Redding’s Homeless, Part 2: Conversation with Randy Smith, Community Volunteer

Editor’s note: This is the second in a month-long-series of stories, slide shows and Q&As about Redding’s unsheltered homeless. These pieces will rotate throughout February, between our regular features and stories.

We start with descriptions of some of Redding’s most renowned encampments, and talk with people who’ve taken responsibility for cleaning them.

Our next conversations are with people who’ve worked – either personally or professionally – to help the unsheltered homeless in some capacity. We will also seek comment from the area’s leaders.

Finally, the homeless will get the last word.

As always, we welcome your civilized and respectful comments. We thank you for your willingness to hear and consider a variety of viewpoints on this sensitive, important issue that impacts our entire community.

Today we talk with Randy Smith, whose career as an anesthesiologist spanned 34 years. Since his retirement 13 years ago, he’s worked as a community volunteer, renowned for his dedication to developing and cleaning public recreational trails and open spaces, as well as  his mission to eradicate arundo, an invasive, non-native plant. Regarding why he volunteers, Smith says, “There has been no higher calling, no work more worthwhile, than giving something back for everything received in this special place.”

Smith’s descriptions of discovered illegal encampments are what planted the seed of the idea for this series. Full disclosure: Smith is a long-time friend.

Q: Randy, thanks for taking time to talk with me today. Can you please start by sharing with readers a list of the various facets of volunteer work that have given you a front-line look at the issue of homeless encampments?

A: Caring for society’s problems in a volunteer (unpaid) setting began in medical school in Michigan during the 1960s. Further training at less- than-market rates occurred in San Francisco, then a few decades in Redding, then the seventh highest Medicaid-per-capita population county in the US.

Environment work with Rotary Club of Redding started for me in 1999. The first Rotary stream clean-up occurred on West Salt Creek in February of 2003. City of Redding once held Spring Clean-A-Thons (litter abatement) which were always attended after learning of them. Establishment of a willingness and ability to organize and mobilize community volunteers after this program was discontinued resulted in then-Mayor Ken Murray suggesting the bar be raised in early 2006 to include annual stream community wide efforts. This has been conducted each fall since. Additionally, work to eradicate non-native arundo, which began in the fall of 2004, has taken me to places rarely visited by the average hiker and casual walker in and near Redding.

Q: OK, so you’ve been outdoors a lot, often in areas that are away from the public eye. Can you tell us what you’ve seen in the way of evidence of homeless encampments?

A: Everything from a “two story apartment” made of wooden pallets over Calaboose Creek below California at Lincoln to visqueen tents strung on clothesline between two trees and, of course, brand new sleeping bags discarded on the ground when they became wet and all manner of variation in between what is listed.

Photo courtesy of the Redding Police Department.

Q; What was – and is – your reaction?

A: Disappointment slightly trumps anger that human beings can be so disrespectful, so reckless, so unconcerned as to so selfishly despoil our precious public places.

Q: Can you describe the range of kinds of homeless “campers” you’ve encountered during your work?

A: Illegal campers run the gamut of humankind from the affluent healthy drug using and generally toasted young adult to the mentally ill senior. Children are rarely seen and always reported.

Q: As a retired physician, what were your observations about some of their physical conditions – albeit from afar?

A: In another age and less favorable climate, many of these people would have perished from exposure, from infectious disease. Remember Shasta County once had malaria, and TB founded the former Shasta General Hospital. But generally, these folk exist above subsistance, certainly better nourished and clothed than the Northern Paiute who once lived a little east of Redding, though most commonly very dirty, usually in need of dental work and without exception save twice in my wanderings, peaceful and without malice.

Q: In October you were instrumental in helping organize hundreds of volunteers from your Rotary club, service groups and community members to clean up what’s known as the Henderson Open Space. What was the before-and-after situation like by the end of that work weekend?

A: Short answer is 10,256 pounds of human debris were removed from Henderson Open Space on Saturday morning, Oct0ber 1, 2011.

This followed a decade of work by now-retired CDFG (California Department of Fish and Game) Warden Dan Fehr and CSO (Community Service Officer) Robert Brannon in which they removed over 100,000 pounds of human debris from this same parcel.

The work of over 200 volunteers was wonderful. It was not a final statement, but a beginning of the community recognition that these special places are not surrendered, not abandoned. There was a Boston Commons before there was a government. Stewardship of the land is our collective responsibility.

Q: In your personal opinion, what is the greatest cause of people living in homeless encampments?

A: Except for the mentally ill, people I have interviewed say they are present in these circumstances because they are free people who do not like the rules which come from other choices of living arrangements.

Q: If you had the power and money to solve the homeless encampment problem, what would you suggest?

A: Just as I was powerless to stop teen pregnancy or driving drunk or shooting police officers or severe spousal abuse; so, too, am I powerless to stop illegal camping. But that powerlessness does not foster inactivity, nor is it an excuse to allow desecration to occur without challenge.

Q: Anything else you’d like us to know?

A: We live in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in all 50 states and more than that number of countries. The need to protect and preserve our natural surroundings has never been greater. Please copy and follow President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1908 quote which inspires and encourages me every day: “We must handle the water, the wood, the grasses so that we will hand them on to our children and our children’s children in better and not worse shape than we got them.”
Click here for Part 1 of this series: Homeless Encampments: RPD Deals with Another Part of the City

Click here for the story about the community development of the Henderson Open Space.

 Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as 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.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is 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, California.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

111 Responses

  1. Avatar Ginny says:

    Thank you, Doni, for the wonderful reporting you have been doing to inform the

    Community of a very large problem that exists. It is much appreciated.

    And, thanks to Randy Smith for all his efforts to clean and preserve.

    God's Blessings to all these keepers of our land.

  2. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    I just vomited on my keyboard from the smell of sulphur emanating from this story…

    • Chris, as I've explained to you, this series seeks to illuminate all sides of this important issue.

