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Our View: Consider the campground

The Union Editorial Board

It wasn’t that long ago when some Nevada County supervisors blanched at the thought of a campground designated for homeless people.

Times, like our county, have changed.

The idea of a safe campground for homeless folks is slowly making the rounds. Home Path, a group endorsing the concept, has appeared before several local organizations. It’s focused on the issue, made its pitch, and asked for people to sign on.

The simple message the group espouses: We’ve got to do something.

Making rude posts on Facebook does nothing. Arresting people only to see them on the street again the next day serves no purpose. Not everyone is ready for housing. There needs to be a stepping stone for those who need more help.

So here it is: The Union Editorial Board is signing on and endorsing the concept of a safe campground for homeless people.

A campground is not the solution to end homelessness. Instead, it is only one piece of a larger picture our county must envision in order to properly address the issue.

This is a start. Any campground should start small, with the option to grow if it works. It would be ideal if it were located near the future site of a homeless resource center on Sutton Way.

Specifics, however, can wait. We must first obtain community buy-in, find financing for this venture and get competent, experienced people to run it.

We are past the days when naysayers can wave away the problem of homelessness, or say a campground won’t fix every problem, so it shouldn’t be pursued. Ignoring the people — and those who don’t have homes are people who deserve human dignity — hasn’t helped up to this point. Handing out a few spare dollars to those who ask hasn’t made it go away.

We’re already paying for our homeless population. Dick Law, with Home Path, estimates it costs us $30,000 to $50,000 per year per homeless person in law enforcement, hospital visits and other expenses. Let’s act smart, and spend those dollars in a thoughtful manner by using a careful plan.

It’s easy to dismiss this idea because of preconceived notions, a distaste at spending any money on this issue or the refusal to have a campground in our collective backyard.

But we need to take the hard path, with eyes open, if we’re to make this community a better place for its most disadvantaged. If we do that, everyone will see benefits.

People living in our forests are a fire hazard. We must get them out of the woods and into a safe area to reduce our fire risk.

People need access to mental health services. A safe campground near a homeless resource center would provide that.

Homeless women need a safe place where they can be free from sexual assault. One study states that one in five women has experienced sexual assault. That jumps to over two in five for homeless women.

The list goes on: sanitation, the need for on-site mental health facilities, access to job training, showers and more.

These campgrounds have a measure of success. A Vancouver “Safe Stay Community” housed 14 of 46 residents, about 30%, in the first six months. Sacramento also has touted its campgrounds, saying in February that six people from one camp had transitioned into indoor housing.

If Nevada County is to do this, it needs buy in not only from those with homes, but also from those who would use the campground. This community must agree not only to the concept, but to a location. We already have enough problems here with NIMBYism. The location will be one of the biggest hurdles. Let’s find one that’s palatable to most everyone.

And let’s ensure that the right people lead this effort. Home Path is a vehicle to this end, but its members are the first to state they’re not the ones to run this show.

The county can put out requests for proposal, but ultimately it is the body that bears responsibility for this effort. If this community truly wants a safe campground, Nevada County is the entity that should make it a reality.

People can endorse Home Path’s proposal at nchomepath.com and click on “how to help,” or by emailing info@nchomepath.com for a presentation to their group.

Times have changed and minds are starting to change on this issue. Now let’s get some hearts to change, as well.

The weekly Our View editorial 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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