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Our View: Town hall on homelessness should be turning point for community

KNOW & GO

What: Town hall forum on homelessness in western Nevada County

When: 1-3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10

Where: The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley

As you spot homeless people at a stop sign with a cardboard sign in hand asking for assistance, what do you do?

Do you offer money? Do you offer work? Do you hope someone else will? Or do you just drive on, because their plight is not your problem?

The truth is homelessness in western Nevada County impact us all, in some form or another.



And we encourage the entire community to join a conversation at an upcoming town hall discussion — 1-3 p.m. Sept. 10, at The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley — co-hosted by KVMR 89.5FM radio and The Union — on this important issue.

According to Nevada County officials, our community has nearly 250 homeless people trying to make a life for themselves here. Figures from the latest biennial homeless count, released in May, depict a decline in the number of homeless people since the count was first recorded here in 2009. But the numbers are likely much higher, say the officials and volunteers of organizations providing assistance to people in need.




In recent years, the level of awareness about homelessness has grown here, with more people and organizations offering assistance. Before Hospitality House in 2013 opened Utah’s Place, the first permanent homeless shelter in our community, the organization partnered with areas churches to provide meals and a roof over the head of people on a rotating basis for nearly nine years.

But the issue was pulled front and center in February 2011 with the death of 51-year-old William “Billy” Kelly, a descendant of the last Maidu chief, who froze to death under the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City. Kelly’s death was the second in a matter of weeks that was eventually deemed to be due to exposure. In the weeks and months that followed, members of the community spoke out over the need for local government to take action, especially when winter storms dropped temperatures to dangerous levels. Nevada City answered the call, opening a warming center when such emergency situations arise.

As awareness has grown, so seems has compassion for those who need help. In addition to Hospitality House, organizations such as Divine Spark, Sierra Roots and the Salvation Army all advocate and provide for homeless people, as do the Food Bank of Nevada County and Interfaith Food Ministry, along with many other local organizations. Certainly those efforts have made a difference in the daily lives of the people they seek to assist.

But how successful has our community been at organizing the kind of response capable of bringing comprehensive change to this community issue?

Make no mistake, in one way or another this issue potentially impacts us all, 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.

Upon announcing the town hall discussion scheduled for September, The Union Publisher Jim Hemig reported receiving push back from some members of the community who are some of the strongest advocates for homeless people, suggesting suggestions from an “outsider” such as Dr. Richard Marbut — who has been invited to participate — was not needed here and that local organizations have plans in place to provide the needed assistance.

Through the years there have been plenty of opinions on this issue published in these pages of this newspaper, with ideas as big as creating a homeless village to beliefs that government should not spend a dime on such efforts. As with many issues in our community there will always be a diversity of opinion, but in sharing and discussing those thoughts — especially in such a town hall conversation — we believe the kind of common ground can be found that it takes to pull a community together in pursuit of solutions that will provide real results.

In that spirit, we ask you to share your thoughts on this important local issue, in the form of a letter to the editor, an “Other Voices” submission, or even a comment at TheUnion.com or Facebook.com/TheUnionGrassValley. We will share your concerns, proposed solutions or questions on these pages in the days leading up to the town hall.

We believe this upcoming discussion is an opportunity for a community conversation capable of being a turning point for all of us, especially those needing assistance.

We encourage all who call western Nevada County home to participate and become part of the solution.

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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