      Our goal is to present both facts and opinions offered by those who have the most knowledge of homelessness in the Redding community. Today, Randy Smith offers his insights.

      You're known as a homeless advocate. The truth is that you, your organization and your mission lose credibility when you respond as you've done today.

      Another day this week your Q&A will run on I would be disappointed if readers responded to your words as disrespectfully as you've responded to Randy's today.

      • Avatar Chris Solberg says:

        I publicly retract anything I said to you and no longer wish to be part of your story, or anewscafe.

        • Chris, by withdrawing your Q&A, you cut off your nose to spite your face, and lose the opportunity to share your viewpoint – one you criticize others for not presenting or understanding.

          I will not allow you to use this site as your personal platform to attack people I've invited to share their views and observations.

      • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

        Doni….do you see just a bit of heartlessness coming from this piece? When people are of less value than the land on which they must live I sense a problem of priorities.

  3. Avatar Biff says:

    Chris, ever wonder why normal folks cross the street when they see you coming?

  4. Avatar Debra Carey says:

    Well as I read this piece I found myself disturbed. Get Real… Homelessness is happening all over the country, and for MANY reasons. LIKE A LOSS OF JOBS!!! They have ship our job's over seas, millions of folks have lost their homes, and are living on the streets, and in their cars with their children. Being Homeless is a crime in Ca.. It looks as thought Redding and the rest of California are breakin Human Right, Civil Rights ,and const. rights!! We treat our Vets like crap, always have and always have.

    We should not be judging for it could be one of us, toot sweet. Redding is Breaking the Law!! They deserve a big fat lawsuit!! We need nomadic campgounds in all countys. Just imagine loosing eveything you own over ,and over.cARRYING EVERYTHING YOU OWN ON YOUR BACK, AND TOKD TO "MOVE ON" The police STEAL their SURVIVAL GEAR ie: tents, sleeping bag,CLOTHING, b.b.q's, food, and the list goes on….I CHALLENGE YOU FOR A DAY TO WALK AROUND WITH EVERYTHING YOU OWN ON YOUR BACK.. iT'S NOT FUN GETTING PROFILED, DOCTOR!!!



    • Debra, this is a series that will share all sides of this issue. Please be patient. We will tell the stories of the homeless, and will share their challenges, as well as the people and programs that are doing their level best to help.

      My most sincere hope is that we can all do our best to truly listen to all sides of this issue, and remain civilized and respectful in our comments to one another.

      Ultimately, wouldn't it be wonderful to actually find some common ground and actual solutions?

      I realize that what I'm asking – civilized online discourse – is not typical of most media comment threads. But is a community site, made up primarily of good people capable of disagreement without personal attacks.

      I implore readers to speak no differently here than they would to a neighbor face-to-face.

      Please unlock the caps key. Trust that the series will tell the whole story.

      Thank you for taking the time to read today's Q&A, for commenting, and for using your real name.

  5. Avatar the_bell_jar says:

    Wow. Really People? Do I need to look up the word "series" for you? Or is it just your view point is the only one that should matter? Too many times in this world people base their opinion on half facts. Shame on anyone going after Doni because they don't like one piece of her "series" and I am sorry if you don't realize the truth comes in many shades of gray, it is not black and white. Also this is a Q and A, so the "doing some more research" doesn't make any sense.

  6. Avatar Livid says:

    We have skyrocketing unemployment, relentlessly rising prices, and a distinct shortage of services and facilities for people who have fallen victim to America's horrendous economic collapse. In view of those realities, Mr. Smith's biased (and very selective) characterization of the homeless is unforgivable.

    Mr. Smith, I would suggest that you look inside yourself to see if you can discover why you feel the need to use such broad strokes to demonize such a wide variety of people. Using qualifiers such as "the people I have interviewed" is much too obviously a self-serving ploy, and comparing homeless people to those who commit "severe spousal abuse" and "shoot at police officers" is outrageous.

    The real focus here should be on why we have so many more people in recent years who do not have access to something as basic as shelter (here and elsewhere in the country) rather than castigating them for cluttering up out-of-the-way places with the items that make their survival possible.

    • Randy Smith, like all those who've accepted my invitation to share their thoughts on this issue, are guests on

      Attacking him, or others whose viewpoints you don't share, is destructive, and does nothing to move this conversation forward in a civilized, productive way.

  7. Avatar Livid says:

    For anyone who is interested in the reasons behind the tremendous increase in homelessness in recent years, I've found the following website to be highly informative and easy to navigate. By clicking on "FACTSHEETS" at the top of the page, you will find more detailed causes of homelessness under the link labeled "Why People Are Homeless":

  8. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Greenberg,

    If you are interested in interviewing someone who worked independently for years with people displaced from their homes through "gentrification", loss of employment, and other circumstances beyond their control (and who has run repeatedly into the lack of services and other obstacles placed in the path of people sincerely trying to escape homelessness in our area), I'm available.

  9. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    Since on my computer it says you blocked it ill say it one more time

    I publicly retract anything I said to you in my homeless advocate interview and no longer wish to be part of your story series, or anewscafe.

    • That is a real shame Chris Solberg. If you would just try and see past your anger and resentment for a minute you may be able to think more rationally. You should tell your story, not retract it because you are angry. I personally would like to know what you have to say and I'm sure others would too without your angry words. You are a homeless advocate right? Well, the homeless need a voice. Why not let it be yours? That, in my opinion would be a good thing. My husband and I were homeless living in our car for 6 months and it was a long hard road getting back. We were helped by a gentleman whose name is Jeff. He owns houses in which he helps people who need housing until they are able to get back on their feet. I also was in foster care for most of my childhood, but feel that made no difference in the fact that I had been homeless. It was unfortunate circumstances. You can take what I say and ignore it or actually go through with your story. It's up to you, but don't use your anger at a few peoples "opinions" as a reason not to. Take care.

