Homeless in Redding – Part 4: A Conversation with Dan Fehr, Retired CDFG Warden

Today I speak with Dan Fehr, formerly a warden with the California Department of Fish and Game, someone who had many years’ exposure to the negative environmental impacts of homelessness near Redding’s waterways.

Fehr intentionally refers to occupants of “unlawful encampments” as “transients” rather than the term “homeless” in “homeless encampments”. He believes that the term “homeless” carries an implication of no-personal-fault on behalf of the person occupying the “unlawful encampment” – terminology he said can sometimes solicit unwarranted sympathy from the public.

“I sincerely sympathize with persons who are homeless for reasons beyond their control,” Fehr said. “But transients are many times homeless within their control.”

He acknowledged that substance abuse and/or mental health problems more than likely contributed to, or were acquired enroute to most transients’ current status.

Even so, Fehr said that his experience in the field led to this observation: “The vast majority of occupants of unlawful encampments choose their to live by a no-rules-lifestyle, and squander their social service entitlements on substance abuse, in-lieu of attempting to extract themselves from their situation.”

With that bit of clarification out of the way, let’s get to our conversation with Fehr.

Q: Dan, thanks so much for talking with me today. I know you are retired from the California Department of Fish and Game here in Redding. But you have a lot of information about homeless encampments from your previous work. Can you tell us about your former position?

A: I was employed as a Fish and Game Warden with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) in 1981, and retired at the end of 2008.  My first 10 years were spent patrolling the coastal and bay counties surrounding San Francisco Bay and I transferred to Shasta County in 1991.  Fish and Game Wardens are state peace officers and are deputized under the law enforcement division of the (CDFG).

Q: Most people probably don’t think of the CDFG when they think of homelessness. Why would the CDFG be involved with the issue of homeless encampments?

A: The primary mission and legal responsibility of the CDFG is the protection of inland and state water habitats and the native flora and fauna (plants and animals) that those habitats support.

Unlawful encampments are a huge source of biohazardous waste (human feces, urine, intravenous needles, etc.), hazardous waste (vehicle and alkaline batteries, flammable fuels) and solid waste (stolen/abandoned retail shopping carts, glass, cans, plastics and paper).  In addition, unattended campfires start wildfires, which impact riparian (streamside) and oak woodland habitat, negatively.

Q: So from the CDFG’s perspective, it’s about protecting the environment?

A:  From the CDFG’s perspective, preventing the above-described wastes from entering state waters directly or indirectly, is paramount.  The Sacramento River, as well as many local streams, are habitat for endangered and threatened species (Winter-run Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead), and are utilized for recreation and domestic water supply for Redding and downstream communities.  As mentioned above, fire, although a natural occurence, does not bode well in riparian and oak woodland habitats, due to the predominance of non-native grasses and blackberry in the understory.

Q: In your former CDFG capacity, what exactly did you do with regard to the homeless encampments?

A: As a fish and game warden, routine patrol of riparian areas (streamside) by foot/vehicle for the purpose of enforcing fish and wildlife laws (sportfishing licenses, bag limits, seasons, etc.) is a common activity.

Occupants of unlawful encampments were contacted during patrols and also specifically targeted during special enforcement details, which were in collaboration with the Redding Police Department (RPD) and the U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The majority of unlawful encampments occurred on lands in the public trust and were in violation of local, state and federal laws and regulations.

Transients were issued citations for unlawful lodging on public/private property and unlawful contamination, both state code misdemeanors, as well as Redding Municipal Code and federal regulations.  Computer record checks of occupants resulted in many in-custody arrests for warrants, as well as probation and parole violations.  The RPD Community Clean-up Program provided inmate labor and transportation and disposal of waste, via work-release program and funds from the city’s solid waste utility.

Q: Is the problem growing?

A:  Based upon personal observation and recent communication with members of the RPD, the economy and reduced patrol by law enforcement due to budget cuts, have led to increased numbers of unlawful encampments, both on public and private property, by at least a factor of 2.

Q: Where, exactly, are some of the prime places around Redding that had the most homeless encampment activity, and about which the CDFG was most concerned?

