Don Rogers: A Big Top solution
March 8, 2018
Temperatures plummet, maybe snow flies, which might be less of a problem than rain. If you don't have a home, where do you go?
Warming shelters set up for this annual occurrence are rare, and subject to scheduling of events at buildings like Nevada City's Veterans Memorial Building and the Seaman's Lodge. The Salvation Army no longer has an appropriate facility for the task. Almost no organization does. Hospitality House already fills up each night.
We have a landlubber's lament to rival the ancient mariner's. Buildings, buildings everywhere, none available for a homeless person to get out of the cold.
Funny, this takes me to Vail, Colorado, the ski town. Yes, an odd source for an idea about homelessness. No warming shelters there. No homeless, either. Winter clears out the summer stock of campers without fail.
But they had a distinctly Vail problem when I moved there: Not enough ice rinks for all the recreational hockey leagues. The arenas were booked from 6 a.m. to late at night. Don't ask me. I can't stand hockey, all that activity and nothing actually happening.
They have kids teams, girls teams, boys teams, men's leagues, women's leagues, the ski instructors vs. the ski patrollers, A leagues, B leagues, beginner's leagues. A high school team. Even pro teams come and train there.
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Everything was booked to overflowing. What to do?
There was an outdoor ice rink out at the golf course/Nordic center in a town large enough for proper hockey matches. So the Town Council, this constituting a crisis in Vail, sprung for a tent.
Well, it was a big white dome filled with air, like the Michelin Man. Neighbors snarkily called it the Great White Whale and complained it blocked their view in addition to all the riff-raff driving in and parking at the … golf course. Never mind golfers did and Nordic skiers did. And never mind the Great White Whale only blocked their view of I-70. But that's not my point, other than someone always complains about anything.
My point is the Great White Whale, the dome, this hockey rink behemoth of a tent, was not expensive, not really. Not for an entity like the town of Vail or, say, if tennis court-sized, for Nevada County.
I know this is an absurd idea. What about facilities? Where do you put it? How about the cost of putting it up and taking it down? Worthy questions all.
These temporary shelters go for $30 to $70 a square meter, and can be bought used relatively easily. Say a top price of $50,000 with canvas and air blowers? Or rent for the cold season for a couple of thousand dollars a month, depending on size?
Volunteers could probably cut the cost of setup and take-down each year, and that could run into the thousands of dollars for a Great White Whale. Or it did for Vail. Then again, they threw $10,000 a year at someone to put up a plywood skate park that you and I would do for free for our kids.
Not so far back in history, the circus could come to town and put up a big top in a day.
This isn't so hard a problem to solve, not really. Some land, some creativity, some money, true, but not too much.
The root cause of homelessness is a whole 'nother deal, of course. Vail holds no answers for that one, I'm afraid.
But we could get people out of the rain, snow, cold easily enough if we set our minds to it. This answer's only a Google search away. Right under our noses.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, The Wildwood Independent and Truckee Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com or 477-4299.