with an initial cost of around $3,300 per unit.

This equates to around $126,600 to build, operate and house on average 34 people for the first year, compared to the range of cost to taxpayers of $680,000 to $1.36 million to leave these people out on the street, dependent on costly emergency services for care.

Emergency room visits alone decreased by 73 percent — when it’s cold you have to go somewhere. Forest fires will decrease — when you’re hungry you have to cook your beans, when you’re thirsty, you have to sanitize your water.

— It offers a safe and secure place to be that does not tolerate violence or domestic abuse, so that they are no longer dependent on an abusive mate to “protect” them in the woods.

Twenty-five percent of the U.S. homeless are veterans. The number one job of the government is to protect life.

Allowing veterans to die in the cold this winter is in direct opposition to that.

We appreciate county officials honoring and paying tribute to their sacrifices, handing out certificates of appreciation to the veterans. What would substantial support look like? In this case, the county can easily do something.

An Opportunity Village in Nevada County takes very little from the county. Good citizens are prepared to get organized, manage and help fellow citizens get back on their feet.

This simply requires those in leadership at the county to suggest a fallow county site that we can lease on a yearly basis.

The site would give community members and organizations a place to direct their efforts and proven solutions.

Yes, I’ve heard that after the last citizen rally of 300 citizens, on Nov. 11, 2014, some supervisors got some phone calls.

“Don’t do it,” the callers asked.

Around that same time Madison, Wisconsin, moved forward with the building of a village in the face of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) push back, and now they are boasting a successful year with local residents that initially were leery now in support.

If you want the homeless to “disappear” then give them homes, rehabilitative services, and opportunities to become contributing members of the community.

Yes, leadership is necessary in transcending the fear. We can do it — let’s try again.

Charles Durrett is the principal architect at McCamant & Durrett Architects, The Cohousing Company, in Nevada City.


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