Homeless in Redding, Part 6: Reader Essay Offers Ideas

Note from Doni: Please join me in welcoming anewscafe.com reader Lillie Minsart’s essay in which she poses some ideas to possibly help Redding’s homeless issue.

The issue of helping those unsheltered or unsheltered and ill in our community by degree or direction is daunting, yet seems to be the focus of concern for many who have written comments (about the Homeless in Redding series).

What can an individual do to help? Without our families, where could we all be by some unfortunate streak of luck? Ican’t even imagine, but I also realize that I live paycheck to paycheck, like many others in our community. Losing a job and becoming financially strapped or losing my home as a consequence, isn’t exactly unimaginable.

At the same time, I think living your life at will, without responsibilities, communing with nature has a certain appeal, However, not on someone else’s property, and not without hope that it is within one’s power to change. At this point in my life it is getting closer to sounding like ‘retirement’. The problem seems that this segment of the population has ‘retired’without the benefit of preparation, meaning many years of work toward savings, pensions, medical insurance, etc.

So goes the lack of hope and power to change as a choice. They sound stuck.

I, too, can see how “pooling” their MediCal or SSI incomes would help, as mentioned by Shannon in a segment. But they would need someone like Bridgette or Bob to help manage it, or a responsible couple.

There are many empty properties all over Redding, within our RABA bus routes. How wonderful it would be to convert a vacant property with buildings into a“village” or cottage community? Anyone who chose to invest their SSI would receive a dorm-style room with a roommate, community meals (with or without gospel), and an opportunity to work.

Somewhere on the property would be the community garden, chicken coop, goats (for milk), fruit orchard, flower garden, resale/craft/wood shop and possibly a health-care center.

The central kitchen could be a commercial kitchen which could also be used by the community for start-up food ventures. Maybe the SMART Center could sponsor projects there.

Residents would be valued members of the work force it takes to produce meals, clean up, and keep the grounds neat and gardens productive.

Outside of the “village” work or craft sales could translate into points toward earning your private room, amenities, etc. Some residents could volunteer to be kitchen helpers, gardeners, florists or care for animals or work in the resale/craft/wood shop.

Everyone can do something, even in the dorms, someone was responsible for passing out the mail. Skills like learning to knit or crochet hats, scarves and slippers, make quilts, or even sell recycled items one e-Bay can be taught, or give volunteers an opportunity to donate their time.

Some dorm rooms could have attached patios for those who prefer to sleep outside. Everyone “pays” their way to earn the right to stay, slowly graduating to a private room, then possibly an outside job, and a place of their own. What would it take? It is so important in life to feel you make a difference to someone, that your effort is valued, and out of happiness helping others, you can improve your own life.

Many of us moved out of our college dorm rooms with a roommate to an apartment where we shared space, then on to our jobs, apartment, marriages and families of our own. It is even getting tougher for those graduating with a college education these days to make the transition from college to the real world workplace, without assistance.

Unfortunately (but necessary), in our social welfare system, earning money by working only reduces the monthly government allotment, if it isn’t a substantial job. What is the incentive to get a minimum-wage job? It is a disabling system. No need to work translates to no visible value in the society. No self-esteem there, or hope of ever having a chance to move forward in baby steps.

 Getting something for doing nothing could be viewed as another kind of addiction: a hard habit to break. Even in raising healthy families, children work to earn allowance, making choices how to spend it, learning responsibility along the way.

We all appreciate more the times we’ve worked hard for something we earned. Do all the homeless receive Medi-Cal and food credits?

If other communities built these “umbrella” types of sheltered living areas, they could share resources or available spaces, offer classes and have access to public transportation or a community vehicle for appointments and work.

I wonder if we built it, would they even come? We can’t force anyone to better their lives. It was heartbreaking to read the accident involving the child of the 25-year-old mother, who with two other children was living in a tent.

Home Start in Roseville provides an apartment atmosphere and opportunities for women with children to move forward in life. Some community projects are working.

I think you’ve opened up the wound and started a conversation with your articles.Maybe we will look at the unsheltered differently, recognizing the scope of the problem. What are other communities doing to make a difference? There are many people and organizations who are already helping, and many others who want to do something. Maybe we will hear more about those efforts at the end of the series. I am hopeful!

George Washington Carver, a particular hero of mine, said, “How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”

It’s true.

