So Many Homeless That They Need Their Own Census Count

Today – for 24  hours – Shasta County’s homeless will be counted as part of a “point in time” census conducted by the City of Redding and Shasta County’s Homeless Continuum of Care. It’s an annual event.

I don’t need to wait for the results to tell me what you and I already know. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, especially in the downtown Redding area where I live: The numbers of homeless – or people who appear homeless – are increasing at a jaw-dropping rate.

I don’t know whether these homeless are locals , or, as some people opine, that the majority of these homeless have flocked to Shasta County because they’ve heard that the north state is a homeless promised land.

Either way, we have a homeless problem of epic proportions. Drive around Redding any day – not just the homeless-census-counting day – and you’ll see scores of seemingly homeless men and women. They’re prominently scattered around South City Park, Library Park, Lake Redding Park, the ravine off Lake Boulevard, under the Cypress and Highway 44 bridges, in front of the post office, along Highway 273 and deep inside Henderson Open Space. Shopping centers all over town now seem an especially popular place for the homeless to not just hold signs, but wander the parking lots like zombies, asking shoppers for money.

Last year, someone – the police suspect a homeless person – smashed my car window with a cinder block in the Cypress Square Shopping Center, to grab my purse that I left (stupidly, I know) on the floor inside my locked car.

Here at we wrote a series last year about Redding’s unsheltered homeless, and covered the story from many angles. The problem seems worse now than ever.

We can argue until the cows come home about how the homeless got int0 such dire straits. We can blame substance abuse, mental illness, crimes, economic disasters, unemployment, laziness and irresponsibility. But the fact remains that these are human beings living unbathed, unsheltered and exposed in all kinds of weather in a way that most of us wouldn’t allow a mutt to subsist.

Please don’t tell me these homeless are living joy-filled lives, or that they are happy campers who love being homeless, or that they feel proud of the way they live, or that they wake up each morning with a spring in their step as they anticipate another glorious day.

I won’t believe it, any more than I believe that being homeless and existing like a feral animal on the run, rummaging through trash and picking up used cigarette butts, was why they were born – their reason for living.

Their dubious distinction of being homeless has placed them in an other-world where somehow, it’s OK with society that this entire sub-class of fellow human beings are nearly invisible. We step over them. We look beyond them. We avoid eye contact. For God’s sake, we certainly don’t touch them.

If you saw me sitting in the gutter with my head in my hands, or if I saw you lying on the sidewalk, we’d rush to help each other. Right? But the homeless have become so prevalent that they’ve been transformed into nearly inanimate objects, an unfortunate blot on the landscape.

We adapt. We know to watch for weaving homeless in crosswalks who stagger across the street against a red light. We expect to see homeless panhandling with signs – sometimes a variety of signs – at the Lowe’s entrance or at the intersection near the downtown Safeway, a store that’s hired uniformed security guards to help put shoppers’ minds at ease.

Our cities and citizens suffer, too. For example, you couldn’t pay me to take my 2-year-old grandson to play on the colorful playground equipment at South City Park. We’d first have to navigate a gauntlet of homeless, which would be scary, not because there’s anything frightening about someone who lacks a home, but because many of the homeless are seriously mentally ill, or under the influence of Lord knows what. So the park belongs to the homeless by default.

Likewise, there was a time when I felt comfortable walking in my former south-Redding neighborhood after dark, or walking the Sacramento River Trail alone at daybreak. No longer. Call me a coward, because I am.

Yes, programs do exist to help those homeless willing to participate and cooperate with rules and who believe in a future. Those who succeed turn into the poster children for hope and rehabilitation. But what should we do about the perpetually homeless, those who say they prefer to live on the streets? Then what? Put them in jail? Jail, for many homeless, would be a welcome change from where they live now.

I bring this up because of what happened Monday evening at the Ross’ Dress for Less parking lot. As I drove in, I noticed probably half a dozen scruffy looking guys with matted hair and soiled clothes. Some had dogs on leashes, and sat with their backs against the building. Others stood and talked with each other. One young bearded man sat far from the group, with a massive backpack, his head down, as if asleep.

I remembered I had some Christmas cards in my car that someone had given me, especially to give to the homeless during the holidays. Yes, I know the consensus is it’s a mistake to give money to the homeless, rather, it’s better to direct them to places that serve food to the homeless. But each envelope  included a hand-made card, a kind message, wishes for a good new year and a $5 McDonald’s gift card. I’d been aware of not wanting to give the cards to downtown homeless, because there are no McDonald’s downtown. So Monday on Hilltop Drive was perfect, just a block from McDonald’s.

