Our View: Nevada County needs new approaches to helping homeless people
Nevada County, in conjunction with elected city governments, needs to create new policies on how we accommodate homelessness within our community.
Our county, and many kind-hearted, generous residents, support homeless people through a very broad range of nonprofits, faith-based organizations and support groups.
We continue to support homeless people, but in turn, some would argue, we promote homelessness.
But the homeless who live here are members of the community, part of a larger quilt we call home.
In every community forum and discussion someone inevitably points out that the issue isn’t really homelessness, but a myriad of underlying pathologies that result in homelessness. Substance abuse, alcoholism, PTSD, mental health and behavioral health issues all make the list. Some may argue (though many would reflexively disagree) that the way we go about supporting these folks who are suffering, in turn facilitates the way that they live.
We need to support a program that promotes “paths to recovery,” providing the needed assistance and treatment. If you are homeless, living rough in the woods of our community, you need to be working towards recovery from whatever your underlying issues are. You need to be registered and working with one or more of our local agencies in order to work toward recovery.
Otherwise, and this is the hard part, there is no place for you in our community.
If we allow people to live in the shadows, with illnesses or diseases left unaddressed, we are not only continuing their suffering, we are putting the rest of our community at risk — particularly in terms of the threat of fire danger posed by such an approach.
We need to shift our focus from treating the symptoms to trying to cure the cause.
Some in the community have supported the idea of creating a village to house homeless people to provide opportunity toward recovery. Tiny houses, they suggest, surrounding a large building where medical professionals, therapists, nutritionists, food specialists and so forth could provide the necessary services, as well as a place for doing wash and bathrooms and community cooking and meal planning. The services would be provided by members of the community who voluntarily give their time, as so many do now. But, in this case, they would be organized in one place.
Of course, one of the major hurdles to such an approach is funding, requiring a large and continuous commitment from the entire community. But much money already is spent, directly and indirectly on this issue, through both donations and taxpayer funding. And there are already many community members working with homeless people right now, doing great work in providing essential services that should be part of any model moving forward. Those investments would certainly go much further in finding solutions if we were all working together, working toward the same goal, rather than each working individually on the issue.
Yet, as a community, we are currently wrestling with aging school facilities, struggling to keep our libraries open and ensuring we can continue to deliver fire protection. It’s a matter of priorities as to where we focus our precious tax dollars. We can’t wait for gas leaks to cause an explosion at the high school and we can’t continue to cross our fingers and hope we survive another fire season with campfires in the woods.
So where does the community want to direct the time, finances and man hours?
This issue, one fraught with subtleties and nuance, is wide open to dramatically different interpretations. But supporting homeless members of our community should not only include providing food, shelter and clothing, but also opportunities toward recovery.
And those needing help must both seek and accept it, in order to bring about change.
The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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