Jodi McDonald: Good morning, Nevada County
I hope you had a great night’s sleep in the privacy and comfort of your home. Did you wake up to a hot beverage and an invigorating shower?
Was it difficult choosing what to wear? Did you have a nourishing breakfast? Me too! All things considered we have a pretty comfortable life don’t we?
Here’s the thing. Every day hundreds of people right here in Nevada County do not wake up to the amenities we take for granted. They wake up cold, hungry and displaced. We have a name for them, it’s a label really; we call them homeless or “houseless,” we call them transients or vagrants, but they are people.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately observing and interviewing people who live without a roof over their heads. I have also spoken with business and property owners. Obviously there are two sides to the story, there always is.
The main complaint coming from business and property owners is the filthy mess left behind by some of the homeless. They are confronted with piles of wet clothing, human and animal feces, garbage, and occasionally drug paraphernalia. They also worry about the danger from makeshift fire pits. They are frustrated because water and electricity is being pirated.
It’s all true; they have every right to complain. I’ve seen it firsthand. The lack of sanitation is abhorrent.
The main complaint coming from those living on the streets is pretty much the same. Believe it or not, for the most part they want a warm, dry, clean place to stay. They want somewhere to bathe and wash their clothes. They want regular meals. Many want to work and create a better life. Quite a large number want to kick their drug or alcohol addictions. Then again, in all fairness, there are some who are habitually homeless. They enjoy the freedom of not being tied to what we call a regular life. They are, and will always be, what they are.
Let’s try a role reversal. Let’s say you woke this morning and instead of grabbing a cup of coffee, showering, and eating breakfast, you woke up outside, cold and stiff from sleeping on damp ground (have you ever camped in the rain?). Maybe your first need was to find someplace private to relieve yourself, but all the parks have locked their restrooms. What would you do? Where would you go? And I do mean go. Maybe you could find a place behind a building or a dumpster. What are your options?
Let’s also assume you didn’t have a dry shelter so your belongings are wet and heavy. What can you do? Sometimes the best option is to leave them behind rather than carry them out into more rain or snow. What do you do for food? There is currently no place in Grass Valley that serves the homeless breakfast, lunch or dinner unless you are fortunate enough to be one of the 30 or so residents of Hospitality House. True you do get a small amount of money from the government, but how far does that go? You are tired, hungry and cold, so maybe the last resort is to shoplift something to get you through. Wouldn’t it be worth the risk? If you are caught jail would be a place to get warm and dry for a few hours.
As a homeless person you are in the constant view and scorn of the public and always battling the elements, is it any wonder you turn to drugs or alcohol? Is it any wonder you spiral into hopelessness and lose all dignity, resorting to anything necessary to survive?
The subject of homelessness has been hashed and rehashed, cussed and discussed, reworked, reworded and revised and yet we are not seeing an eminent solution. I have one suggestion. San Francisco has given permission and matching funds to a couple of nonprofit organizations to refurbish old school busses and turn them into portable showers and laundry facilities. Some are equipped to serve hot meals. They make scheduled stops in specified areas where those in need can get a little relief.
There are also pre-manufactured trailers available that are set up for the same purposes (FEMA uses them). It is a temporary solution, but it is at least moving forward until something permanent can be done. The housing situation still needs to be addressed.
Helping the homeless is not aiding and abetting, it’s finding a workable solution for everyone.
Jodi McDonald lives in Grass Valley.
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