I put the cards in my pocket, and sure enough, when I left the store I was approached by a heavy-set blond woman in dirty clothes. Her hair was greasy and her face was dotted with sores. She said she was hungry, and asked if I could “spare” any money. I pulled two of the envelopes from my pocket and told her they contained $10 in McDonald’s gift cards. She looked blankly at me, then mumbled thanks and then restarted her journey around the parking lot where she continued going from shopper to shopper with the same spiel: Excuse me, can you spare some money so I can buy some food?

So much for the holiday gift card idea.

A much better idea would be if our country took care of our mentally ill, and veterans, and the unemployed, and aged-out foster kids, and the uneducated, and the parolees and the sick and the poor.

Only then would the homeless numbers dwindle to the point where there’d be nothing left to count.

What a wonderful day would be be.

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.
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37 Responses

  1. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:

    No argument here with your observations of our epidemic rise in numbers of those who lack any sense of personal responsibility. Certainly, there are those who have mental illness which once was institutionalized. The percentage of the total wandering the streets is not known, perhaps not knowable. However, those who can construct a donated tent, chop down a five inch diameter tree with a hatchet, move camp quickly when cited, find the same once nice chair in the library, urinate in it rather than use the restroom, print hand lettered cardboard signs and perform dozens of other complex tasks are likely not ill, but are living on the edge of anarchy in the civilized world. And we are enabling this behavior. It's the new politically correct rage: rights without any responsibility. When Tom Ammiano's AB 5 passes, the "right" to urinate in public will be law as will the "right" to camp on any public property, sleep in any location and other "rights" of being human without need for exercise of in any form of being responsible.

    We have the current milieu following years of being tolerant, allowing Twinkies to rule our thinking, permitting a social cancer to degrade our natural spaces, threaten our neighborhoods, ruin our public buildings. My great grandmother sheltered bums off the railroad, but she stopped when one came who was infested with bed bugs. Her logic is lost on our times. Newborns need support; adults should be able to deport themselves as human first, then there can be some compassion.

    • Avatar CoachBob says:

      Glad you put that together. I couldn't have come up with the great words that describe my feelings exactly. Thanks for saying what I've felt for a long, long time.

    • Avatar ReddingBob says:

      Your comments challenge us to accept you as a rational human being when you write that homeless folks prefer to "urinate in (a library chair) rather than use the restroom," and that such persons "are likely not ill."

      Do you really believe such prejudicial stuff? Do you really think homeless folks get up in the morning with plans to go urinate in a library chair?

      This is the sort of thinking that causes continued prejudice against the homeless and leads to an increase of this serious social problem.

  2. Avatar ReddingBob says:

    Doni, I'm afraid you crossed the line of objective journalism when you wrote: "Some shoppers have been accosted by purse-snatchers in these parking lots, as recently as Monday near the Food Maxx parking lot at around 11 a.m. Last month, a woman was knocked unconscious by someone who stole her purse." — There is no evidence that I know of (nor any that you cite) indicating any homeless person was involved in these crimes.

    I am, however, encouraged by your attestation: "If you saw me sitting in the gutter with my head in my hands, or if I saw you lying on the sidewalk, we'd rush to help each other." — Hence I'd like to invite you to "rush to help" and participate as a volunteer at Redding's Project Homeless Connect this June 4 at the Civic Auditorium.

  3. Avatar PB says:

    Perhaps a little more research was warranted before writing this article.

    This area provides far fewer services and facilities for the homeless than most other areas. Shasta County's only so-called "homeless shelter" (the Mission) devotes much of its limited space to state prison parolees from all over California, and on the several occasions I've called People of Progress on behalf families or individuals who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, I've been told by POP staff that they are "mainly about food and clothes". Shasta County is NOT a welcoming place for the homeless.

    In addition, many panhandlers are not homeless, and most homeless people do not panhandle.

    How unfortunate that both Randall Smith's comment and this article stereotype the homeless as criminals and ungrateful beggers based on what appears to be nothing but personal prejudice and speculation.

    • Welcome back to the conversation, PB.

      Just to clarify, I didn't provide an assessment of our region's homeless services. That's another subject.

      My point was my observation of a glaring increase in the north state's homeless population.

      I don't see all homeless as ungrateful beggers, but I'm probably kidding myself if I hand a homeless person a McDonald's card because the homeless woman "said" she wanted food, when we both know is that what she really wants is money to buy whatever. Was I surprised? No.

      I do question the way our society has dealt with the homeless. After spending months working on the Unsheltered Homeless series, I visited many homeless encampments that were strewn with scores of cardboard signs with various messages that basically boiled down to asking for money.

