‘Good, Works’ or ‘Good Works’ – A Good Dream Either Way

  

Frank Treadway's recent letter to the editor stirred up a fire-storm of conversation about Redding City Council member Missy McArthur's idea to ticket transients who "Sit and Lie" on Redding sidewalks.

I've thought about this subject a lot since writing Redding's Unsheltered Homeless series last year. I remain haunted by the people I see living on the streets, sleeping on concrete, subsisting in run-down hotels and pushing baby strollers through the pouring rain or blistering sun.

Though I'm haunted by them, I also fear some. This keeps me at arm's length, even though I'll never know if that person is someone to fear or not.

I'm an emotional yo-yo.  I feel sympathy for transients and homeless (there but for the grace of God go I). But I also resent feeling afraid.

My twin and I talk about these issues a lot. One day, we had a brain storm about a possible solution. We even named it: "Good Works." We liked that title because it has double meanings. There's "Good Works" the proclamation (yes it does!), and "Good Works" the adjective/noun description. 

I'll go way out on a projected limb here: My deepest hunch is that one of the greatest causes of homelessness,  depression and a lot of substance abuse is a lack of productivity. With that comes a lack of a sense of purpose and anticipation, the lack of joy that comes when someone - anyone - counts on us.

Where's the life incentive when there's no compelling reason to haul your ass out of bed each day?

I heard a story on NPR recently about one of the world's largest animal-rescue projects that involved thousands of volunteers washing toxic oil from penguins. These volunteers hand-fed these penguins, and then the penguins were eventually placed three-in-a box and transported to where they could be safely released.

I have no doubt that if there were a passed-out penguin on one downtown Redding corner and a passed-out transient on the other corner, people would step over the man in droves to line up and help the penguin.

Don't get me wrong. I like penguins.

But what about our fellow human beings? What about these people we've conditioned ourselves to step over and look beyond and ignore their words, either spoken or written on a cardboard sign? They are somebody's brother, sister, mother, father, son or daughter.

Shannon has been homeless "on and off" for 15 years. Photo by Doni Chamberlain.

It's not enough to give food and even temporary shelter to the transients and homeless. It's a short-sighted patronizing Band-Aid to hand them a sleeping bag, tent and food scraps and send them on their way in a city where homeless encampments are illegal. It's offensive to treat them as if they have nothing to offer society, and as if we have zero expectations of them.

What if it turns out that many of the transients and homeless are literally dying to do something, to help, to be productive? But what if the only thing stopping them is they can't figure out where to start, what to do or where to go?

I remember a few months ago I was behind a newish SUV that stalled at a green light. Just as the driver - wearing a suit - got out to push his vehicle, a young scruffy man passing by on his too-little bike (with a large plastic bag full of aluminum cans hanging from the handlebar), hopped off the bike, and jumped behind the SUV to help the man push.

The driver looked as surprised as I felt.

Until our society seeks and finds preventions and solutions for homelessness and its gate-way causes, we are just providing social-service life-support: Keep those tortured souls alive, but do nothing to encourage them to express their God-given talents and abilities.

Do not address joy or quality of life. Do nothing to help them feel worthwhile as a human being. Do nothing to provide opportunities to learn (or relearn) the skill of helping another. Do nothing to foster the feeling of pride that comes from earning what you've received. Do nothing to help spark the elation and satisfaction we know and crave that comes when someone looks us in the eye, puts a hand on shoulder and says, "Well done!"

Our Good Works idea would be a place, right in the middle of Redding. It would provide work, income and pride for the homeless veterans, the mentally ill, the addicted, the aged-out foster kids, transients, parolees and the chronically unemployed.

We envision a clean and almost militarily well-structured place, surrounded by fruit trees - a source of shade and beauty - but also a source of food for eating and canning and selling.

We pictured inside Good Works' "walls" outdoor bread ovens and raised garden beds and pottery wheels and carpentry shops and industrial kitchens; all places that produce something sellable.