  10. Avatar Amanda Sinyard says:

    I am disappointed that Chris Solberg's Q&A wont be included. I have asked for clarification on his point of view. As of this moment I haven't received any. My guess is the readers want answers. We have read the first two articles. We have seen the photographs of the living conditions. We want to know "What now?". As a community, we want feasible strategies. Mr. Solberg is a homeless advocate so it would be wonderful to gain his perspective on not only the issue but the solution. Furthermore, I fail to see what the point is in arguing the angle of the articles thus far. I don't really care about the supposed tone or the guest's supposed slanted opinions, I was moved by the content. No matter how hard to digest. It offends our sensitivities to see photo depictions of how human beings in our community are living. Whether by choice or not, its difficult to see. Its shocking and frustrating for many reasons, but it is reality. Demonizing homeless individuals is wrong. Placing a halo of virtue on their heads is also wrong. Neither will help. This is my very humble opinion for what its worth.

    • Avatar the_bell_jar says:

      well said.

    • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

      To be clear….when the police take pictures of homeless camps it is usually after they have run people off and vandalized their "homes". The law concerning illegal camping was made for a certain group of people and is an illegal law in itself. That would be a great story if any journalist dares to take it on.

  11. Avatar Paula Lomazzi says:

    The photos provided by the police may have a place where people were living, told to leave by police, and they may have left in a hurry? We see that in Sacramento in areas where homeless people are rousted often. Recently there was a camp that police didn't roust for a few months. The homeless people were starting to act like a typical housed community (but in tents) with a sanitation system they devised themselves, regular cleanups, peer pressure against people who were disobeying other laws openly, and the area where they stayed became a focal point for social services, therefore a way out of homelessness. Of course, as happens all over the county, the police once again scattered the residents around, making sure they had no security or stability in their lives. Though many might actually say they prefer to be homeless, give them a key to a room and they'll most often go indoors. We should all try that, and if there isn't any room for them, let people stay in a stable situation, some place or places where it is legal for them to live.

  12. Avatar YourNeighbor says:

    Why must people who have opposing views be blocked? It has occurred here and Record Searchlight. That is Chris' opinion.. let it be. I don't see you being blocked because people disagree with what you write.

    I personally don't see what experience Mr. Smith has to the plight of the poor and homeless to make such accusations he does. He has never been poor if he was an anesthesiologist for 34 years. What he sees is not any worse than what some people have in their yards in Shasta Co. Why would you volunteer to clean up the area and then gloat about what you did and how awful it was?

    I too was rather irritated at this Q and A. I don't think a Journalist should interview a good friend as opinions are easily swayed and its nearly impossible to be unbiased. I guarantee if he were homeless and hungry he would hardly be worried about being disrespectful and untidy.

    I also must disagree with his statement that people don't want to follow the rules that occur in other living arrangements. Yes there are SOME people that chose to be homeless but for the most part the homeless populations have other reasons i.e. natural disasters, family abuse, family breakup, foreclosure, unemployment, and criminal records that prevent them from being hired for a job. Mr. Smith is rather narrow-minded about his views on homeless people and why they are homeless. He cares more about the land than the people living there, which is sad.

    I know this is one piece in a series but so far, you have covered only the negative. I believe you are setting up your stories this way so people are so angry they are ready to toss all the homeless in the river. By the time they reach the "positive" pieces their minds are so closed they will not accept any other view point.

    Here is a link I think you need to read Doni.

    ALSO, Biff.. Those "NORMAL" people are the issue. They are the ones that do not accept anyones opinions except their own. They are the people that will prance past a homeless person while talking about what they have and then comment about the bum sitting on the street begging. Wake up, will you?

    • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

      I so agree with you and am happy to see your comment. Somehow a conservative lifestyle has taken over the mentality of law makers and so, the mindset of most Americans. There are many other ways to abide in this world besides in a manufactured home with manicured landscaping and I'm very glad about that! Many homeless people are refugees from our failed education system, the breakdown of the family and foster care, the drug war that criminalizes teens for using pot, a medical system that dopes adults and children up legally and on and on the dysfunction grows. There is NO normal! Get real folks!

    • I took the time to read the "10 Reasons" link. It indicates, very clearly, that people "choose" to live in encampments/on the streets rather than homeless shelters because they don't want to be accountable to rules (e.g., when they can come and go, when to eat, etc.) When did we become a society that believes that people are "entitled" to free shelter and food without any rules, boundaries, or expectations?

      Another reason cited was personal safety, how is it safer to live in an unregulated encampment with a bunch of other people who don't want to stay in the shelters (because they don't like the rules and/or have been kicked out because they were violent?)

      I am currently helping a young man who had been homeless (living on the streets) for 2 weeks. I provide him housing in exchange for 10 hours/week of work on my ranch. I pay him for an additional 10 hours. There are strict rules (absolutely no drugs or alcohol and I must approve of any person he brings onto our property; he must report to me at 8a for his daily work assignments.) He is staying in our ranch hand housing and I have 24/7 access to the house. The only privacy he is entitled to is in his own bedroom and while he is in the bathroom. He made some poor choices that resulted in his homelessness and he has a lot of work to do (unpaid tickets resulted in bench warrants and the loss of his driver license) before he can make it on his own again. I am giving him a hand up, not a hand out. I don't "pity" him or tell him he is a victim of the economy or "circumstance." I will be very proud of him when he gets his life back on track, but more importantly, he will be proud of himself.

      • Avatar YourNeighbor says:

        Homeless shelters are far from safe. There are often fights over space because it becomes territory. Im sure this is part of the reason GNRM has a 30 day in 30 day out policy. These fights only occur because of limited space.

        Many homeless people do not want to follow the "rules" in a homeless shelter because they have addictions. Many alcoholics will not give up the alcohol if their life depended on it… This has been proven time and time again. Most private shelters have a pray to eat policy. They have a rule that says a patron must attend 1 religious service during the week in order to use the shelter. This in itself is BS. What if the person that needs help is Atheist? To hell with him? The whole system is F'd up. Homeless shelters should be a public service. It keeps the city cleaner and safer. It helps the most vulnerable in society without conditions.

