Jim Hemig: Please allow me to explain myself | TheUnion.com

Jim Hemig: Please allow me to explain myself

Jim Hemig Publisher The Union
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Last Friday I wrote about my recent experiences with homeless people and mentioned that The Union plans to cohost a town hall forum on homelessness with KVMR radio.

The personal experiences I shared were just a couple examples of how homelessness impacts everyone in our community. The town hall forum was an opportunity that dropped in our laps when a national advisor on homelessness planned to speak in neighboring Auburn.

Immediately after my story hit the newspaper tubes and website, the emails, Facebook posts and phone calls began.

Some said thank you for bringing this topic up. It seems I am not alone worrying about this issue.

We should pay attention to what’s happening in Placer County. If Marbut’s plan works, we need to understand it and the costs associated with it. If it doesn’t work, we need to know that too, to avoid a similar outcome.

Others were defensive about bringing an outsider into our community to share ideas about helping the homeless. Apparently, some feel we have all the answers already.

“I guess you were really not aware of how much has been done and how much we have been talking with officials on the issue. Trust that the groups that are dealing with the homeless are very well-educated and understanding of what we need to move to solution for homelessness in our county,” one email writer said.

Another email mentioned, “We are also working on our plan, and have been for several years now.”

A third stated they already have a plan. “We don’t need any advice, we have the plan. We don’t need any help with a plan. We need the city and county to step forward and meet the needs. You are way behind on this issue.”

“The people who work with the homeless everyday, for years now, have their own seven-step plan that fits the needs of our community. I don’t think you get it, Jim,” offered yet another email.

A couple messages simply said more money is the answer.

“Jim, what we really need is not a plan, but the cities and county to commit money and resources to the issue. We can talk till the cows come home but without that, it is for naught. What forum can you and KVMR put together to make that happen? Why would the county and cities listen to and fund (Dr. Richard) Marbut and not the local agencies already dealing with the issue? The groups have been meeting regularly with officials. They know what the needs are. We basically need resources to fund shelters and community centers to serve the homeless. Yet another talk on ‘how to’ is not productive. We need the money on the table.”

Maybe that is their plan: more money equals more support, equals the end of homelessness.

But I don’t think it’s that simple. We currently throw money at it, in the form of county, city and nonprofit support, and it’s not decreasing homelessness. Are we currently providing amazing services of shelter, food, training and housing assistance? Yes, we are. Many of the same folks who sent me these emails and Facebook messages last week provide these great services. But when the January count of Nevada County homeless came out, these same people told me the official count is too low; homelessness is actually increasing.

My point is that I worry if we keep spending and doing the same things, and if our current track record is any indication, we will continue to see increased homelessness. Are we surprised our city and county officials are not falling in line and funding this current plan?

Instead, why not keep up the great homeless support and seek new ideas and solutions, and try to adapt our plans based on what is learned in other areas.

We aren’t the only community facing this issue. This is a national issue. The recession has increased homelessness across the country. It’s getting coverage in newspapers everywhere.

The Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest that it is unconstitutional to ban the homeless from sleeping outside, if there isn’t adequate shelter space. Many cities have ordinances against sleeping in public, our very own Grass Valley included.

So my second point is that much is happening outside our area that I believe we can, and must, learn from. Just as the homeless supporters closest to the issue want to be heard, they could also stand to listen a little.

Dr. Marbut travels the country working on this topic. His website claims that he conducted a nationwide best practices study of homeless services and has helped dozens of cities to dramatically reduce homelessness. He said by phone this week that he’s helped reduce “street-level homelessness” up to 80 percent in the communities with which he’s worked. Sure, he is a paid consultant. Placer County has contracted his services. But he told me about one-third of his work is for free. Of course, he may be positioning himself to offer his services to Nevada County. But this town hall forum is free — both his appearance there and public entry into the forum.

Here is why it’s important to stay close to this.

Let’s say Marbut and Placer County officials put a plan into place that reduces homelessness in that county. It’s possible that some of the chronically homeless who don’t want to comply with their processes may relocate into our county. That has happened elsewhere. We should be aware of, and prepared for, that possibility.

And Marbut was successful in getting Placer County officials to pony up real money to work on this, something our local groups struggle with. If anything, I’d like to know how he did that, and how best to connect county, city and nonprofit efforts into an organized plan. That alone would be worth an hour or two of our time.

We should pay attention to what’s happening in Placer County. If Marbut’s plan works, we need to understand it and the costs associated with it. If it doesn’t work, we need to know that too, to avoid a similar outcome.

As a community we have to avoid the “I know best, why won’t anyone listen to me” mindset and, instead, learn and work together locally and regionally to improve our homeless situation. Every community is facing this. We have to get ahead of the curve, or we will only end up with more and more homeless people needing support.

I’d like to encourage anyone directly or indirectly connected to efforts around reducing homelessness to come listen to Dr. Marbut speak and ask him questions. Then we can, as a community, compare what he is proposing to our own knowledge and efforts. The town hall forum will be at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley on Thursday, Sept. 10 from 1-3 p.m.

To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email jhemig@theunion.com or call 530-477-4299.

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