Imagine if our community's citizens helped by dropping off at this place everything from clothes and appliances to old furniture and canning jars.

Imagine workers learning to recycle these things, turning them into something functional and good and sellable. Imagine if some people in the community felt led to teach classes, whether wood-working or carpentry or welding or sewing or cooking or canning or knitting or pruning or landscaping or appliance repair or mechanics.

This place could have a retail store where all items sold were the workers' creations, whether jams, jellies, refinished furniture or rugs made from braided scraps of old clothes.

Almost everyone can do something. Almost everyone can excel at something. What if we worked at helping identify each person's skills - no matter how basic - and created a place where those previously "discarded" and broken, seemingly hopeless and helpless people could succeed and be proud of a job well done?

Good Works could be a metaphor for the human beings who work there: Making something good from something disposed, whether a broken table or a broken spirit.

In exchange for transitional housing (drug-free, alcohol-free dorm-like shelters) and showers and food, the guests would be required to do something to support the facility, at whatever level matched their skills and talents.

As an aside, I remember when I was collecting materials for my dream home's construction, and I wanted to be as "green" as possible. I was interested in using denim insulation in our walls and I wanted recycled polished glass counter tops. I opted against those because they were too expensive. What if our Redding place created materials like those, and others?

There would be plenty of work for everyone. Some people might work in gardens, or feed chickens or collect eggs or rip cloth for rugs or sand wood, or create product tags, or bake bread or chop wood or refurnish furniture or make bricks. Imagine if this facility took recycled glass, plastic, cardboard and metal and made something beautiful and functional.

What if - and this is radical - a portion of the these people's disability payments helped fund and operate this place to cover the costs of food, shelter, education and employment?

Imagine if this facility allowed people to start at the bottom, and work their way up as far as they could go, and when they reached the top, then they could train others, and be a living, breathing testimony of rebirth and rebuilding.

No longer would they be charity cases, assumed helpless and hopeless, handed donated food like a dependent animal unprepared to live independently. Now, they'd be crucial members of a place that needed them. They'd feel respected and valued. And after learning these new skills, they could go out in the world, use their new skills and earn a living.

What if this place allowed people in their darkest hours to glimpse a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? This place could offer those formerly discarded and dejected people a way through that tunnel and then far beyond it.

Into the light and on to life.

(Compassionate Hope Ministries is an excellent model for what I'm talking about: Guests are asked to help, whether it's sweeping or cooking or helping in the bike shop. A story for another day. )

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

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48 Responses »

  1. So, you are suggesting a different kind of ticket for the homeless. a ticket to a recycled life. WHAT A CONCEPT. I know Goodwill covers some of areas you listed but you are speaking of specific town, our town, where we have a problem that needs to be addressed . . . I like your address.

  2. What you describe sounds much like what they're up to down at Living Hope.

  3. Hopefully you find this funny, but years ago a friend sat next to a guy on the RABA who was wearing a houndstooth jumpsuit in 100+ weather who was babbling on about what if the city gave the homeless the compressed bundles of things like scrap metal, cloth, etc and he could fashion walls to build a homeless community.

    I like where your mind took this farther.

  4. This almost sounds like a "Perfect Town", which is exactly something that WE need!

  5. I work hands on with the folks often. This would work for a large portion of folks who truly want help. Whats missing is substance abuse and mental health counseling and treatment. Maybe you can come with me on a night when some of the more successful share their stories Doni. It would give perspective on the deep social issues that keep them from functioning. Alot of these folks have no skills to exist working with others. They desperately need to be taught and helped!

    • You are right. I totally missed that part. I woke up thinking that this a.m.

      I believe that one of the best things our country could invest in is quality, compassionate mental health facilities to address many of the issues that lead to homelessness, including substance abuse.

      Just think: This could get many suffering people off the streets, and offer mental health care for those who need it. It would also be an economic boost to communities, providing employment and jobs to those who build those places and work there.