        • Your Neighbor,

          I do not believe that people are "entitled" to free food and shelter without "conditions." In fact, no one is entitled to live in society without conditions. I must follow the traffic laws or lose my driving priveleges. I must show up to work on time and do my job the way my boss requires or I lose my job.

          If alcoholics and/or addicts CHOOSE to live on the streets, rather than staying in a shelter where they will not be allowed to indulge their addictions, then that is their choice. It does not entitle them to live like animals on public or private land at taxpayer expense.

          I've helped many people who have been down and out…..and my help always comes with "conditions." Those include bowing your head if you choose to eat at my dinner table with my family. I don't care if you are truly praying to the entity of your choosing, if you are meditating, or just zoning out for 15 seconds. It is a matter of respect, not one of religion.

          • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

            Do you know that there are people in this country, in fact right in your own town, that do not agree with your approach to the poor. Your attitude worries me. I presume you are a Christian. Please read Luke 6:35.

  13. Avatar Milky_Way says:

    Yes, it's awful that preserved land is being despoiled.

    It is clear from some of the comments, however, that some readers lack basic reading comprehension skills.

    The article, which is part of a series, is from the perspective of a man who has dedicated his life to the preservation of those lands. In what universe do you expect him to be okay with their destruction for any reason?

    Obviously the series is leading up to the conclusion that devastation of preserved land, among other destructive options, is not the best answer to homelessness; therefore we need to come up with some other solution for these displaced people.


    • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

      Like preserving people?

      • Avatar Milky_Way says:

        There are those who have dedicated their lives to preserving people; Mr. Smith's speciality is the land.

        • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

          That does not mean the human element should be eradicated, or controlled. We belong to the land, all of us.

          • Avatar Milky_Way says:

            WTF? You are legally and environmentally in the wrong. I suppose you also support the deforestation of the Amazon? I'm glad someone is looking out for the environment; human parasites have destroyed enough of this planet as it is.

  14. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:


    Thank you for presenting this series of articles containing multiple views of this issue.

    And thank you for keeping A News Cafe a place where discussion remains civil without personal attacks on the commenters.

  15. Avatar LizAnn says:


    I would expect you to open your front yard to the homeless. All homeless. I hope you have the resources to take care of them. I hope you will not require services to clean up after they leave. I hope you are o.k. when they take drugs or the food out of your garden. I expect some of the homeless will work with you and try to help by behaving in a helpful manner but not all can be expected to roll this way.

    I hope you have the police on speed dial when you hear screams and an all out fight breaks out in your yard. You may have a lawsuit if someone is injured on your property.

    I hope you can defend yourself if a very violent homeless person tries to break into your home at night while you are sleeping.

    If this does not work for you, I hope you can come up with a reasonable humane way to treat the homeless in your yard. We would expect this of you.

    • Avatar Paul Frye says:


      it has been my experience in these last 72 years of life that folks often believe as you expect them to. It would be naive on my part to take a position where the disasters you describe above don't/won't happen. They happen in the "upper class" homes, why not in an encampment. I sure don't have any answers, but I know in Matthew that Jesus confronts people after deaf and chides them for not feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.

      I am glad that Doni has provided this forum. People have tried to shut her up before, and here we are. Daily reading Doni and some of her opinions along with her recipes. My family appreciates the joint. Peace.

  16. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Wow, Doni. Thanks so much for the article. I commend the Dr. for trying to do something about the homeless. I see both sides of the issue. I just don't think we can categorize people. There are those who prefer to live "off the land", and those who are really just out of luck. The latter could use a little TLC.

  17. I agree with Barbara Rice in appreciating this series of articles. We do not have to agree with all perspectives, but we can learn from all of them if we listen. The vitriol expressed in some of these comments makes it seem readers are not interested in any other perspective than their own. That is sad, and it is detrimental to finding solutions.

  18. Avatar Andar says:

    Personally, I love a good, RESPECTFUL debate. But when it gets to calling names and being rude that crosses the line. If I wanted to listen to that kind of discussion I would turn on Jerry Springer. The thing about this website is it has always been one to exchange ideas without feeling personally attacked for your opinions.

    I am proud of Doni for keeping those standards.

    • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

      I haveirect

      • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

        The above post was a glitch, let me begin again. I have sheltered over 100 people in my own home since 1995 and worked at the MAC Center in Eureka as a counselor. I was Director of a food bank and homeless shelter for 5 years in Arcata and only called the police twice. My jaw has been broken, I've been stolen from and have experienced various other harrowing moments. My resolve is steady, the world is sick and there are sick people because of it, just because it is painful to reach out to help those who are drowning in the depths of dispair does not excuse any of us from doing what we can, together.

  19. Avatar Doug Bennett says:


    Like your photos, there is the essential element missing, the homeless. You have had enough criticism on them. Now, let's see how you represent them. There is a couple, Wayne and Wanda from a group known as "The Lunch Bunch", that might be able to get you closer than an armed escort of police to the homeless.

    Right now, you are looking like someone that lives in a "bubble."

  20. Doni,

    Thank you for having the courage to explore this very difficult topic. I am eager to hear all of the experiences and perspectives of those who will engage in the discourse through your Q & A series.

    My experience of the comments by homeless advocates here is that they are victimizing the homeless. This does the homeless a great disservice as it denies them agency and accountability for their circumstances. There are many paths to homelessness and there are many who have experienced it and rescued themselves from it. To send a message that homeless people are powerless to improve their lot strips them of basic human dignity.

  21. Avatar Bob Grosch says:


    With all due respect to Mr. Smith and Mr. Solberg, they are both quite far from informing anyone about a solution to the homelss problem.