      Do all homeless panhandle? No, of course not. Are all panhandlers homeless? No.

      But what struck me as I worked on the series was that many of the homeless services were understandably triage-like, and treated the immediate needs: Food, tents, sleeping bags, while what remains undone is addressing and repairing the core reason for the person's homelessness in the first place.

      I realize that not all homeless are mentally ill, either, but I think at some point even a mentally healthy person would develop some serious mental issues after living in a suspended state of depression, physical discomfort, poor hygiene, angst, poverty and humiliation.

      It seemed so strange to me to see church groups, for example, feed homeless people, then everyone goes home and the homeless return to sleep beneath bridges and in parks and in wooded areas. And what else could the homeless helpers do? Take the homeless home with them? Not likely. I wouldn't.

      I realize that to address the base causes of homelessness, and gain the tools to lift people out of homelessness, it would require an infusion and dedication to far many more mental health and substance abuse resources and lots more money and caseworkers and manpower, all of which are in short supply.

      So where do we go now?

    • Avatar Scott says:

      You are not the only person I have seen remark that the GNRM is a bastion for parolees from hither and yon. Unfortunately, I am not so sure this is the case. Without disclosing where I work, I will say my occupation places me very regular contact with the recently released offenders. Very few of the folks I deal with are actually staying at the mission on a regular basis. Most of the transients I deal with are "couch surfing" or living in established illegal camp sites, which Doni has done a great job discussing in prior articles (I know I am polishing the apple!). What you and others may be referring to is the GNRM inpatient substance abuse recovery programs. I will readily and happily concede that many of the residents of the inpatient programs are on parole or some form of probation. The recovery programs offered by the GNRM are precisely where these probationers/parolees SHOULD be. Just my 2 cents.

  4. Avatar Puzzled says:

    Well put Doni. It seems like folks get more upset if there are potholes in the road then the reality that we are not taking very good care of the mentally ill, veterans, unemployed, aged-out foster kids, the uneducated, parolees, and the sick and the poor. A change in circumstance and any of us could be homeless.

  5. Avatar Canda says:

    I'm currently reading An Invisible Thread. It's the true story of a successful ad sales rep in Manhattan, and a homeless, eleven-year-old panhandler on the street. She kept walking when he asked her for spare change, then something caused her to go back to him. She took him to lunch, and a friendship began that has been going on for nearly 30 years. Maurice, now married with a family of his own, credits this angel, Laura, for saving his life.

    I'm thinking, what if each one of us could become a positive influence in the life of a homeless individual? Since Maurice was a child when he met Laura, and hadn't taken drugs, he had a fighting chance. The problem with so many of our homeless (including Maurice's mother) is the dependence on/addiction to drugs. After years of drug use, and possible mental illness, rescuing a homeless adult seems less likely, but not impossible.

    Scenarios such as Doni described, where the woman wanted money rather than food, are heart-breaking because that money will most likely buy drugs. This book I'm reading is a beautiful story. Maybe by the time I finish it, I'll gain more insight in reaching out to our homeless population. One thing I do believe, is that we should not treat them as invisible, and a smile goes a long way. If giving food or money is against your policy, a friendly smile costs nothing, and could make an otherwise miserable person feel like a human being. After all, they are all our fellow men, women, and children.

  6. Avatar Pamela says:

    It's all very curious that we don't have money to help the homeless and/or the mentally ill. Mental health facilities continue to be shut down. Yet, we are willing to spend up to 1 Billion+ dollars for hellfire missiles II, a preferred weapon of choice, in Afghanistan, that end up killing civilians. Something is wrong with these priorities.

  7. Avatar Michael Allison says:

    This is a heartbreaking problem. Thanks for raising the issue. It is complicated, especially in this area. There are many different types of homeless here, as you discussed in your article and others related in their comments. I am not ready to judge anyone who has not been able, for whatever reason, to live up to the requirements of acceptable behavior in our society. Life is hard in the modern world for everyone, at all times. But we are living now in the midst of a near depression. Home foreclosures and job losses have hit record highs in recent years — so I think it is important to distinguish one type of homeless person from another.

    I never give money to the young dread-headed hipsters who populate our streets. These kids are on the road by choice. They won't go home to their parents and get back in community college, until they get very hungry. I try to distinguish these types from the truly mentally ill. Older people, and families with children, get my sympathy much more readily. Before giving money to anyone, ask them a few questions. It will become clear very quickly whether they are mentally ill, (addicts are in this category,) or have had setbacks that are no fault of their own, and truly need the compassion of our community. I applaud you, and The News Cafe, for raising this important issue. There is much more to be said about the problem, and many more details to uncover to get to real solutions.