  6. Well said, Doni...ideas that lead to conversation, which ignite possbilities toward solutions.

  7. During my career as a Social Worker I found that a big contributor to the homeless population were two groups. Veterans returning from the horror of war. Many can't cope with the experience, often turning to drugs and alcohol. The other group was foster kids who age out of the system with no support. These kids, by virtue of the fact that they were in foster homes, are typically on their own at 18yo without help or guidance. Until we conquer these two issues, we will see the homeless population continue to rise.

    Thanks Doni for keeping this issue in the foreground. The more we talk to each other and try to problem solve this, the closer I pray we come to a solution.

  8. I heartily endorse Doni Chamberlains ideas about "good works". Well thought out responses to a significant need in our community here in Redding and Shasta County. How do we get these ideas on an agenda for Redding City Council and/or Board of Supervisors. Thanks for your blogs Doni! Many of those living on the streets are family members or friends living with mental illness including bipolar. Depression PTSD. Etc. we need compassion and positive ideas.

  9. A brilliant collection of ideas here, and they are do-able. Perhaps there are grants out there that could provide seed money for such a sustainable undertaking.

  10. Doni,

    Nice vision! Seems like this could be done. Perhaps materialization could (should) be both consumer and community driven. The Shasta County Mental Health Service Act, HUD and local social service community resources that already exist might be a starting place. There are people working on a similar vision up in Eugene Or. Perhaps there are parts of the wheel already in place here in Shasta County...less reinvention. As Joe Hill stated "don't morn organize."

  11. Mount Shasta has a program "Seeds to Soup" where people who live outdoors work together on a community garden that they then use for their meals. This group was given a pre-paid cell phone, and they have become a wonderful resource when we need volunteers for an event in the area. They are always happy and willing to help out, with a smile. They are very capable, and educated. They are beloved members of our community and very much appreciated...because they are able to give, they are able to receive.

      • Once again Doni's focus is on chronically homeless hard-core street people. However, when discussing homelessness (and where to apply limited resources), we need to keep in mind that this minor - although highly visible - element only comprises about 9 percent of our local homeless population. Children represent 39 percent of the homeless nationwide, and families with children (typically headed by women) are the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas. This surge in homeless families is reflected in our local statistics, and is attributable to such factors as the loss of a job, falling wages, a shortage of housing commensurate with wages, domestic violence, desertion, medical expenses, and rising prices. Families with a single income often have little to fall back on, and no child should EVER be homeless. Redding has far fewer services and facilities for the homeless in general than most other cities, although there is considerably more help available to single men who are drug/alcohol-addicted than to anyone else. In fact, Shasta County's only so-called "homeless shelter" (the Mission) overwhelmingly prioritizes that element.

        And in addition to having been declared unconstitutional repeatedly by various courts, sit-lie ordinances have little effect. They rarely target panhandlers (who can just remain standing to avoid being ticketed), and are generally used to move homeless people with nowhere to go out of business districts and other high-profile areas so that business owners and their middle-class customers aren't offended or made uncomfortable by their presence. An ordinance of this type will likely also be declared unconstitutional here unless city officials can prove there is adequate emergency shelter/housing available to every local homeless person. That is far from being the case.

        http://www.noonsberkeley.com/2012/10/26/cal-school-of-la...

        Finally, Doni's proposal is a little Polly Anna-ish. She basically de-humanizes the homeless by implying that none of them have ever lived normal lives (which is not true for the majority of homeless people - their normal condition is to be "housed"), and that their time would be best spent in doing make-work jobs in exchange for a temporary barracks-style living arrangement. In addition, the supposed targets of this ordinance (aggressive drug-addicted panhandlers, who are often NOT homeless) won't simply give up their addictions and jump enthusiastically into her proposed program. The community needs to identify where the need is greatest (and least met), and who among the homeless can actually benefit from whatever help is extended. Very few homeless people panhandle, so turning this into a "homeless" issue is the wrong focus. Anyone who is "frightened" or offended by homeless people who are not bothering them needs to overcome their own elitism and prejudice.