    There is an old saying: "If all you have is a hammer, then everything you find looks like a nail." — Mr. Smith, who thinks Shasta County is one of the most beautiful places in all 50 states and as many countries, betrays for us in his statement his lack of objectivity, for sure.

    Mr. Solberg has a hammer of advocacy. He is dedicated to the homeless, which I admire. However, he thinks everyone with a different view is an enemy not to be tolerated. All he has is the hammer of his advocacy, so everyone he finds he perceives as a nail to be pounded and hit upon.

    The idea that more than a small minority of the homeless are such by choice is absurd. Fully 25% of them are mentally ill. All too many of them are children, who have no choice in the matter at all. Many are economic tragedies who have given up hope of joining the predominent society. Many are former felons unable to find work, and many are former sex offenders unable to find housing because they are persecuted and run off when the location of their housing is posted on the Internet. Some suffer from substance abuse.

    Homelessness is with but few exceptions not a choice people make. Homelessness is the result of a failure of support from society and from family.

    I would submit that Mr. Smith is not an expert in this area of concern, nor even a well experienced volunteer in working with the homeless, however experienced hie may be in cleaning up after them. I appreciate your disclosure that he is a long time friend of yours. Please consider that you may have lost your own sense of objectivity in playing the dual role of interviewer and long time friend.

    I look forward to further installments in this series and hope the many local people we have that work with the homeless every day will be included in your interviews.

    • Mr. Grosch,

      While I agree that most people do not choose to be homeless, many (the mentally ill and children, notwithstanding) made choices that resulted in their homelessness.

      As a lifelong human rights advocate (and a generally compassionate and caring human being) I do not find it helpful to victimize people and/or to suggest that they have no control over their destiny. I find your comment, "Homelessness is the result of a failure of support from society and from family" to be particularly disturbing. Many, many families that I know have spent decades and tens (or hundreds)of thousands of dollars trying to support/rehabilitate a relative with addiction and/or mental health issues. When the person is unwilling or unable to get clean/sober, stay on their medications, etc. and becomes a destructive force for all other members in the home, refusing to continue to support/house ("enable") them is a heart-wrenching and emotionally devastating choice for the family to make.

      There will always be people in our communities who are homeless. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss and evaluate this condition in Redding from all perspectives; I look forward to the continued discussion and hope that broad brushstroke generalizations (and whose-to-blame) can be avoided.

      • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

        Interesting, but established thinking. My experience with homelessness has been personal and professional for 45 years and not what you just said Bridgette. I hope you are able to bust out of the box of pop psychology.

        • Kathy,

          I'm not going to take your comments personally, though they do represent a personal attack on me…..which is unwarranted considering that you know nothing of me and/or MY personal experiences. I, too, have both personal and professional experiences with homelessness….and there isn't any amount of pop-psychology that would have gotten me or my family through them.

          • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

            It's certainly not you that I am "attacking" it is your thinking that I am concerned about. Please try to understand that you have been taught to think in a certain way from society, government, etc. and that thinking outside this box of thought processes can be difficult. Try thinking about addictions and homelessness without using words like enabling or homeless by choice and really try to see what is going on instead of what you've been TOLD is going on.

  22. Avatar Greg Balkovek says:

    A thank you to Randy Smith for his unvarnished, personal observations. I can think of no other person in our community who has devoted as much time to our environment as Randy. His observations are those of a person who has spent years caring for those out of the way places we don't readily see and continually being frustrated by the lack of consideration for their surroundings by others. Yes, those observations may clash with someone elses who has a different perspective and experience. But to attack or ridicule him for his passionate caring only dimishes the responses of those who are of a different persuation. Sometimes the truth is not easily accepted. But I believe that his observations have a great degree of truth to them – like it our not.

  23. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    A great series creates a good deal of thought and conversation. Your series has certainly done that Doni. I wait anxiously to hear about the fate of working poor who are homeless in our area. That is to say, families in which adults worked and had a home that they lost are now living in camps by the Sacramento River. Thank you Doni for your journalistic integrity.

  24. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Brick-Wells,

    While there has always been a hard-core element among the homeless who are not interested in improving their lot, there have been millions of new additions over the past twenty years resulting from the wide-spread destruction and "gentrification" of lower-income neighborhoods, millions of job losses due to outsourcing, falling wages, rising prices, and what has become a preponderance of poverty-wage jobs which have only partially replaced those that once paid a living wage .

    Once someone finds themselves in the position of being without the safety and security of housing (typically after having gone through everything they possess to avoid that circumstance) it can be extremely difficult to escape homelessness without some notable outside intervention. For most people homelessness is a traumatic and frightening experience which is incredibly debilitating, both physically and mentally.

    Unfortunately there are not nearly enough services in our area to make much of a dent in this crisis. That's true of other areas as well, but Shasta County is even worse than most – a fact which has even been publicly recognized by State of California agencies that address homeless issues.

    So please don't be too hard on the homeless. Many are trying, but there just isn't enough desperately needed help to go around. In fact, meeting these needs has been quite deliberately de-prioritized in this area as an incentive to encourage our local homeless people to just move along and become someone else's problem.

    • Livid,

      I've only lived in Redding for 6 years, but I don't really think that gentrification and/or outsourcing of jobs are the primary causes of homelessness in Shasta County.

      I agree that homelessness is an issue that our community needs to address. I disagree that refusing to "pity" people and/or to suggest that they are helpless means that I am being "too hard" on them.

      I will be the first person to help anyone who is trying to help themselves. I sincerely hope that we, as a community, can provide better resources for the working poor and those who are transitionally homeless.

  25. Avatar Livid says:


    There are also many people who work full-time, but eventually become homeless because their jobs no longer pay enough to support housing. Nearly half of all adults in homeless shelters nationwide were working full-time when they became homeless.

  26. Avatar LizAnn says:

    Thank you Andar!