  8. By the way, on a related note, at 6 p.m. tonight Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti will hold the first of what he hopes will be quarterly town hall meeting at the Redding City Hall chambers.

    Tonight he will discuss crime statistics, recent trends, and response times, among other topics.

  9. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:

    Here is a modest proposal for those worried about rational thinking concerning motive, capacity and/or desire of those who destroy public property. Please spend a day with Community Service Officer Robert Brannon. His contact is through either Redding Police Department or Solid Waste. He works incessantly for both and has for more than the ten years he has been showing me his incredible burden. The types and quantity of material discarded, the damage done everyday in Redding are simply mind numbing. No source will label their donation, a sure sign of enabling mentality, feel better, but do not address the problem.

    Whether someone kills his neighbor with a splitting mall, shoots out a light on a new bridge, ruins new furniture at the library, camps on public property, paints letters on concrete, steals a purse or a hundred other infractions, they are breaking the law. If we are a nation of laws and not men, then there has to be some form of recovery, at least some common notion that what has happened needs to cease and should not be tolerated or excused further. TR's advice rings as clear today as a hundred years ago. Problem is we do not choose to listen.

    "Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive."

    Theodore Roosevelt

    And before that came a warning no one believes today, but reality is getting frightfully close.

    "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

    Abraham Lincoln

    • Avatar ReddingBob says:

      And once again we have scapgoating without evidence. You show your prejudice when you say: "Whether someone kills his neighbor with a splitting mall, shoots out a light on a new bridge, ruins new furniture at the library, camps on public property, paints letters on concrete, steals a purse or a hundred other infractions, they are breaking the law."

      Why do you assume every crime you dislike is caused by a homeless person? — Doni was matutre enough to admit her mistake in the original version of this article. How about you?

      • Uh, Redding Bob, please re-read Randy's comment.

        He did not claim those crimes were all caused by a homeless person.

        His point, as I understood that passage, referred to a wide range of laws broken and consequences.

        • Avatar ReddingBob says:

          In his first post he refers to urinating on a library chair and living in a donated tent. Here, again, he speaks of someone who "ruins new furniture at the library, camps on public property…" He is very clearly talking about someone who is homeless.

  10. Avatar StJude says:

    Hi Randall

    Have any Bible Scripture to back your anti homeless stance ?

  11. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    Randall is pretty close to right in his assessment of the homeless, in my experience. I live downtown, and I talk to folks on the street. A lot of them are out of their minds, one way or another, though many exceptions exist. A lot of them are pretty scary. Nonetheless, they are still our brothers and sisters, and we should help them if we can. Some of them can reclaim their lives.

    My concern is that we may now have a permanent underclass created by our culture of welfare entitlement, shutting down of the mental health facilities, and wholesale release of prisoners. Perhaps we need to re-think our approach to all three of these factors.

  12. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    I think it was Jesus that said, "the poor ye shall have with you always." Sad but true comment on the human condition.

    I don't give money or gift cards ( I have done that in the past), however, If I see a homeless person as I'm headed to a fast food place, I will buy an extra meal for them. I was stopped in my tracks a while back, though, when the person I was trying to give the food to, stated that she was a vegan and couldn't eat the hamburger.

  13. Avatar Barbara N. says:

    Sorry, but sometimes they are quite rude and gross. Easier to take a crap right here than maybe walk 500 yards to a porta potty. Same with the garbage. I've seen it. If they want any kind of respect from me…they better try to earn it.

  14. Avatar Michael Allison says:

    When the super-rich keep getting super-richer, (see the stock market,) and the middle class gets poorer and poorer, and the poor get even more destitute, the streets will start looking more like a third world country. Something must be done about income inequality. The super-rich need to contribute more to America, as all good patriots, who can afford to, would do.

  15. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    That was a very interesting editorial Doni. I recall downtown Redding in the 50's and 60's was populated with beggers on Market St. It was legal if they had something to give you like a pencil in exchange for a donation. Not all these folks were homeless, I'm sure, but at the end of the day some of them wandered into Pioneer Liquor for their daily bottle.

    Just this summer, while staying a few days in Arcada, my wife and I noticed several people on street corners with "Please help, need food " or "Stranded, Please help!"

    Begging and homelessness has been a nationwide problem for years. It's good that helping people continue to discuss the problem and someday real solutions will be found sooner than never. Keep up the constructive solutions and think large.