        I don't know how to effectively eliminate agressive panhandling without getting into the same issues the City was forced to confront with the Tea Party's library leafleting lawsuit, which basically removed all restrictions as far as accosting the public on public property (at least where blatantly illegal behavior was not involved). That's going to be a hard one to deal with.

  12. Sorry about the double link in my post above. Perhaps this one will work:

    work/ttp://www.noonsberkeley.com/2012/10/26/cal-school-of-law-report-sitlie-probably-wont-work/

  13. I concur with your thought process. Most people need a hand up not a hand out to feel like they are able to stand tall and contribute to society again. I also believe that concept applies to most people un unemployment. Or at least that is they generatio in which I grew up in. People, and that includes most homeless need to have a reason to get up in the morning and take care of themselves. Does anyone actually think that a homeless person cares if they get a ticket? Does anyone actually think they are going to pay for that violation? With what some glass bottles they collected in a garbage can. I really respect Missy McArthur, however is that how she see our limited police force spending their time, going around and ticketing people sitting on the street. I think Redding has some much bigger issues at hand than that. Hey, it's just my opinion.

    It is nice to see a positive idea of motivation and change in such a troubling situation. I think people tend to get freaked out by people or things that are not like them, the norm. They want to just make it go away.

    Thanks for starting my morning on a high note.

  14. These are great ideas! I think what Shasta County needs most is a mental health facility and a Hospice house.....desperately.

  15. Whew . , , Doni, you certainly stirred the pot this morning. Interesting. You threw out some positive ideas and look what you got back: some positive ideas. In reading the posts above, it reads to me that most of the respondents support your ideas and have a few more of their own to throw in. This is the kind of constructive brain-storming that will get things done and serve our community well.

    Good on you!!!

  16. Whew . , , Doni, you certainly stirred the pot this morning. Interesting. You threw out some positive ideas and look what you got back: some positive ideas. In reading the posts above, it seems that most of the respondents support your ideas and have a few more of their own to throw in. This is the kind of constructive brain-storming that will get things done and serve our community well.

    Good on you!!!

  17. Our family business finds many wonderful Artist who survive. Art is our way of helping.

    The Folk Art shown in this video comes from the hands of a friend who never thought he would be allow to show his wonderful Folk Art. Lewis was very happy to be on YouTube too!

  18. Wow, as usual, Doni, we are on the same page. I have been fantasizing lately about teaching people to sew, you know simple stuff like sewing on a button, hemming pants, minor repairs. I envision a walk-in studio where they can learn these things, then drop in and use the equipment whenever they need to. Developmentally disabled, unemployed, looking for work, seniors on a fixed income, or even the working poor who can barely afford Wal-Mart pants, let along the cost of altering them to fit properly.

    I'd love to be part of your village!

  19. AHHHH! At last. I am finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Lets keep this dialog going. Maybe someone needs to offer an informal meeting of sorts to reinforce the wave of progress.

  20. Redding Police Chief Paoletti is open to the idea of a homeless day center. I think it and this dream would be an excellent topic for one of his town hall meetings.

    Great job on the article Doni ...;)

    Redding Coalition for the Homeless

  21. Great article Doni and great ideas. I'm sharing the site of a homeless facility in Anchorage, AK that was started years ago and has been kept alive mostly by the kindness of volunteers. Sounds as if you've planted a seed ....

  22. AUGH.....forgot to attach the site !!!!

    http://beanscafe.org/

  23. Wow, It's like you read my mind Doni!

    I've been thinking about this type of village for a long,long time. Who couldn't as you pass the shopping cart folks and hear the screaming from certain individuals in certain parts of town? It could be anybody's family member someday in this situation so let's ALL work together for a positive change and put Redding on the map for something else postive besides the beautiful bridge. It's the teach a man to fish concept...

    Perhaps a coalition of caring mental health professionals and churches could head up the project to some degree and professionals in all directions could help support it.