  27. Avatar Barbara N says:

    I have seen the trash most transients leave behind. This is stuff left behind before anyone even calls someone to complain. I don't care what kind of circumstances you are dealing with, there is no excuse to leave your trash like that. People who litter are just as bad and I am quite frankly tired of picking up all of their crap, but I will, because I don't want other people, especially our children walking our trails looking at it. I am looking forward to this series. I have seen both sides. I have compassion to people living on the edge, but there is no reason to leave all your trash, crap or whatever you might want to call it, for someone else to pick up later, after you move on. Pack it in, pack it out!!

    • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

      Poor people have not been respected, many do not learn respect and will not learn except by example.

  28. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Brick-Wells,

    Just a final point of interest.

    In 2000 our local homeless population numbered about 650 people. Just a few years later that number had climbed to more than 4,000. What had happened during the interviening few years was the destruction of large portions of housing in the Parkview area, parts of the MLK neighborhood (eventually replaced with a lesser number of middle-class homes), and the elimination of other housing where people on the lower end of the income scale lived. As a result our local rental vacancy rate dropped to less than one percent, and there were very long waiting lists for what little low-income/subsidized housing we have. Those waiting lists are still years-long even today, since that is the only housing many people can still afford.

    Now, of course, our still very high homeless numbers have more to do with high unemployment and falling wages, since the problem has become less the lack of vacant housing than the fact that so many people have little or no income with which to rent. The record amount of vacant retail and commercial space we have where so many businesses have gone under actually does represent the loss of quite a few jobs.

    • Livid,

      Unemployment in Shasta County has been upwards of 20% during the current economic crisis (but not due to outsourcing of Redding jobs.) The rental housing market has also suffered as many people unwisely took advantage of the ridiculous banking laws that allowed people who couldn't afford to purchase one home (much less multiple homes) to over-extend themselves. Many of those additional homes were "investments" properties that were rented out. When the bank foreclosed, the renters lost their homes.

      There will always be private property owners who choose to "upgrade" an area they own. Private property is an investment for the owner, who has a family to support and a retirement to plan for, too.

      It is the work and responsibility of Redevelopment Agencies to ensure that big developers are also providing affordable housing and to incentivize private property owners to do the same.

      However, as long as our system is burdened with the economic weight of supporting those who are able-bodied and choose to "work" the system for SSI benefits and/or other welfare benefits, there won't be enough resources left to help those who truly need and deserve it…..the working poor and the transitionally homeless.

      It is never pleasant to discuss the human condition in economic terms, but when we are talking about providing resources to those in need, it is simply unavoidable.

  29. Avatar Biff says:

    Just a note to Neighbor:

    I am well-acquainted with the issues at hand on both sides of these problems; i.e. public spaces abused by persons without stable living arrangements. I don't believe my mind is closed.

    My comment was directed at Chris's vitriolic modus operandi. BECAUSE he is such a corrosive (<del datetime="2012-01-31T18:02:57+00:00">content removed</del>) first word out of the box_his cause may have merit, but any door he might hope to walk through is already closed by his attitude.

    I find it UNSURPRISING that he struggles to get things done on behalf of his beneficiaries.

    • I welcome comments, but please refrain from personal attacks or name-calling.

      We will have greater success in educating one another and finding solutions if we can do a bit of pre-editing, even when – especially when – we have different viewpoints about emotionally charged issues like this one.

      I applaud those of you whom have demonstrated the lost art of civilized disagreement … I know it's difficult, but what's happening here in this comment thread is a living example that it can be done. Keep up the great work.

  30. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Brick-Wells,

    It was not "private property owners" who were responsible for the destruction of so much lower-end housing during the past decade. The City of Redding seized a great deal of property and turned it over to private developers in order to raise the local tax base and create a slush fund that would provide city officials with the money to finance what has turned out to be numerous special interest projects.

    And while it's true that 20 percent of all redevelopment funds are to be dedicated to "affordable and low-income housing" (because so much of this housing was destroyed in the course of redevelopment activities), city officials have found ways to hand private developers millions of dollars from this fund for beautification projects, office complexes, and upscale housing developments, with the condition that they include a very minimal amount of "affordable" housing, which is sold or rented at the highest income levels the State will allow.

    In addition, having helped a number of my tenants through the long and difficult process of applying for S.S.I., I know that this process is not as easy as many people seem to believe. It often takes several years and several tries because applicants (no matter how disabled) are usually denied on the first try after being examined by doctors paid by the State whose job it is to deny those claims.

    • Livid,

      It is always true that an evaluation of "facts" will be interpreted differently by different individuals, given the lense through which they view them.

      What, I believe, is not disputed by any but the most Malthusian (and/or Libertarian) amongst us is that a dearth of programs exist to help the most vulnerable members of our society and that we should address this need in a compassionate and humane manner that is also accountable and sustainable.

  31. Avatar Ginny says:

    Hello, Doni!

    I hadn't planned to post anything on this fine writing effort you are doing as a series on the homeless plight in our area, but ….

    The vitriol some have posted is unbelievable. The lack of maturity is surprising. I find it disgusting.

    Yes, Redding has greater homelessness than some places. Part of the reason is found when you wrote for the Redding Searchlight some years back when you did a series of articles on homeless in the community then.

    One couple, both addicts, not married, and woman was pregnant came all the way from Florida to come to Redding because they heard there was great benefits here! Now that was not that many years ago. Where was any sort of personal responsibility used by that couple?

    Both AA & NA say not to help a person who is not taking responsibility for themselves. It is called "Touch Love."

    Yes, some people are homeless through no real fault of own, and they normally will find help. It is amazing how many people do help the homeless as individuals or through their churches, and then, also, through paying taxes. As it was written in the first article of the series, for many of the homeless have found government help at the beginning of every month.

    And, for anyone who believes I have never helped a homeless person, think again. I have donated good clothes and also washed stinky sleeping bags!

    Keep up the good work, Doni. There are many of us who love what you do!!!

