Homeless Issues #67
“The middle of the road is where the white line is – and that is the worst place to drive.” Robert Frost
“These are the people who make Job’s Shelters of the Sierra work. They are out on the road visiting the encampments and gathering places where our homeless population congregates. They are providing the necessities for homeless existence. Socks help keep their feet healthy so they can move around. The hygienic supplies help to keep them out of the emergency rooms. Also distributed are warm clothing, toilet paper for women’s hygiene needs, runny noses, and its traditional use; sleeping bags when needed, and tents when practical.”
Art Edwards said, since the homeless encampment at Hangtown Haven has been closed down by the city, the homeless residents have scattered around Placerville and El Dorado County. Most are going to the revolving centers at different churches each night, spending the days at Christ Like Services. Some are camped illegally in the surrounding forests and parking lots. The churches are doing a masterful job of housing the homeless on these freezing nights. We have seen as many as fifty sleeping on the floors of these generous churches as they try to provide a warm and safe shelter for those less fortunate than we.
These rotating shelters and Christ Like Services have stepped up to keep fifty people from freezing to death each night, but they are unable to provide the one service that we had at Hangtown Haven, the interactive support that many of the homeless need to get off of, and stay off of, drugs and alcohol. The homeless now have no place to keep their belongings and own only what they can carry on their backs. The support they had at the Haven is now gone and they survive alone and have lost the daily interaction that came to depend on. Consequently, some have reverted back to unhealthy behavior that has served then badly in the past. But the question remains, what will they do when the rotating shelters close at the end of March? There is no answer to that important question at this moment.
As you remember, the City Council closed down its legal homeless encampment called HangTown Haven this fall, in part because they claimed that, “The homeless encampment was attracting out-of-county homeless to the area even though HangTown Haven did not admit non-Placerville residents.” Those of us working with the homeless knew that this was a fallacious argument, but no one could prove it. Everyone agreed that the only “proof” of this would be the crime rate; however, all we had to rely on was George Neilson, the previous police chief, who showed us his records that indicated that the city’s crime rate dropped the month that HangTown Haven opened in July of 2012 and stayed down as long as he was chief.
However, the City Council did not buy into these facts and continued to deny that the crime rate was actually down in our county because of HangTown Haven’s existence. I wonder how the City Council members feel now that proof has just surfaced that Chief Neilson was right. In a study done by the California Department of Justice and just released by the Public Policy Institute of California, of the thirteen counties surveyed in California, ten had an increase in crime in 2012 and three, lead by El Dorado County had a decrease. The average increase of the ten counties was 7%, and Santa Clara County was the leader of the pack at 20.4%. El Dorado County (however) bucked the statewide trend by decreasing its crime rate by 11%. Did Hangtown Haven actually contribute to the decrease in crime rate?
The report had an additional fact that was very interesting. The second county that had a crime decrease (10%) is Placer County, our neighbor to the north. This point is significant because people in Placer County have been working with us to develop their own HangTown Haven to house their local homeless population. It’s significant that the only two counties reported in California that had a significant decrease in crime in 2012 were the two counties that provided some type of shelter for their homeless population. Of the thirteen counties surveyed, the following were included: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento and Contra Costa among others. This is certainly a meaningful representation of the population of our state.
It is perhaps heartening to the homeless to learn that they were right. Their encampment did not cause an increase in the crime rate in our community as claimed, but, in fact, may have contributed to its decrease. Now, without a homeless shelter, perhaps we can join the other counties in our state and watch our crime rate escalate!
JSS asked Mr. Mike Applegarth, the spokesperson on the homeless issue for the Board of Supervisors, to make the statement that the BOS promised to make in January. NO RESPONSE! I have a feeling that the City of Placerville would also like to get some kind of response from the BOS regarding a homeless shelter. Has the BOS had a meeting with those who are supposed to be advising the BOS on a homeless solution? I understand that that has not taken place. Ask your Supervisor to get the ball rolling!
JSS has a table display with brochures to display at your next gatherings or meetings. Just let us know, and we will be there. ;-)