Readers who wish to submit essays for consideration on anewscafe.com may email them to donig.anewscafe@gmail.com. Please keep essays 700 words or less, and include the writer’s name, short bio, city and photo. 

Lillie Minsart has been an educator for more than 34 years, most recently she as the co-founder and teacher at North Woods Discovery Charter School. She says that as a thinker and a dreamer, she recognize that “wishing is not good enough” when we can also do something to help.

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar david kerr says:

    Why do the homeless stay in the North State? Many places in California have better economies, milder climate and more compassionate citizens and local government. I am guessing that many of the local homeless returned after trying other locations. Occupy Wall Street has made the Bay Area and Eureka much more attractive.

  2. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    California has more than a third of the nation's welfare expense with something near 12% of its population. Building communities for illegal campers would be another layer of bureaucracy and cost. Certainly, one B-1 bomber for each city would pay for the program, but when will our already broke legislature or Congress rearrange the system? Liability and enforcement of rules would be a full time police position as witness the "Hen House Incident" just a few days ago. And the mother with the stroller was impaired by alcohol. Several years ago when Oregon instituted their work for welfare program two things happened rather immediately. Oregon's number of recipients plummeted while California's rose. The problems are daunting without people like Donald Hunt coming to realize they are the key to the solution(s). Barry Goldwater said that you can legislate brotherhood and the same can be said for responsibility. Meantime, precious public places are despoiled and desecrated.

  3. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    Oops! Meant "Can Not" legislate brotherhood.

  4. Avatar 4catz4me says:

    Little cottage communities sound lovely – and much too structured and mainstream for many of the people we're discussing. Some would undoubtedly be grateful, some would run for the hills. Yes, there are economic reasons and mental health reasons these folks are living on the fringes. Many, however, are unwilling to "cave in" to discipline and bow to rules just to have a little more security. Homeless camps are actually an interesting study in anarchy. Many have self-established rules of conduct, sharing, and some pretty strict do's and don'ts. Mainstreamers look at the homeless and say, "Oh, my! We must do something for them!". And so they set off on a path of do-goodism and enabling, surprised when their efforts are rebuffed or don't succeed. I understand the concerns. Certainly sanitation and human waste are health issues. Degradation of ecosystems is not acceptable. Lawlessness should not be tolerated. Vandalism and thievery are wrong. I'm not sure, however, that trying so step in and IMPOSE your ideas about how people should live is the way to fix this problem. And, may I ask, has anyone asked these people what kinds of assistance they might actually want or use? I mean, asking on a large scale, not just one or two people? And, perhaps most importantly, what they're willing to do for what they want in the way of assistance? I don't think whatever they receive should be for free. As a loose example, if they get food stamps, they should be out sweeping the streets – or something. I've been at the Post Office and listened to some of these folks loudly whining about how long they have to wait in line for their free money. Frankly, that irks me! Of course I think everyone should have a chance to better themselves and move forward. Of course dignity is important. Also important, though, is responsibility for your actions and the trail you leave behind. Surely there must be a meeting point somewhere between squelching and enabling. I'm glad this series has run and has provoked all this discussion. There must be programs somewhere that are working that we could learn from. It's past time for a community forum that includes members of the homeless population. It's unproductive, on any topic, to simply point fingers and throw barbs as some have done with their "time" on this page. We can do better – respectfully.

  5. Oy. Okay (not be confused with "Oy.")

    Lillie, you are amazing. But you know that I know that already. What I must thank you for is your own personal disclosure; we are only able to connect on a human level when we are willing to be vulnerable. I am truly humbled by your sharing.

    I am a proud military brat….there is not enough space here to explain what that means. But in this context it means: I grew up in a small (yet, GLOBAL) community that cares for its own. PERIOD.

    I am a Native Person and a Middle East scholar…..there is not enough space here to explain what that means. But in this context it means: I believe in the values inherent to traditional societies.

    I am the product of a family that had no money, but LOTS of ideas. My parents were both soldiers. My father IS the poster child for all that is good and right with the Catholic Church. My mother holds a masters in Ethics and Policy Studies and a PhD in Business Ethics.

    My parents were married at 18 and brought my brother and me with them on a journey that is textbook Americana.

    This series, the issue of homelessness is not about me. But it is.

    And it is about Lillie.

    And it is about YOU.