A: Unlawful encampments are pervasive along the Sacramento River and local streams, primarily due to access to water sources and concealability.  Unlawful encampments generally are within walking distance of grocery/fast food businesses, which provide transients access to restroomsand opportunities for panhandling, theft of retail shopping carts, shoplifting and purchase of alcohol/groceries.

Q: What doesn’t the average Redding citizen know about this issue?

A:  I believe most citizens are aware of the transient population in Redding, but their exposure is limited to their observation of the “Will Work for Food” sign holders and transient in-town migration during daylight hours.

Unless citizens get off the “beaten path”, most would be unaware of the magnitude of unlawful encampments or the gravity of environmental, public health and safety issues associated.  Citizens of the Parkview Neighborhood has been subjected to the full-brunt of transient-spawned activity with their juxtaposition to the Sacramento River and spill-over from the South Market Street demographics.

Q: Because you’ve had a front-line view of this issue, do you have any thoughts about what causes this problem?

A: Notwithstanding the impact of current economic times and past/recent military veteran-conflict-induced-trauma, I believe the root cause of the transient/unlawful encampment issue is a failure of individual/societal/governmental entities to address “accountability” for an individual’s behavior and the lack of adequate governmental resources targeted toward employment, mental health issues and substance abuse programs.

Q: Let’s just say that everyone left the homeless encampments alone. What, from a CDFG viewpoint, would be wrong with that?

A: Unlawful encampments require continuous enforcement for associated environmental, public health and public safety violations. Open space and riparian areas would become “totally trashed” without the chronic abatement of hundreds of tons of refuse.

For example, during the decade of 1998 to 2008, over 1-million pounds of refuse had been removed, recycled and disposed of along the Sacramento River and local streams.

Associated criminal activity would become rampant and instances of major crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, hazardous material disposal, etc.) and lesser crimes (shoplifting, retail shopping cart theft, litter, fish and wildlife laws, etc.) would increase dramatically.

Q: If you were in charge, and money was no object, what would you suggest as a solution to the homeless encampment problem in Redding?

A: If money and resources were no object, I believe that the unlawful encampment issue would be a moot point.  Since that is currently not the case, I believe that partnerships with organizations (Good News Rescue Mission, Northern Valley Catholic Social Services, People of Progress, etc.) which provide “hand-up” assistance (computer/internet access, job training, physical mail addresses, showers, laundry, clothing, temporary/permanent housing, drug-rehabilitation programs, etc.), rather than “hand-out” assistance, is the more effective course of action than some “enabling” that occurs with some programs.

Click here for Part 1 of this series: Homeless Encampments: RPD Deals with Another Part of the City

Click here for Part 2 of this series: A Conversation with Randy Smith, Community Volunteer

Click here for Part 3 of this series: Homeless in Redding – Meet Shannon

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 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.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com 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.
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21 Responses

  1. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    Thank you Warden Fehr,

    Your dedication to the land which ultimately supports us all is very much appreciated.

  2. Avatar Livid says:

    While there is certainly the element Dan Fehr speaks of, I've also known of homeless camps where drugs and alcohol are not allowed by general consensus. Groups with similar interests tend to band together.

    Let's do some math:

    According to the latest published survey by the Homeless Continuim of Care Council, 2,160 homeless people came to the attention of the agencies participating in that survey (which of course is not every homeless person in Shasta County). Only about 10 percent fell into the category of the "chronically homeless" described above.

    Nearly one-fourth of those people were children, with an equal number of children in imminent danger of becoming homeless.

    Job loss was cited as the #1 reason for homelessness.

    All of Shasta County's emergency shelter space and transitional housing combined (most of which are drug rehabs for single adults) provide bed space for no more than about 250 people.

    That leaves potentially two thousand or so people who may have nowhere to go.

    In the four parts of this series so far, three articles have dealt with the trash generated by homeless camps, and one interview with a chronically homeless street person who has an apparent phobia of enclosed spaces.

    It's a shame this series didn't deal with the majority of the homeless (which might be referred to as the "new" homeless). In that category we have divorced/abandoned/abused women with children who have little to fall back on when job loss strikes, and the whole spectrum of other victims of our collapsed economy.