    God Bless.

  32. Avatar Livid says:


    Per your January 31, 9:56 a.m. post – The couple you refer to lost their home and employment in Florida as the result of a hurricane, and came to this area because her mother lived here (not because of any imagined wealth of services, which do not exist here). However, upon their arrival her mother's landlord decided he would not – after all – allow additional people to stay in his rental.

    And if you believe we have more than our share of homeless people, you should probably visit some of the larger cities. There you will find thousands of homeless men women, and children literally sleeping on the streets.

    • Avatar Ginny says:

      Not the same couple!

      • I think I remember the family you're talking about, Ginny. They lived in a station wagon with three children, who attended a Redding school.

        By the end of that series about homeless who lived in cars and motels (photojournalist Brad Garrison and I worked on it from October to December, and the RS published it during the Christmas holiday), readers had flooded many of the featured families with money and coats and everything they'd need to set up a house. Another reader rented the family a little house off Highway 273. I remember going there on Christmas Eve to drop off some items RS readers had donated, and the mom was holding her stomach, as if in pain. At the time she was pretty drunk … She told me she was carrying twins.

        I later learned they'd sold a bunch of the readers' donated items at a flea market, and had literally borrowed a friend's backhoe to dig a hole and bury a bunch of stuff in the yard. I tried to follow-up with that family later, but they were gone.

        • Avatar Ginny says:

          Thanks, Donni.

          Not sure it is the same couple as I don't believe they lived here with any children. The couple had been kicked out ot GNRM for breaking rules. Believe it was drug use. Yet, it does show that many don't take personal responsibility for anything.

          Those twins were mostlikely born with alcohol syndrome and the other three what they had to live with. Sad for the children.

          Keep up the great work you do!

          • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

            The first text book I studied in psychology was "I never knew I had a choice". I discovered that poverty, physical and emotional abuse at a young age can damage a persons ability to think their way out of the addictions that they developed to cope with their distress. Housing First is a Harm Reduction program that places people into housing with services attached so that they can maintain housing. The people are monitored and assisted at each stage of their recovery from the pain in their lives. No one knows how to properly apply Tough Love to another, it's not to be used by amateurs.

  33. Avatar Livid says:


    I'm frankly horrified by your January 31, 11:19 a.m. post. No doubt that will discourage some people from helping those in need, no matter how deserving.

    Ginny was referring to a couple from Florida featured in a newspaper article, whose situation was misrepresented at a time when the City of Redding was attempting to drive homeless people out of the area – local or otherwise.

    • Livid,

      I think that openly and honestly admitting that there are scam artists and undeserving folks with their hands out does NOT discourage helping those who are honestly and deservedly in need. How many stories have been done regarding the amount of money that panhandlers rake in?

      I think you need to give those whose intentions are to be helpful more credit; one who refuses to help ANY one who is honestly and deservedly in need because there are SOME disreputable types out there is just using that as an excuse and never had any intention of providing service to begin with.

  34. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Brick-Wells,

    Having worked with homeless people of all stripes for quite a few years, I'm very familiar with the fact that there are scam artists out there who give people sincerely making an effort and deserving of help a bad name.

    However, it's also helpful to keep in mind that many panhandlers are not homeless. Many are not even poor.

    My focus has been on homeless women and children, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population – both locally and nationally. With only one income there is not much to fall back on in an emergency, and the loss of a job can quickly force these families into a desperate situation. That is also the group for whom there are very few services in this area.

    I'd love to see our local cities and county get together and do what cities and counties in other areas have done, which is to purchase an apartment complex (there are some on the market now that could be had for far less than the typical beautification project). These transitional housing facilities are basically self-supporting. Residents are required to devote one-thrid of their incomes toward their apartment in these facilities, while also being required to save a portion of their income each month toward permanent housing. And unless the adult in the household is verifiably disabled, they are required to either be working, looking for work, or in school or training as a condition of staying there.

    • Livid,

      I absolutely agree with everything you have said and I would love it if you could post some more information regarding transitional housing projects.

      Thank you for your insightful, well informed words on this topic.

      Even though this current article addresses the encampments (which are not typically inhabited by women and children) I am very glad that it has provided a venue for the discussion of the plight facing the most vulnerable members of our community.

  35. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    I have told several people who were worrying about what someone was saying about them on Facebook, "Do not confuse Facebook with real life."

    Publish and be damned. The truth is still the truth.

  36. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Brick-Wells,

    Thank you.

    Just as a little background: Nearly one-fourth of the two thousand-plus people who were documented to be homeless in our area in the last published survey were children, with an equal number who were imminently at risk of becoming homeless. There are few places in Shasta County where women and children can go for help if they find themselves in that situation. We have a couple of small facilities (at least one that takes in no more than six people) where children are accepted, but these are extremely time-limited, and their main focus is women who are drug-addicted and/or recently released from prison. That is not the best enviornment for a child. I believe some families who are suffering as a result of the economy need more than a few weeks to get back on their feet. The other option is the Mission, which serves mainly drug-addicted men. It has a small women's section (they have bed capacity for, I believe, 17 women and a small number of children). However, drug addicts are also prioritized there for whatever help is available. Women for whom substance abuse is not an issue have a 30-day limit.

    A few years ago I had the priviledge of visiting a wonderful transitional housing facility in another area. The city and county had joined together to purchase an older apartment complex that had been vacated and was on the market. The community banded together (as they did here for the new Men's Dormitory for parolees at the Mission) and fixed the place up.

    Families were allowed to stay there for up to six months (or up to two years if they needed that time to complete college or training). They paid one-third of whatever income they had in rent, and were required to put a certain amount of money into a bank account each month toward permanent housing. This facility was basically self-supporting. Residents were also required to attend classes (often taught by volunteers who had expertise in these areas) on things like shopping on a tight budget, conserving their electrical use, parenting skills, caring properly for their housing, and budgeting. They even had a woman who came to their individual apartments and taught them how to cook nutritional meals on a very limited budget.

