Heidi Hall: Homeless problem belongs to all of us
Many of them have medical problems and addictions. More than half of them have become chronically homeless. Some of them are families who had to choose between paying rent or having food and heat. Some of them are troubled teens. Many of the women were abused. Most of them have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones. A surprising number of them are veterans.
Almost all of them started somewhere safe and warm and fell into a trap of poverty, ill health, abuse, bad luck or unemployment.
North State cities are all grappling with a serious homeless population problem. Having spent the last two years traveling through this area in my political campaign, I have a clear sense that this is one of the most prevalent problems in the area. Each city is approaching the problem differently, and in many cases, what one city has just tried and rejected the next city is just adopting. Many essential downtown businesses are fed up with the impact some homeless have on tourism; people are concerned about crime and blight; and no one seems to have a plan.
Redding’s Police Chief Rob Paoletti recently claimed that the homeless are migrating to that city because of their great homeless services. This is highly unlikely. Redding is seriously lacking in services, with one downtown shelter for the entire county, and it is cold this time of the year.
As Dr. Robert Marbut, a nationally recognized expert on homelessness, emphasized about this tired myth, if homeless are migrating, they would go south where it is warm.
In Chico, a big effort was recently made to clear out a canyon full of homeless people and their camps to make it safe for residents.
Yet, there was no new shelter for these newly displaced homeless. Chico is valiantly struggling to maintain two emergency shelters and needs more beds and services.
I am proud of what we have done in Nevada County, with the relentless advocacy of people like Joanna Robinson, Cindy Maple and the quiet help of some city officials and many more advocates. I have heard nothing but great reports about how our Police Chief John Foster deals with the homeless population. We are doing pretty well compared to the rest of the North State with a full-time permanent shelter at Utah’s Place, multiple groups providing food to those in need, and a small group recently formed to help the pets of the homeless. We are a generous and caring community. Yet, even these services do not begin to address the problem here.
The North State area is crying out for a regional coalition and a political champion to get some resources and assistance here. Instead of crafting a bill, an amendment, or even working to include a line item in the budget, our state and federal elected officials are pursuing other “priorities,” leaving this huge problem to already overburdened activists, faith-based organizations, and local politicians.
Last week, Dr. Marbut presented the results of a homeless study that Placer County supervisors had the brilliance to commission. While the specific statistics cannot be replicated for the rest of our North State cities, some of the regional and national trends can. Dr. Marbut and consultant Shaun Lee gathered quality data about existing services and direct data from the homeless in the county. Two prevalent myths were completely busted by this data, including the idea that most of the homeless came from elsewhere. The preliminary data concluded that more than 90 percent of the homeless have mental illness, addictions, or both. This number is rising. These are also the most difficult group of homeless to treat and re-home. The implications are clear. We must address homelessness before, or immediately after, it happens to avoid the devastating impacts long-term that cost us money and lives.
Kudos go out to Placer County for commissioning this report, and to Supervisors Jennifer Montgomery and Jack Duran who worked hard to make sure that a vacant military barracks on county property is going to serve as that county’s first permanent shelter. Huge thanks go to our tireless Nevada County activists and advocates and the effectiveness of our police force. There are many more people in all of these cities and beyond who are also working hard, many of them volunteers, to help this large and complex population. Imagine if we could collect data like Placer County did for all of these cities and begin crafting a regional plan. An easy start would be for the affected counties to commission a similar study so we know what our homeless challenge looks like with real and current data.
All we need now is the political will to seriously address a problem that belongs to all of us.
Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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