    • Livid, I just don't know how many ways to say this, so I'll try again … this series is about the unsheltered homeless, hence, the focus on the illegal encampments.

      Who knows, maybe down the road, with a few more reporters and photographers, I can tackle each of the other categories of homelessness, but not for this series.

  3. Avatar Livid says:

    As a point of interest I'd also like to add that the term "transient" has been used in place of "homeless" all over the country for several years. It came into common use when city officials around the country began to use it as they were attempting to pass anti-homeless laws to rid their cities of the sudden economy-driven upsurge in the homeless population. They wanted to create the public perception that all the homeless people they were trying to drive out of their respective areas were actually from somewhere else, and therefore someone else's responsibility.

  4. Avatar Gwen Lawler Tough says:

    A friend of mine lived in one of these camps-in his case, by Winco Foods. He was "homeless" for maybe 2 months. He became homeless when his allotted time ran out at the Rescue Mission. He could still go back for dinner/shower-by catching a bus. And, he did this. When I asked him why he wasn't staying with some relatives in the area, he told me that their circumstances were that they couldn't take in one more person. I considered taking him into our home, but another friend who works in a social agency advised me against this. She said the Mission gives their residents ample warning that they can't stay there forever. They also provide training and much more. But it's meant to be a temporary home. She told me that this young man would never learn how to be self-sufficient if he didn't face the consequences of his actions.

    I did help him by giving him gift certificates for food at Winco, and money to do his laundry. I gave him rides to church. He did not like being homeless, but he did like many of his fellow homeless. He hated being dirty.

    Sometime over last summer, he moved to L.A. and is now gainfully employed, has an apartment, and is now longer homeless.

    • Avatar the_bell_jar says:


      Thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed reading your story.

    • Gwen:

      I think it's great that you helped that young man the way you did. I am so glad that he now has a job and a home. I'm sure he is likely never to forget you or what you did for him. You gave him hope and a belief in himself. God Bless You.

  5. Avatar Livid says:

    With 7 applicants for every available job opening (a ratio that may be even higher in this area), 6 of the 7 people who apply for those openings would obviously be out of luck. It isn't that easy anymore:


    The so-called "training" the Mission provides to its 30 day residents (teaching them to fill out job applications, if that) doesn't change the economic reality that most of those people will face.

    • Avatar PaulCo says:

      If there are seven job openings and seven applicants that apply to all of them, there will be seven applicants per job opening, but it still works out that everyone can get a job.

      Not to say that unemployment isn't horrible, especially in Shasta County, but your interpretation of the statistic implies that unemployment is over 85% (6/7), which isn't true.

      • Avatar Mclisa says:

        7 applicants per job opening means that there are 7 times as many unemployed people as there are open jobs. Employed people aren't included. So your conclusion of an implication of 85+% total unemployment isn't valid. The correct takeaway from those stats is that the chances of a person applying for an open position and getting hired is 17%.

  6. Livid,

    As Doni pointed out to me on the last segment, her intention with this series was to address a specific category of homeless people….those referred to as transients by law enforcement, and whom you referred to as "street people" in the last segment.

    I don't presume to know why Doni chose to focus on this particular demographic of homelessness, but I am glad that she has because they represent a segment that does, in fact, present the greatest challenge. They"choose" to be unsheltered and live in camps in order to engage in a lifestyle that is not acceptable within an organized social system. Additionally, the individuals who choose to cast themselves out of society in order to maintain their lifestyle of choice represent a tremendous drain on our resources….resources that could be spent to help those who have fallen on hard times and are trying to get back on their feet.

    I presently have a transitionally homeless young man living in the ranch hand house on my property and he is earning his keep and following a specific plan that we developed together to get him back on track in less than 6 months' time.

    My husband and I have helped many people (singles, and entire families) by providing them temporary (6 months or less) housing in our extra house. We also have allowed several individuals who were living in travel trailers to park on property while they "re-grouped." Every single one of them is doing just fine now and has not experienced homelessness again. In each instance the individual or family experienced an event that pushed them into homelessness (a severely disabled child who required full-time care from a parent who had to quit working; laid off from work, unable to pay a speeding ticket that compounded and the individual lost his driving priveleges, etc.)