  6. Avatar Doug Bennett says:

    We have 45 million people in America living below the poverty level, and millions more living "from paycheck to paycheck" or one medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy or homelessness. The system is broken, and it is broken as a matter of policy decisions made by both political parties over the last 40 years.

    The corporate influence and resultant degradation of our system is the problem. Despite 4Catz feelings that "It's unproductive, on any topic, to simply point fingers …….", and the discomfort felt by some, we must recognize our responsibility for the situation. We, as citizens, have let this happen and even encourage it in the class system we have allowed to be put in place in our lifetimes. I am as guilty as any for not paying attention to this corruption while working and raising a family.

    We have to know how we got here and what type of morality underlies our attitudes and policies. We have to see ourselves clearly and understand the charitable attitudes we display will probably fall short of dealing with the coming calamity that I call predatory capitalism.

    That said, Lillie puts forth some good ideas in her article, and I would support any efforts that the community wants to put in place, especially for young families that simply have no alternatives. Just remember the U.S. lags far behind most European and Scandinavian countries in caring for their citizens. We should be asking ourselves, "Why is that?"

    Yes, "We can do better"; why haven't we???

    • Doug,

      I think that this issue raises the big question: "When capitalism fails, what do we do?"

      Minimum wage jobs will NOT sustain a person in CA. So then what?

      When the majority of jobs in a community are minimum wage, then what?

      When there is pandemic unemployment in a community where the majority of the jobs are minimum wage, then what?

      Truly, I'm asking….WHAT NOW??

  7. Avatar Adrienne Jacoby says:

    How to fix the unfix-able?? . . . but I refuse to accept that hope is hopeless. I believe that it was Jesus that said, " . . . the poor you will have with you always." But He did not indicate that we shouldn't attempt to help. The fact that Doni has opened up dialog on the subject . . . and the responses prove that there certainly is dialog. . . is several steps in the right direction.

  8. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Thanks for Lili's article, Doni. She puts forth many good ideas, but putting them together might be a problem. It will take many of our citizens to put them together. I don't think we can expect our government entities to do much. However, when they do, it costs much money. Then, too, there are so many who do not want help and may have mental problems. All mental hospitals closed when Gov. Reagan was in office.

  9. Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

    Doug,

    Thank you for your thoughtful, reasoned, and compassionate comments on this subject.

    Because of the huge upsurge in homelessness all over the country due to the economic factors you cite, local officials everywhere are attempting to paint every homeless person with the same broad brush – as drug-addicted "transients" who choose the life they live, and who place their addictions above all else. If the general public can be convinced that the homeless are either from somewhere else (and therefore not our responsibility), or that they aren't interested in the vast amount of help that is supposedly available (a myth), no action will be required other than to hound them out of the area so that they become someone else's problem.

    Local officials need to be far more amenable to projects like the one mentioned above. However, they have instead put onerous roadblocks in the path of facilities of that type, like the City of Redding's requirement that anyone who manages such a facility must have had at least two years experience managing an identical facility elsewhere in California. There is also the self-serving perception they've tried to create that there is already plenty of help available locally to address this mounting crisis, which leads to apathy among people who might otherwise help. The story of one or two people who have received an unusual amount of help does not mean that the same amount of help is available to the several thousand people who were documented as being homeless in this area in recent surveys.

    Lilli,

    Home Start is an outstanding program, and one that we could certainly use here given that we have far more homeless families in our area (mainly women with children). In fact, that is the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, both locally and nationally. Single-income families have little to fall back on, and the loss of a job can drive them into a crisis situation very quickly.

    I believe if you check, you will discover that Home Start not only stays filled to capacity, but that there is a waiting list (as is generally true of all projects of this type everywhere). I don't think you need to worry about finding people interested in seeking out help, if only it was available.

    • Patrecia,

      THANK YOU for weighing in.

      So what do we do? As a community, what is the answer? There are those who want desperately to be part of the solution.

      Some of us are actively trying to be part of the a solution.

      I'm glad you are here.

  10. Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

    Thank you, Bridgette.

    I have a couple of ideas. As you may know, the state mandates that at least twenty percent of all tax increments generated in redevelopment zones (which comprise large portions of Redding) are to be devoted to low-income and affordable housing to replace the vast amounts of low-income housing destroyed through redevelopment activities. Billions of dollars have accumulated in these funds state-wide simply because most cities don't want low-income housing in their respective areas (it doesn't produce the tax revenue generated by more upscale housing or other projects). Redding was no exception – it accumulated millions of unspent dollars in that particular fund.