    Thank you for your vision--let's do it!

  24. a model for this is already working in other cities including San Francisco...we could employ this model here in Redding...I would personally volunteer my time, skills and expertise to this worthwhile project and know many other talented individuals who would happily offer their support as well...how do we begin?

    http://www.projecthomelessconnect.com/PHC_AboutUs

  25. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/park-avenue-money-...

    The above doc should be required watching for anyone who doesn't understand why we are in this present moment in society.

  26. Doni -

    Why do you CONSTANTLY push the homeless agenda?

    The overwhelming majority of folks in this town are good, white conservative Christians who want their children, families and community to be a safe place.

    Homeless people are not part of this vision.

    Homeless people are homeless largely due to their own lack of good decisions, poor choices etc. THIS INCLUDES FAMILIES AND THOSE "SINGLE" MOTHERS WITH CHIDLREN!

    Let's instead have some accountability.

    Homeless people got themselves into the mess they are in, and should get themselves out of it.

  27. Here is the truth!

    The "homeless" and "Single Mother" thing.

    It's all BS!

    http://www.redding.com/news/2013/jul/11/woman-dis...

  28. I think the person calling themselves "Why Constantly Push The Homeless Agenda" and "Incredible Homeless BS" are the same person. I also believe that person had other comments that were removed. Hey, Don't take life so seriousely. Open your mind and expand!

    July 11, 2013 • 12:40 pmI think he person calling themselves

    • It's the same person. She/he (I think it's a she) changes her name constantly and posts this kind of inane rant. She was finally banned from the newspaper website (where she went under the names Redding Is My Home, Su Doku, I Love Redding, and a thousand other names). Now she's moved here... lucky us.

      • Let us not forget picko sue, redding is my universe, redding is my life... ad etctera... ad nauseum. BTW I have it on good authority that this woman, whatever her real name, is Missy McArthurs sister.

  29. Doni, What an inspiring article with so many great ideas. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and help in this village. I love the enthusiasm of so many readers. Sounds like a lot of people believe in this concept, and the fact that there are already models in other cities is very exciting. Thank you for keeping the homeless issue alive. It's certainly not going away, but as a community, we can do everything we can to reach out in a productive and lasting way!

  30. So many people DO care and want to help. Just what are the roadblocks put up by the city to having a Good Works site here. I would like a list of all the reasons the city/state gives for why not. I did speak to a person who felt hassled by a greatly increased transient population in Eureka recently. There certainly are those folks who are homeless because even loving family members could not reach them- they used drugs on family premises, stole from them and became unruly and dangerous.....then you have the people of goodwill who are "down on their luck". It seems that only profit making ventures are given attention by our elected leaders both national and local. At least the Good News Rescue Mission is active here in Redding- rather than reinvent the wheel, we could learn a lot from their ways of helping these individuals.

  31. Good ideas....we have in our valley community the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. A multi million dollar facility built totally from donations. It's a spectacular facility that is maintained and run primarily by the clients. It's pristine in cleanliness, has a working garden, has a beautiful kitchen where they feed hundreds of people a year. It may be geared more towards drug and alcohol rehab, but that is one of the huge catalysts of homelessness. It provides on site living space and offers off site living for those transitioning back into society. It has it's own "store" that provides free clothing and necessities for it's clients and sells what they can. It's a success story as far as I can tell and might be a good template for information for a future site in your area. Namaste my friend.

  32. I have been looking into Tiny Houses for a while and have always thought that this may be a solution to fix the issue.

    http://www.jetsongreen.com/2010/05/tiny-house-eco...

    These tiny homes can be made from recycled material and can be made to sustain any type of weather. Recycled housing may be where the solution lies

  33. This is a wonderful idea and concept. However, transitional housing? This usually results in continued homelessness. It would require much, much more subsidized housing than Redding currently has in order to stop the problem and not propagate it.

    • The only way transitional housing could really work is if there were case managers attached to the the project to address the issues that got the person in a homeless situation in the first place.

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