    The homeless we have helped are people who want to help themselves regain their place in "functioning" society. In my humble opinion, we, as a community, need to focus our efforts on limiting the impact on our sytem that the chronically homeless represent while investing in better social programs and safety nets for those who become transitionally homeless.

  7. Avatar Marc Dadigan says:

    This has been a great, informative series, but there is no way that Fehr should have the chutzpah to be judging the motivations and mindset of the homeless, either of individuals or as a collective group.

    What knowledge does he have substance abuse and addiction? What does he know about mental health issues and the services that are provided? What does he know about their personal histories?

    Fehr has a lot of knowledge of the environmental affects of the homeless encampments, and he has good ideas for helping the homeless better their situations.

    But he should stick to what he knows rather than making strong, judgmental and negative generalizations about the homeless. I am not as familiar with the Redding homeless encampments, but I have worked with the homeless a great deal in Oregon. I have found that their stories and motivations are as diverse as any other group of people.

    I sincerely doubt the vast majority of local homeless people have no desire or will to improve their situation. Maybe many have lost a sense of hope, but that is very different.

    I do wish that rather than profiling one "token" homeless person for this series that more of the homeless folks had a place to explain their situation rather than having sources, who've never been in their situation, explain it for them.

    • Easy, Marc. Geez. Are you having a bad hair day, or what? 🙂

      It pains me to see readers take Q&A subjects to task for answering my questions.

      I confess, I feel quite protective of the people who've accepted my invitation to participate in Q&A's for this series. I've asked questions – which may or may not be good ones, to some people's thinking. The Q&A folks were good enough to answer them, to the best of their ability.

      It takes courage for these people to accept my invitation, and it takes time and thought to answer the questions and allow me to publish them for tens of thousands of people to see.

      As we can now see, by doing so, they expose themselves to potential grilling from some readers who criticize them for answering my questions in a way that displeases some readers.

      That doesn't bode well for the next subjects I invite to be part of this series, because really, who wants to endure that kind of grief? This will be a mighty short series if the story subjects think that by participating, they'll be tarred and feathered.

      Already, there's one story subject with whom I've probably spent eight hours of interviews – she's incredible and has so much to say. But she had a bad experience being quoted on the "other" .com media site some years back, and she's afraid of the same thing happening to her here on anewscafe.com. At first, I assured her that anewscafe.com readers were different. After reading some of the negative comments directed to the Q&A subjects the last few days, I'm not sure I can stand by that assurance.

      So I'm now in a situation where she won't allow me to write the story about her unless I don't use her real name — which is never a best-case scenario on a media site. But she's a tender soul, and she is fearful of getting hurt.

      I must say I'm disappointed and surprised that some readers have come down so hard on good people who've agreed to participate in this series.

      I would remind everyone that these people did not cause the unsheltered homelessness problem.

      What we have here is a community forum – a unique place where some of the highest functioning, influential and involved citizens can all speak up and freely share ideas and solutions.

      It's so supremely simple to sit back, read someone's answers with a magnifying glass to search for flaws and faults, and then lob rotten eggs and tomatoes their direction to show displeasure.

      IMHO, it's much more productive to brainstorm and collect a huge body of potential scenarios throughout this series that actually might solve some problems.

      Finally, Marc, please forgive me if I somehow gave the impression that I'm just profiling one "token" homeless person.

      Come on, give me a little credit. First come the interviews, then comes the writing. In the case of this series, it's a month-long process.

      This series will have many voices and points of views. For the Q&As, I'm asking questions specific to each person's expertise, but I am also asking EVERYONE – homeless, CDFG, volunteers, professionals, government folks … EVERYONE – two of the same questions: First, what, in their opinion, do they see as the cause, and second, in their opinion, if they were king or queen of the world, would they suggest as a solution.

      The reason I've asked these two questions is that I believe that sometimes, it's actually possible to find insight and solutions in all kinds of places and from all kinds of people … not necessarily just those with degrees in psychology or public health.