    Redevelopment agencies are in the process of being eliminated by the state, largely (I believe) because most RA's used this money for special-interest projects that were of little benefit to the general population, rather than for its intended purpose.

    However, they have a second chance. Money from low-income and affordable housing funds are being redistributed to California cities on the condition that this money is actually spent to create or rehabilitate low-income and affordable housing in one or more of the approved forms.

    San Diego (link below) has done some great things with its housing fund, which includes supportive transitional housing for the general population – something we desperately need in this area. The City of Redding has helped to finance what is basically a small facility for families whose heads of household are recovering substance abusers (heavily religion-oriented), and has contributed small amounts to special needs facilities and one or two other small projects. There is next to nothing here for mainstream victims of the economy – particularly women with children. Supportive transitional housing is an approved use of these funds.

    http://www.sandiego.gov/redevelopment-agency/ah.s

    And as I believe I mentioned under another article, some cities and counties have pooled their resources to purchase vacant apartment complexes for sale, to be used as transitional housing facilities for homeless families. These places are basically self-supporting since residents are required to contribute one-third of their incomes toward rent. They may have a social worker in charge of directing the program, but many of the classes and other practical help residents receive come from qualified volunteers. Residents are required to either be working, looking for work, or in school or training as a condition of staying there. Most stay less than 6 months, but people completing school or training may stay for up to two years. Residents are also required to save a certain portion of their income each month toward permanent housing.

    There is so much that could be done if there was a strong enough will, but we would need a partnership between the community and local officials. Unfortunately, those officials seem much more interested in ridding the area of what I feel they consider the "surplus poor" than in helping victims of our devastated economy recover.

    • Patrecia,

      I am meeting with my friend who is the Housing Manager for a So. Cal. city Redevelopment Agency, next week. He is passionate about this cause and has spent more than 20 years working in Redevelopment in the LA area. One of his most successful accomplishments was to create a contract with a slumlord to establish affordable rents for a 15 year period of time and in exchange, the city paid to re-roof and make other much needed improvements to his apartment buildings.

      I will be in touch and hopefully a group of people can come together who are willing to help address this shortfall in our community.

  11. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Patrecia, you just reminded me of a "low-income" housing development that was built a couple of years ago in Redding. The homes were small, but the starting price for an "affordable home" was over $200,000.

  12. Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

    That's wonderful Bridgette. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

  13. Avatar Patrecia Barrett says:

    Joanne,

    If that's the project I'm thinking of, the City of Redding gave a private developer a million or so dollars from the low-income and affordable housing fund to help finance an upscale subdivision on the condition that he include a small number of "affordable homes" in a future project – not even the one for which he received the funding.

    That's just one of the ways in which this funding has been abused.

  14. Avatar Lori's Antiques says:

    Dear Doni, and Dear readers and commentator's,

    I must say I am completely over-whelmed by the educated responses written here and the level of intellect used by most! It truly says a lot about our hearts, and the ability of ANEWSCAFE.COM to reach out to so many! BRILLIANT addition to the series, and a HUGE thank you to LILLIE for such an uplifting, concerned citizen approach to the needs so BIG here in the North State and all around us! As many of you know, (if you know me), I am a HUGE advocate of cat rescue, spay/neuter programs etc. to help stop the killing of MILLIONS OF OUR COMPANION ANIMAL'S EVERY YEAR! I started my own non-profit program almost a year ago called FAITHFULFELINEFRIENDS.ORG….Our goal is a roving spay/neuter mobile to offer assistance to all in this area and hopefully around the globe one day! I know from personal experience we have to make an attempt at starting somewhere, no matter the difficulties in the experience. Without each other, and only TOGETHER can we make a difference in each walk of life! Just because I work primarily on cat rescue, (my heart & soul) does not mean that these other issues are not important to me! They ARE in a HUGE way! Please feel free to include me in any meeting's, forums, get-together's etc. I would be proud to assist any way I can! I have an easy location to access with great parking etc. for a drop-off sight for donations etc. We have been collecting all things warm and needed for our "less fortunate" citizen's for the past month in an effort to help where assistance is needed. Please, keep me informed if in any way I can participate in HELPING! With a full time business, and a non-profit my hours by day are a bit limited, but my heart is NOT! I would be PROUD to PARTICIPATE! Thank you to each of you for such caring concerned responses to this series! Thank you Doni for the courage and fortitude needed to address the series from every angle! With every voice & with every piece of information, we HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHANGE ALL THINGS! "TOGETHER!" God bless you all and have a beautiful day! ~Lori~

