Michael Taylor: Many of us are a couple decisions away from being homeless
Homelessness is a national, state and community problem, and unfortunately, there is no single solution we can enact to solve it today.
As you may have heard in recent news, the Grass Valley Police Department hauled 2.12 tons of trash to the dump after a community organized homeless encampment cleanup. GVPD says they’re looking at what other counties in our state are doing to deal with this issue and noted that our area has a distinct rural/urban interface, which makes homeless encampments here unique.
I know firsthand what it’s like to experience homelessness. Shortly after graduating from Nevada Union High School, I struggled to find consistent work. In the winter of 1982, during the low season for construction, I worked part-time as a lube technician at George Brother’s Dodge on Main Street. When things were slow, I wasn’t called in. When I wasn’t called in, I wasn’t making money. When I wasn’t making money, I couldn’t pay my rent. When I couldn’t pay my rent, I had to move out of my apartment.
Rather than moving in with family, I choose to occupy an ex-girlfriend’s parent’s abandoned and dilapidated house on the corner of Colfax Avenue and Highway 174. It was deemed unlivable because it didn’t have water, power, nor a functioning bathroom. It was cold, barren and dark, but I felt lucky to know about it because I needed a place to sleep while I continued to look for full-time work.
My grandma would visit me and bring me food, knowing that I didn’t have much, and begged me to move in with her and my grandfather. While I could’ve moved in with them, I didn’t want my parents to know that was my situation. I remember feeling strongly about needing to deal with the choices I’d made that’d led me to the situation I was in. This experience has caused me to feel strongly and compassionately about the realities of homelessness.
Several years after being homeless in Nevada County, I found myself working on a commercial building renovation in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. Construction was only allowed from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. in the city and I was working all night, five nights a week, for about a year. I got to know the people experiencing homelessness in Honolulu by first name and everyone had a story.
Some were choosing this lifestyle. They wanted to opt-out of mainstream society and found community as well as support on the streets. Some were dependent on substances, while others had mental health issues and limited access to services that could help them. Others were, surprisingly, victims of the system. They’d lost everything they had for an array of reasons but, most commonly, this reason was divorce. I met doctors, attorneys and financial advisors who were living on the streets.
While each of these individuals experiencing homelessness wound up in that situation for a different reason, they all shared one thing in common: none of them had a safe place to live.
While reflecting on my time personally experiencing homelessness, I was lucky to know that my situation wasn’t long term. At the time, East Berry Hill Drive Apartments were under construction and they’d soon need tenants. If I kept working and saving money, I’d be able to apply for one of these available apartments and get myself out of the situation. This, however, is not a reality for people experiencing homelessness in Nevada County today. I strongly believe that the housing crisis and the lack of affordable housing in our area are the biggest contributors to our homeless population.
While local nonprofits and agencies in our community are doing their best to deal with the homelessness situation, I think, collectively, we can do better.
Nevada City, Grass Valley, Truckee and Nevada County need to address the situation cooperatively and I’m committed to creating a solution to this problem, compassionately and with understanding. I’ve emailed Brian Foss, the planning director for Nevada County, and asked for an opportunity to share my ideas about building affordable housing in our area, which will ultimately help with homelessness. Sadly, I haven’t received a response.
While I understand that building affordable housing doesn’t completely solve the issue, it creates the starting point for a solution. Building affordable and low-income homes creates jobs. Jobs create opportunities. Opportunities reduce homelessness.
At a time of giving, I hope you’ll help me try to help those less fortunate than ourselves: people currently experiencing homelessness in our county. Let’s work together to solve the homelessness situation by addressing the housing crisis that’s currently crippling our area.
The county needs to be held accountable to fulfilling its goals as outlined in the current Housing Element (bit.ly/NevadaCo).
Michael Taylor is a candidate for the District 1 seat on the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
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