      What harm could come from asking the questions, and see what people have to say? We may all learn something that's a bit outside the box.

      I feel better now. Maybe I'm the one with the bad hair day. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.

    • Marc,

      I think that most of us would agree that the "average" person who lives in the "average" camp is not representative of the "average" homeless person. Wow, I just used a word I don't like very much an awful lot.

      As a Native Person, I've seen many in my family struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. I have tremendous compassion and hope for those who struggle with that terrible disease. As the mother of a beautiful, intelligent, talented, and amazing daughter who is on a tender road of recovery herself…..well, I can say that my own survival through her process has depended on my ability to not lose hope for her….even when she herself doesn't have any.

      That said, I will also say that most people who are going to recover both from their addiction and from their homelessness, probably do not live 5 or 10 or more years in encampments. Meth and heroine addictions are incredibly difficult to break….and a decade of abuse of those drugs destroys the mind, the body, and the spirit.

      This particular Q & A was from a law enforcement perspective. From the perspective of someone whose job it is not to act as a social worker, but to clean up and preserve the environmental health of our water system….in the best interests of the larger society. His matter-of-fact professional attitude should not be attributed to callousness or lack of compassion.

      Despite my compassionate heart and understanding mindset (or perhaps because of them) I do not tolerate the types of behaviors that the transient street people engage in on my property either. It is dangerous (they leave drug needles, human excrement, and trash on the banks of our creek, which is just upstream of a public swimming hole where hundreds of children swim all summer long and is the source of water, literally, for my elderly neighbors;) it is illegal (and opens me up to liability;) and it desecrates the federal land which borders our property (which is a known Wintu burial ground and artifact site.) Illegal campers killed two mature trees on our property and started a fire that got out of control. I respond to ANY trespass by people who intend to illegally camp on my property no differently than does Warden Fehr.

      At the same time, I have never turned away a person in need who has asked for my help. The two positions are NOT mutually exclusive…..and certainly should not be conflated.

  8. Avatar Livid says:


    It's wonderful that you've helped so many people, and I certainly share your opinion of the small percentage of the homeless who deliberately choose to live in the manner described above.

    My objection is that this series of articles simply reinforces the perception of the general public that all homeless people are drug-addicted panhandlers who have no desire to change or improve their situation. For roughly 90 percent of the those who find themselves without the safety and security of permanent housing in our horrendous economy, that is not the case.

    However (as I'm sure you are aware because of the help you've extended), it can be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to escape homelessness without some notable outside help. Even homelessness where the person or family is "couch surfing" (moving constantly from place to place wherever someone can be found to take them in, and not knowing where they may be next week) can be highly stressful and debilitating – especially given that not everyone extending that help has the best motives. That can be especially true for single mothers who will do literally anything to keep their children off the streets.

    As I've said before, I agree that whatever resources we have should be made available to people who can actually benefit by receiving them. I believe establishing a legal campground would be a mistake. Whatever funds would have gone into a project of that type would be better spent on transitional housing, where women, children, and frail elderly people can stay (as opposed to just able-bodied adults and hard-core street people, which is the only element an outdoor camp could accommodate).

    • Livid,

      I agree with all of the points that you make regarding the homeless.

      I also feel that while this series is focused on the hard-core street people, the comments by the interviewees and certainly those by the readers really do emphasize the fact that this series is NOT exploring the circumstances faced by the transitionally homeless.

      I honestly don't know what the "right" or best solution is for dealing with the street people….I do believe that from a law enforcement perspective, the position will simply be to make it so uncomfortable for them to stay here that they will move on (much the same as the strategy that is employed with the marijuana raids on federal lands.) As a private property owner, I have had to deal with illegal campers on my property, engaging in all sorts of illicit activities and leaving me with an amazing amount of debris to deal with. I have escorted them off my property with a shotgun and installed locked gates at all known entry points. I've made our location on the river and our creeks an unwelcome place for that element and they don't attempt it here any more. I do think that is the same approach that law enforcement uses. Is it "right" or "best?" I don't know. But honestly, I don't know what else we should or could do for that population.

