Our View: Being homeless — it’s not what you think it is
The word “homeless” carries a connotation that likely creates an image in all of our minds.
For some, though, that image is based largely on a stereotype not at all accurate of many homeless people in our community — an image that doesn’t likely include a waitress, a construction worker or even a student with a backpack full of books.
But those are many of the people in western Nevada County who actually do struggle with the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
We often read on these pages about “quality of life” crimes and issues involving homeless people, from Police Blotter reports to actual news stories on drugs, burglaries, fires and health hazards with homeless camps that have drawn response from local law enforcement, fire departments and public safety officials. Many of these issues were also discussed in a June report by the Nevada County civil grand jury.
But perhaps not often enough do we read about people who are homeless, yet continue to strive to be productive members of our community. And far less often are we able to share the personal struggles — such as issues with addiction, mental health and post-traumatic stress disorders — that have resulted in people becoming homeless.
In May of 2013, Nevada County CEO Rick Haffey shared word that the “Nevada-Placer Regional Continuum of Care reported 689 individuals in 523 households were counted as homeless people from the two-county region. In Nevada County, 314 individuals in 236 households were tallied. Of this total, 171 individuals (54 percent) were unsheltered while 141 (46 percent) were sheltered. Challenges experienced by survey participants included chronic substance abuse (38 percent), domestic violence (34 percent) and mental illness (24 percent). Approximately 10 percent of those surveyed identified as being military veterans.”
That same year, Nevada County schools identified 160 of their students as being homeless — those who do not live in a permanent living situation, whether that be on the streets, staying with family members temporarily or moving from place to place “couch surfing.”
According to data provided by Hospitality House Executive Director Cindy Maple — information she compiled from the Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Nevada County Housing Elements, and the 2012 Census Bureau report for a July op-ed published by YubaNet.com — there are many more people potentially on the verge of falling under the term “homeless” in a community with rising rates in an increasingly tight rental market and with fewer well-paying job opportunities. Considering the gross income of an employee working at the $9 minimum wage level for 40 hours per week — before taxes — is $1,440 per month, and, as outlined in the Grass Valley Housing Element report, a median rental unit in Grass Valley costs $836 per month, the challenge of making ends meet is obvious for single individuals, let alone those supporting families.
According to the 2012 census, nearly 22 percent of Grass Valley residents live below the federal poverty level, which for 2014 is an income of $973 per month for an individual or $1,988 for a family of four. And according to the Grass Valley Housing Element report, 57 percent of households identified had a cost burden of 50 percent or more for housing, creating a high-risk housing situation.
As we all know, and apparent in the large number of nonprofit organizations serving and supported by the community, western Nevada County is populated by generous people. However, our generosity should be based in the belief that those donated dollars will help homeless people get back on their feet in order to be productive citizens.
Such efforts are already making a difference on this issue in our community, thanks largely to the efforts of organizations such as Hospitality House, Divine Spark, Sierra Roots, CoRR, Nevada County Food Bank, Interfaith Food Ministry, Salvation Army, Common Goals, CoLiving Network and many others.
Although our community now has a permanent shelter for homeless people at Hospitality House, there are only 54 beds.
According to Maple, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, Women of Worth and Tahoe Safe Alliance have a total of 29 beds for victims of domestic violence, while the Salvation Army’s Booth Family Center provides 36 beds for homeless families.
We have seen several efforts launched at offering solutions, but often brought to a halt by a “Not In My Backyard” mentality, even as it’s growing more evident that this issue is increasingly affecting the quality of life in all of our “backyards.”
Based on the growing numbers of people in need and the economic opportunity challenges our community faces, there is much more work to be done.
But do we have enough will from the people of this community, and those elected to represent them, to make this issue a priority?
We call on all corners of our community — government electeds, nonprofit leaders, members of the clergy, school district officials and residents of all walks of life reading this now to engage in the kind of conversation that will lead to real solutions to meet this need.
Let’s see what we can do, when we all pull together.
Our View represents the opinions of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff, as well as informed members of the community.
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