  15. Avatar Lillie says:

    Thanks Bridgette, Dave, Patrecia, Lori and others who continue to add so thoughtfully to the discussion…because I think if it continues it may lead us in a purposeful direction. I am willing to do something…maybe a meeting of those interested in gathering information to start. There seem to be other programs and developed housing plans already working somewhere we might research or visit and bring before the community.

    Bridgette, I only know you by the tip of your industrious iceberg…but I know you to be a person who makes things happen…and it’s all good. My personal family has had many struggles…but by my Italian father's hard-working example, and unconditional love…he kept everyone and everything together and happy. If every family had one tower of strength…maybe there would be fewer people in such trouble. Social support shouldn’t become a lifestyle. I agree with some of the programs mentioned to assist those who need it, while helping themselves. (D.J. what a great example of personal resiliency!) There are probably as many success stories about those who moved on to become independent…we just don’t hear about them.

    Drug and alcohol abuse also changes the picture very quickly, and it is more difficult than ever to just go home and regroup when your life seems to be headed for trouble. Not everyone who needs a place to go is on alcohol or drugs…and not everyone has a welcoming home. But it would help. Twenty years ago after I divorced and moved to Redding with two young children, I was on my last $50 before finally landing a teaching job. My backup plan was to go home and regroup. That was always a choice and my family sent one more month's rent… I am thankful to say I never had to cash it. My father said, "You are smart and strong, you can get through this." Apparently, there are many resources for those who find themselves without a safety net. I'd like to learn more.

    If anyone wants to pick a place and time to meet…count me in.

  16. Avatar Grammy Day says:

    I am a retired senior with a back round of working with at risk youth,and a willingness to donate time and experience .Many young people don't reach their potential because they are expected to go it alone after exiting the system at age 18. Many wind up on the streets. There are some really good ideas presented here and though I am not an organizer I would certainly like to be of help, how can I stay abreast of what is needed?

  17. Avatar Vickie says:

    About 200 churches here in the Redding area?……each one "adopts" the care of ten homeless ones?……..or provide a bus/train ticket to their family's location? Just a thought or two for some sort of solution to this sad situation.

    I lived in my car for two weeks, once, while waiting for a rental apartment to vacate when I was a broke, starving student, and too ashamed to contact family and friends for help. Have hosted the homeless in my home several times recently. And, these are educated, unemployed persons in dire straits so grateful for a hot bowl of stew and a shower…… not the usual stereotype, either.

    There's a guy who passes out warm hats and gloves to the homeless, helping out in a small but significant way………….

    • Avatar Lillie says:

      I am learning about the effort of many churches in Sacramento who now bus individuals (not families) to a different church each evening for a hot dinner, shower, and place to sleep out of the weather. The next morning they are taken by bus back to the same meeting spot. Individuals cannot be drunk or high to get on the bus and that alone has helped some individuals want to stay sober. I heard briefly on the news this morning that there are over 1000 homeless in Redding after a count was made….and that the number had not changed from last year, so at least it may not be increasing.

      This is the People of Progress website with exact numbers and statistics:
      http://www.peopleofprogress.org/survey.htm

  18. Avatar Vickie says:

    Have you met the guy sitting on the bench at the railroad tracks across from the Downtown Post Office? His name is Anthony. He's been there awhile, bandaged feet & almost toothless. Loves homemade soup, and always has a smile. When it rains, he moves to the overhang at the Downtown Amtrak Depot.

    How about the "Marlboro Man" who wanders from Eureka Way to Placer St. in all kinds of weather? Lean, blonde, man in brown jacket. Pour him a cup of coffee, buy him a sandwich & listen to his story.

    And Blonde Barbara who lurches between Buenaventura and Court Street? Always needs a dollar for cigarettes. Usually drunk by 8 a.m. each day. Life has been painful for her.

    Can you even SEE these people? Are they at all VISIBLE to you? Remember, they were/are LOVED…….someone's child, sister or brother! Why aren't they being cared for in THIS LAND OF PLENTY?