      You and I are NOT talking about that segment of the homeless population…..and my focus has always been and will continue to be to help the transitionally homeless who are experiencing temporary homelessness.

      As a personal aside, my husband and I are raising a grandchild and our 23 year old daughter is just now (hopefully) on a good path to recovery herself. Every time I see a young mother with a child on the streets, I see my daughter's face. This is a very, very personal issue for me and my family and one that we are committed to doing our part to mitigate in our community.

  9. Avatar Mark C says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with Bridgette’s post. The topic of homelessness has many complex and difficult facets.

    Getting emotionally fired up about an issue is a two-edged sword. It motivates us to engage, but when the emotions get to a boiling point and eruption spews vitriolic and caustic rantings I believe more harm is done for the cause and many, who might otherwise add support, are turned off.

    I applaud Doni’s willingness to go down this path of open discourse and her shepherding of the debate.

    I have met and talked to many individuals who were in a variety of homelessness situations. I have spent many hours with a few homeless that were willing to allow me to. There is a great amount of distrust on both sides of this issue and making a connection with an individual at a level that can bear fruit (actually help improve someone’s life) takes time and care.

    One of those individuals was in his mid-forties and living on the street, often in the brush or under a bridge. We met when he started attending some activities at our church. Through the course of many months we developed a friendship. He stayed on our property a little while and was willing to assist me at my office doing simple tasks for some money. Through our time together I offered advice and encouragement which eventually resulted in his obtaining SSI disability and an apartment. I helped him establish a budget to manage his money and awareness of how his choices impacted his ability to live a more stable life. He suffered from some type of mental illness, but was capable of caring for himself to a certain degree. We stayed in touch off-and-on over the course of several years. Then one day I read his obituary in the paper. It was sad to lose him as a friend, but I was happy to have been able to have helped him and as I look back on those times I spent with him I realize that, even though there were times that our friendship was uncomfortable, I learned some valuable life lessons myself. It’s funny how that works…we think we’re the strong helping hand, only to find that we receive much, and sometimes more, than the ones we are trying to help!

  10. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Doni, Thank you for these articles. We no longer have hospitals to help those people with mental problems, and no money to do so., so these people "fall between the cracks". There are organizaions to help some who are really trying very hard to cope, but what happens to the rest? And, yes, it is a problem keeping these encampments cleaned up. It is a huge problem, but all we can do is talk about it; however your articles a good. I think the Record Searchlight should write some articles, but, there again, will they?

  11. Avatar Ginny says:

    Hello, Doni:

    Thanks again for your series. Nastiness and/or lack of understanding the series is not part of what is needed. Rather not see their hyperventilating because it is not helpful to them or anyone else.

    I have always found you fair in your articles over the years. Thank you!!!

    God Bless.

  12. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Excellent article Doni. I am glad Dan Fehr shared his experience with A News Cafe. I enjoy hearing your readers experiences and opinions. Thank you Doni.

  13. Avatar Terry says:

    Doni, this is another great article. In fact, one reason I love anewscafe.com is that you have a gift for presenting all sides of an issue. This is quite a series, and it is powerful as it unfolds.

    I wanted to comment on the tone of some responses in this series that really bothers me. These are not our "normal", which is impassioned, yet civil and reasonable discussions at anews cafe.

    I agree completely with Marc where he said:

    "…but when emotions get to a boiling point and eruption spews vitriolic and caustic rantings I believe more harm is done…"

    Amen! Once our words "push" against another person, more often than not, they will "push back". The postings where people stay factual and descriptive, not attacking, cause me to read them carefully, and deeply consider what they say, and I may even change my opinions about something. But when a posting attacks another person, my own mental walls of defense go up, and I don't hear what they say.

    With an issue this emotionally "loaded" for so many, it's essential that we stay especially vigilant with our words. I saw an ad once that said, "Words can hit harder than a fist." Isn't that the truth?! Compare that with my favorite saying, "Keep your words sweet, in case you have to eat them."

    So as we submit our ideas and suggestions, past successes or failures, and ponder and perhaps take action on this multi-layered issue, let's remember we're all in this together.

    To quote a wise man I once knew, "Together, we can solve anything."