    This is the type of thing I believe is so desperately needed in this area. When last I checked, there were apartment complexes for sale for under $2 million, which is less than the City of Redding has spent for numerous beautification projects. I read today that cities will be given low-income housing funds from the dissolution of Redevelopment Agencies to spend on housing. In my opinion, a transitional housing facility would be a fabulous thing to spend a portion of that money on.

  37. Kathy,

    As an advocate for social justice (and social CHANGE) I can tell you that in my experience, change-agents are often regarded with suspicion. We are challenging the status quo, and asking (no, DEMANDING) that people take a look at long-held beliefs, customs, and "common sense" ways of thinking. It doesn't matter if you are advocating for universal free lunch for children at school….or better safety nets for those stricken by hard times. Change makes people uncomfortable. Change is HARD.

    It is important, to be efficacious as a change-agent, NOT to take things personally.

    It is not easy, but it is simple.

    The message I got from Chris' retraction wasn't that he doesn't trust the journalist…..but rather that he doesn't trust the readers. This is an open forum….if Doni's print of their Q&A in any way deviates from what he said, he has the opportunity to address that here.

    I hope that he will re-think his position and that we will all have the opportunity to hear his voice…..and that of those he represents.

    • Avatar Terry says:

      Well expressed, Bridgette!

    • Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

      You can think anything that you want but you will not KNOW until you hear it from him why he chooses not to submit to this blog. I don't care how professional you believe you are CHANGE is not coming necessarily as you believe it will as we are all involved, or not, in changes that are beyond our control.

      Simple you say it is to be "efficacious as a change-agent", and not take things said to you or about you, your work or the people that you work with, "personally". Please! This statement is unreal and totally alien to activism and advocacy. I live with the homeless and addicted in my community, what happens to them happens to me because I am WITH them in their plight. You stand afar and try to give me direction without realizing that I and chris and others like us are out of the box you are still in. Have some respect.

  38. C.J. C.J. says:

    I've never met Chris Solberg, so my opinion is based solely on the words he's written here and on over the past several years. Based on his vitriolic rants (which neither instruct nor inspire), I can't say Mr. Solberg is an advocate for anyone or anything. He is simply a bully who loves to fight.

    Surely there must be an informed, compassionate voice for our homeless population, someone who can communicate rationally and intelligently without alienating the audience. Chris Solberg does nothing but repulse the very people whose opinions he seeks to change.

    I hope a true advocate for the homeless can be found to participate in this Q&A series.

    As for Mr. Solberg, he'll eventually stop fishing if everyone quits taking his bait.

  39. Avatar Livid says:

    Ms. Brick-Wells,

    I just sent you an e-mail. Many thanks.

  40. Avatar Mark C says:


    I applaud you for taking on such a volatile and emotional tempest as this one!!! I too look forward to more in your series! We all have much to learn and much to consider with this challenging and complex issue.

    I hope you are able to visit with Living Hope Compassion Ministries (at State & Favretto) to include their views and glean from their many years experience with working with homeless and struggling people.

    Regarding whether to print your Q&A with Chris Solberg, perhaps it is a matter of respect for him. If you respect him for who he is, then you probably should respect and accept his request regarding his participation in your series. I think that his actions have already spoken louder than the words you would have printed anyway. My humble opinion would be to keep to your course and keep your focus on the subject. I would think that a shouting match and vitriolic tantrums are more of a distraction than a helpful (and credible) piece of the solution….but you are in a better spot to discern that than I am. Perhaps later, when Chris reads more of your series pieces and cools down a little, he’ll reconsider his position with you and your series.

  41. Avatar shelly shively says:

    I appreciate & applaud Dr. Smith for his sacrifice & devotion to the land we call home. Thanks, Doni, for having anewscafe be an honest attempt at community forum…too bad so many get side-tracked by ego-driven bickering.

  42. Avatar AJ says:

    WHEW!! What a wade to slog thru all the muck . . . but the nuggets of information gained were worth it. . . I think. Doni, thank you for courageous journalism.

    A comment that was made early on the these responses was concerning the need for nomadic campgrounds. Does anyone remember the migrant farm workers camps for the 1930's anbd 40's? The church we attended when I was a child ran an outreach program and my parents helped the missionaries who lived and worked there. This was in Indio. We ran a Sunday School and church service. We also ran a daily vacation Bible school as well as several other programs. The way the camps were setup sounds very much like what would be called a nomadic campground. The buildings consisted of a large room (maybe 20 X 20ft) that was timber on the bottom and canvas on the top. They were set about 20' apart. The roads were paved but no sidewalks. There was a shower facility and laundry building(hot water, but no machines. Back then everyone did hand laundry) at each end of the camp. There was a meeting hall where we held church, but it was also used for other things like movies and dances. There was an office and an manager. Being a kid, I wasn't aware of whether rents were charged or if reservations had to be made. I rather think not on any of those counts. As I recall, the place was kept clean and the tent-houses in good repair. There were iron bedsteads in each tent, butI don't think there was any other furniture . . . maybe a table. Cooking was not allowed in the tents because of fire hazards, but each site had a firepit. Today it would be a habachi, I'm sure. The camp would fill during grape or corn season, then people would move on as the crops moved. I dunno . .. seems like some variation on this model could be explored. I know there camps like these in Yuma, Imperial Valley, Bakersfield and Salinas. I'm sure there were others.

    And some of you guys sound worse than a bunch of junior highers on a bus trip. Grow up . . . be nice. Yelling turns my hearing aid off!

  43. Avatar Kathy Anderson says:

    tough love, in the giving of it or the receiving of it, is not available to people who do not know love in the first place. All due respect to Al-Anon and AA (I'm a drug and alcohol counselor) they are imperfect programs and not for everyone. I use Do No Harm and Harm Reduction strategies in my forums and find they work much better.