With a Wednesday deadline looming for homeless people to vacate a camping spot where they’ve been living near Clear Creek Bridge, the newly formed Redding Safe Camp Homeless Alliance met this morning to discuss options for finding safe land for homeless people to camp and solutions for helping them transition into better living situations.
The alliance members, comprised of former and current homeless people and representatives from Redding homeless support groups, agreed to draft a proposal by their next meeting (set for Jan. 20 at Loaves and Fishes) to present to the city of Redding.
As for the people who are being required to relocate from the Clear Creek Bridge area, Bridge Ministries CEO Kathy White said she and a team will be in the area Tuesday afternoon to help any remaining homeless people relocate somewhere else. Where they will go is still uncertain.
“We’re not sure where we’re going to relocate them, but we hope God will provide something,” said White, who was loosely appointed chairperson of the group.
Many of the people living near Clear Creek Bridge were evicted from another camping spot off Breslauer Way just five months ago following a fatal stabbing in the area. Redding police have said the current Clear Creek Bridge spot presents a problem because of sanitation issues (there are no bathroom facilities) and officials are concerned about trash and human waste going into Clear Creek.
White, who has been providing meals twice a week for people in bridge area, said there are only about seven people still camping in the spot, down from nearly 20 in recent months. Though accurate numbers are hard to quantify, many organizations believe the numbers of homeless in Redding to be in the hundreds.
Despite the imposed deadline, Redding Loaves & Fishes director Chris Solberg praised Redding Police Chief Peter Hansen for his handling of the issue. The reality, Solberg said, is the city has very limited overnight facilities for the homeless – it relies mainly on the Good News Rescue Mission. There are many more people than shelter beds, so people are forced to sleep outside, he said.
“With the economy getting worse, the issue isn’t going away, so what we want to do is find positive solutions to help the homeless instead of trying to criminalize them for sleeping outdoors,” Solberg said. “It does nothing but exacerbate the situation to write someone a ticket for illegal camping.”
Homeless people can’t afford to pay expensive fines, and a citation for illegal camping just makes the transition to a better living situation just that much more difficult, Solberg said.
Homeless and former homeless people in attendance at the meeting said despite the negative impressions many people have of them (they said they are aware of unkind comments about them left on news websites), most homeless don’t enjoy having to live outdoors.
“Seventy-five percent of us out there don’t want to be out there,” said one former homeless woman in attendance. “But it’s not a quick process, you don’t just change your life like that.”
Dru Nowlin recently found housing after an entire year of being homeless, following her husband’s death and repossession of their mobile home. “I’m on Social Security and I’m fortunate I have a place now,” said Nowlin, 61. “But I’m an upstanding citizen and I have been homeless for a year. There are many of us out there that don’t want to be out there.”
One man, who said he served in the U.S. military for a decade and has been periodically homeless over the last several years, asked for compassion from city of Redding officials and the community in general.
“I fought for this county for 10 years and was in Desert Storm,” he said. “I’m saying, put yourself in (a homeless person’s) position.”
Shifting people around is “a cruel thing to do to your fellow man,” he added.
White said many of the people she works with through Bridge Ministries are elderly. Seven of the 16 people she’s brought food to in the area are veterans, including two Vietnam veterans.
“We want them to be in a place where they’re safe, where they can have a stable place to stay for 60 to 90 days until they can maybe find a job or find some place where they can have housing,” White said. “A lot of these people are older and we can set them up for low-income housing, but it takes time.
“It’s hard to be an advocate for these people when, while you’re working with them, they get evicted and you can’t keep track of them. They don’t have cell phones, you know?”
Despite the negative impression many people have about the homeless, just a small percentage of the people White works with are alcoholics or drug addicts, she said.
“So many people have that stereotype that they’re all panhandling for the next bottle of vodka,” she said. “That’s just not true. Lots of them recycle. They’re picking up trash and that’s their income.”
Monday’s meeting was held at Living Hope Compassion Ministries, a day resource center for the homeless and those on low income. Living Hope CEO Michael Mojarro, who conducted the meeting, said it was a good starting point for finding solutions.
“We’re trying to come to a better conclusion other than hide-and-go-seek and cat-and-mouse,” said Mojarro. “The constant cycle of moving people around is no resolve.”
Mojarro got a big laugh while discussing the issue of where people from the Clear Creek Bridge area would relocate when he said, “Obviously we’re not going to discuss that with these (TV news) cameras rolling.” At least one neighborhood organization has communicated with its members about monitoring nearby open spaces and reporting any illegal camping.
Those at the meeting said they understand the concerns of neighborhood residents, but without a formal, safe outdoor area for people to camp, it does become a game of hide-and-seek for the homeless.
Mojarro said that from a faith perspective, the issue might even go a step further.
“Maybe this is just my own perspective, but I don’t think this city or this community is going to be blessed if we keep trying to push the homeless out of here,” Mojarro said. “The time and effort needs to be spent on people. We need to help find something better for them.”
The group’s next meeting will be held Jan. 20 at Redding Loaves and Fishes, at 1180 Industrial St. in Redding.
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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