Ehud Gat: First step is acknowledging the problem
I was encouraged to read Michael McDonald’s March 5 response to my column in this very paper regarding the need for wiser resource allocation and greater accountability in programs that are designed to help the homeless.
To begin with, allow me to point out that I did not dismiss the good programs such as Hospitality House for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Over the years Hospitality House and other such programs helped many people survive going through the most dire straits in their lives.
However, all that does not change the fact that there have been unintentional negative impacts, brought about by the very loose criteria for granting assistance to out-of-county homeless and lack of accountability when it comes to wasting community resources on those homeless who go about habitually committing crimes in our community.
Not only does that take away resources from those homeless people who are genuinely fighting to better their lives, but it encourages homeless from out of town to come over here.
Which brings us to one of the oft-repeated fallacies, that supposedly our homeless population is by and large local. To paraphrase the quote Mark Twain had popularized, there are three kinds of lies: Lies, the other kind of lies and statistics. However, in his eagerness to discredit the notion that too many of the homeless are from out of town, Mr. McDonald’s refuted his own claim with the very statistics he brought.
I won’t deny I wasn’t the finest math student in my class but even I can add simple numbers. Summing together the numbers brought by Mr. McDonald, it is clear that 40 percent — nearly half — of the homeless population have been here for less than five years. The majority of those never owned, rented or leased a house here. They may show some remote ties to the area from 30 years ago, or they may show ties made after they moved into the area as transients, but in truth, they are not from here.
Let me be clear: This isn’t a call for a division based on us and them, on haves and have-nots. It is a call for prioritizing our own over our neighbors.
No one expects me to put resources into my neighbor’s daughter if it will come at the expense of my own daughter’s well being. Why then do we ask Grass Valley to care for the people of Auburn or Big Oak Valley or Minneapolis, Minnesota?
See, in a perfect world we’d have had enough resources to go around. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
I’d prefer to see the limited resources available in Grass Valley and Nevada City given to that single mom that grew up on Richardson Street, went to Nevada Union and now struggles to find a roof for herself and her children while working her backside off in a Broad Street business, instead of giving them to that guy who came over from Big Oak Valley seven years ago, has been going in and out of jail for methamphetamine and heroin use, theft, robbery and other crimes. Just to point out, that’s a real person whose ID now says he’s from Grass Valley and he’s getting aided by the Hospitality House program despite having never actually been a resident in our area nor showing any inclinations to stop victimizing society or try to better his life.
Again, this is not about bashing the programs. This is about wiser use of our limited resources through more stringent criteria and greater accountability. I would not ask you to care for my child before yours. Just because someone has been camping on my front lawn, uninvited, doesn’t make them a resident in my house, much less a member of my family.
Finally, while I’m grateful for the invitation to the open house at Hospitality House to see the good it does, I only need to go down the road from the homeless shelter, to the Sutton Way shopping centers, to see the unintended but very poignant negative impacts it has.
Is it too much to ask that we continue doing good but mitigate those problems?
The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging that there is a problem, instead of denying it.
Ehud Gat lives in Grass Valley.
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