Brian Hamilton: What if homeless discussion is not ‘just talk’ after all?
It’s all talk, they said.
Pulling people together to discuss homelessness isn’t solving the problem. It’s just talk, they insisted. Where’s the action?
And, of course, they’re right — to a degree.
We’ve talked a lot about homelessness here over the past couple of decades, whether in governmental meetings, town hall forums or on the opinion pages of the community newspaper. We’ve talked about the challenges homeless people face, as well as the nonprofit organizations and volunteers who support them. We’ve talked about the scope and size of our homeless population, and the real-life human beings who comprise it.
We’ve talked about root causes, such as mental health, substance abuse and addiction. We’ve talked about fire danger and liability of encampments established by people trespassing on private property. We’ve talked about the positive outcomes we’ve witnessed through help our homeless residents received and also the negative impact they can pose if they choose not to seek assistance.
Yep, we’ve talked a lot. And with this community conversation continuing for years now, it might seem like all we do is talk.
For some, it seemed like just more talk earlier this year when Nevada County’s supervisors allocated $1 million in essentially “found money” to an operations center for county vehicles and equipment, rather than directing the funds toward helping homeless people. After all, the supervisors had made the exploration of “funding opportunities to improve and expand emergency shelters” among its top priorities in 2017 and now had found funding that could be applied elsewhere.
Considering the cuts they’ve faced in grant funding in recent years, nonprofits like Hospitality House and Salvation Army — who do much of the heavy lifting for our homeless — could have used a boost to their bottom line in efforts to meet their missions. But the majority of supervisors said they wanted a plan in place before making such an allocation, which of course makes sense but leads us back to the table for more talk rather than actual action.
Truth is, though, we’ve learned a great deal from all that talking.
And, considering the full scope of this issue, a great deal of action has already been taken with more opportunities on the horizon.
Convened by Supervisor Heidi Hall this year, the “Homelessness Process Improvement Group,” an ad-hoc committee of nonprofits, stakeholders, government staff and elected officials, met for the fourth and final time in early August. While plenty more still needs to be done, particularly in establishing a 24/7 shelter and organizing warming shelters for cold weather, the group’s work should be viewed as an important step toward solutions. The discussions helped to identify gaps in services — a total of 39, ranging from a lack of available medication to the need for volunteer training for service providers — and connect those capable of filling them.
Another key step was the hiring of Brendan Phillips, Nevada County’s housing resource manager, who landed a newly-created position as the point person on one our community’s most difficult issues. It’s a big job, no doubt, being tasked with coordinating multiple agencies and helping to bring affordable housing here. But he’s not alone in the effort, and he’ll also make use of the ad-hoc group’s work to develop a plan that supervisors can support.
“Affordable housing” seems somewhat of oxymoron for many here in western Nevada County. With limited inventory of houses — let alone houses the working class would consider affordable — for sale and an incredibly tight rental market, it’s increasingly difficult for many to make a home here. And how many of our working class folks are just one or two paychecks away from not being able to afford the place they currently call home?
It’s good to see so many people bringing forth ideas and approaches geared to help our housing problems, such as recent discussion on changing local laws on accessory dwelling units to allow the construction of more affordable options.
And with elected officials making the issue a top priority — poised to act once a plan is in place — also offers promise for progress.
In the end, that’s what those who call for action really want to see.
So while it might seem like “just talk” for now, the fact that this community and its elected officials are considering action — which some see as well outside the role of government — could actually be considered progress.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.
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