  16. Avatar Magnolia Neighborhoo says:

    The homeless encampment at the end of Butte Street in the old quarry on City of Redding land, an open-space fly-over from Benton Airpark, is truly heartbreaking & sad! Large tents, trash & clothing strewn, etc. Running water nearby in small creek. Survival of the fittest? Also solo folks camping near the old gold mine near the old dump. Another enterprising soul has a camoflauged tent up the hill just east of the Vibra Hospital near the large boulders. And at the top of the stairs to the river trail, at the end of Mary Ave. (not too far from the preschool) there's an on-again-off-again camp. Another young guy, with his skateboard, sleeps under the trees near the 1949 bench of the old high school. At the northeast corner of Eurka Way/Buenaventura down near the creek, there are usually two or three tents. In a recent walk on the Salt Creek Trail, there was a camp, complete with a new Holy Bible, right at the top of the trail to the Sacramento Rive. I keep noticing this stuff on my walks with the dog. Churches sit empty most of the week, and there are 200 churches in the Redding area……..

  17. Avatar Magnolia Neighborhoo says:

    Ooops…correction….River….my pinkie finger must not have pressed the keyboard sufficiently.

    • Avatar Michael Allison says:

      Very interesting idea, Magnolia! 200 churches? And lots of other empty buildings around too? It gets the ideas flowing. What if we started some kind of community business that some of these folks could participate in? I was thinking about a ceramic tile business, or something like that. Minimal equipment. Minimal training needed. I'm sure somebody could think of a better idea to get these folks working, and feeling better about themselves. Whatever services are provided for people, we must provide an opportunity for them to be earned, through work, I think.

  18. Avatar Lillie says:

    In Sacramento, many churches which have empty community meeting places in the evenings are opening their doors to homeless individuals (no families). Rotating church facilities provide dinner, breakfast in the morning…a place to clean up…and bus transportation to ? That's what seems to be lacking…something productive to do with their time during the day. Maybe they could be invited (required..too strong??) to help keep the community clean (clean-up homeless camps)…litter patrol…collect recyclables…help in community or church gardens, etc. in exchange for a warm place to stay and meals. It's a start to being productive and possibly referred to health services as needed…job training if motivated…

    Successful, sustainable programs attract federal funding, grants, donations to model for other communities. Just Google: Successful Homeless Programs There are many…we need to help those already doing it in Shasta County…and look at the many examples available to do it better.

    The Ten Essentials is a guide to help communities identify effective permanent solutions to homelessness:

    Where do our city officials stand on the issues presented in this article? "Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti will hold the first of what he hopes will be quarterly town hall meeting at the Redding City Hall chambers….dated… January 30th" What happened??

  19. Doni: Thank You for your work on this challenge facing our community. There

    are a few in our mist that feel empowered enough to want to lord over others in

    our community unable to stand up for themselves. Lacking in almost all the

    meetings held on the subject, all the articles written and all the attention now being

    given to these people by the Redding Police Department, are the testimonies of these

    people and what hell a few agencies are putting them through. Please, pictures of buckets

    full of crap holes where people actually evacuate their bowels. This attempt by

    RPD to further demonize this group of homeless and homeless pan-handlers has

    become uglier than they will ever be. Please take some time, as uncomfortable as

    it must be to some of you to put some faces on these homeless, many of them are

    relatives of the people living in this community and others surrounding it.

    While we picketed at CR Gibbs today, the last minute meeting of the Anti-Homeless/

    Anti-Panhandling Crime Fighters were having lunch and planning their next move.

    Sure as I'm still breathing, their future plans were being scuttled. See below.

    californiakayaker writes: 6

    This just in, Begging you to take something (ie. A pamphlet from a tea beggar, and begging you to give you something, as in a homeless vet ) are both constitutionally protected!

    SPEECH NEWS Calif. judge: Much of town’s panhandling ban is unconstitutional ASSOCIATED PRESS WIRE REPORT Thursday, September 27, 2012 ARCATA, Calif. —A judge says a Northern California coastal city’s law banning non-aggressive panhandlers within 20 feet of stores, intersections and parking lots is mostly unconstitutional. Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen released his ruling yesterday, saying the ban can only be enforced near unenclosed ATMs and on public transit vehicles. The college town 280 miles north of San Francisco has long has been a magnet for vagrants who beg for money, booze or pot. The anti-panhandling law was passed two years ago. The Los Angeles Times quoted from Reinholtsen’s ruling: “Arcata may not restrict solicitation merely because it makes people uncomfortable. To put it simply, speech rights prevail in a public forum (e.g., public parks, streets, etc.) in the absence of unique circumstances.”

    Please insert Redding in Place of Arcata above.

  20. Ephesians 6:10-18

    New International Version (NIV)

    The Armor of God

    10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

    18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.


    16. Today the flaming arrows of the evil ones bounced of the shields of faith back

    to those who sent them.