Our View: Time for leadership is now on homelessness | TheUnion.com

Our View: Time for leadership is now on homelessness

Reaction was certainly mixed following a town hall forum on homelessness earlier this month, after a consultant on the issue challenged our community to get a more firm grasp on western Nevada county’s homeless population.

Some said Robert Marbut’s presentation at the forum was spot on, suggesting Nevada County dig deeper into the issue in order to obtain the kind of data he says is necessary to put forward actual results-based solutions. Others took issue with Marbut saying programs that feed people are not enough to lift them out of homelessness and need to be located near agencies that can assist them with the root causes of them being without a home.

Some of the nonprofit agencies that provide such services — Hospitality House and Salvation Army, for example — stated they already record the kind of data Marbut emphasized as being critical to creating solutions. Others acknowledged, that although they’re familiar with many of their clients and know how many people they’ve fed, they have not sought out information on how many of their clients at one time had homes in our community, how long they’ve been homeless and what circumstances led to them to this point.

Some have said local government bodies — the Grass Valley and Nevada City city councils, along with the Nevada County Board of Supervisors — have not done enough on the issue, leaving the nonprofit agencies to shoulder too heavy of a load with limited resources. Others suggest that helping the homeless should not even be a role filled by government.

It’s promising to see many elected officials, including some who attended the forum, now focused on furthering the discussion.

One thing that has become clear in recent weeks is the fact that there is a community conversation now well underway.

That, in itself, is a refreshing development.

Ed Scofield, chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, told The Union (See related story, page A1) he planned to meet with Grass Valley Mayor Jason Fouyer and Nevada City Mayor Jennifer Ray this week on the issue.

“We might not have any answers,” Scofield said, “but at least we’re talking about it.”

Yes, and it’s conversation that’s long overdue.

The truth is homelessness in western Nevada County impacts us all, in some form or another, whether with people actually dying in homeless camps, the health hazards and impacts of such camps due to mounting filth from trash and garbage, the potential liability of such camps on private property and, of course, the great danger of wildfire posed by campfires that regularly get out of hand and require response from firefighters to protect our community.

The fact a packed house turned out on a Thursday afternoon for the town hall forum speaks volumes about the importance of this issue to those who live, work and play here.

It’s promising to see many elected officials, including some who attended the forum, now focused on furthering the discussion. In addition to Scofield’s talk with Fouyer and Ray, there is a contingent of electeds now working together to bring more officials to the table next month, for a meeting between the chairman of the supervisors, the county CEO, the city mayors, city managers and police chiefs, among others.

In its own attempt to continue this conversation, The Union posed four questions to every elected member of our city councils and board of supervisors, asking them to share their own opinion and perspective on this problem. Some answered the questions directly. Others shared thoughts in a conversation with The Union’s Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy. And some deferred to their colleagues in offering a single response from their board or council.

It’s disappointing that some of our elected officials chose not to respond, as the public would likely gain a better understanding of what efforts their government leaders have made, what their elected official believes should be the next steps moving forward and how the people we put in office represent us. Constituents should not have to wait until the next election cycle to hear ideas from their elected officials on local issues with which our community continues to struggle. One must speak up not to only be heard, but to actually provide leadership.

It’s promising to see homelessness now being brought front and center, not only in local media, but also in the chambers of our elected officials, where we hope collaborative efforts not only continue the conversation but also spur our leaders to take action on this important issue.

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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