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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As a past long-term resident, and current property owner in Redding, I have been asked to share our experiences regarding transients and homeless individuals– as they have profoundly impacted our lives.
In addition to our “story” we have recommendations to share that may help in resolving this growing, perplexing and controversial problem.
As professionals, my wife and I had the opportunity to choose the community in which we would raise our family. We studied all of California and moved to Redding with our family in the summer of 1986 because we found it to be a friendly, safe community with many qualities not found anywhere else. The river running through town, mountains for camping and hiking as well winter activities, lakes for fishing and water sports were conveniently close. We enjoyed walking through the mall in the evenings and felt very comfortable and secure. The community offered many opportunities for us to give back as well.
It was a wonderful place.
After renting houses for five years, we were able to own a home. And were provided a dream come true … to have an office on the Sacramento River at the end of what is now called Smile Place.
A physician had built a beautiful office at this location after the city required him to deed the frontage between his office and the river to be an extension of a proposed park. North of this location was a “community garden” where Vietnamese folks grew vegetables. Getting to know them was special as they were hard-working people and did a good job of maintaining the area.
In time, the City ended their agricultural activities. The City designated the garden area, the land below our offices and the land extending to the Cypress Street Bridge as a park.
Over the following years, the park lay dormant and weeds, bushes, and trees grew– acting as great cover for transients. For the most part, the transients were fairly discrete in their activities and were tolerated. As time went by, however, both the number of transients and their impactful behaviors became more public — to the point of where they are today.
During this time we maintained the “City-owned park” land below our property by keeping it clear of brush and cutting the weeds on a regular basis. On occasions, we would clean up the adjacent park area as well but were told by the City that they did not want us doing so because of liability. We understood and did everything we could to encourage its maintenance and development, including paying for the surface paving over 200 feet of public street at its dead-end to improve its appearance to discourage unwelcome visitors.
One Saturday night, while out of town, we received a call from our daughter who lived in the small house next door to our offices. One of the buildings was on fire. It turned out that it had been doused with gasoline and torched. To this day, no one knows who committed the crime. Needless to say it cost a very significant amount of money, time and emotion to rebuild.
After several years of doing everything we could to encourage the City to maintain the park, in addition to our occasional maintenance contributions, the transient problem continued to grow.
On a Friday morning in 2008 my daughter, her husband and I were in the office parking lot when a transient was smashing a car window of one of our tenants who had parked his car at the end of Smile Place. Being 50 feet away, I yelled “hey” twice as he continued to smash the window. Since he did not stop, I gave my phone to my daughter and told her to call the police while her husband and I took off after the criminal. We ran through the park and were able to point the police to where he was hiding.
Following this event, my leg ached for two months at which time it was revealed to have a clot extending the full length of the leg. This ended my professional career, as sitting or standing aggravated the damaged vein and valve, resulting in swelling and additional clotting. We moved to a climate that supported year round activity to remain active … a necessity to keep the leg healthy.
Since then, the transient activities have increased. For many years we left our building’s water spigots and electrical outlets available for folks to use. After several incidents of water left running all weekend long and stealing of electrical components and emptying the Freon from the air conditioning units, we decided it was time to erect a 6 foot iron fence. Although this has reduced trespassing on the property, there are more transients and much more aggressive behavior in the park area, as well as throughout the city. Needless to say, the homeless and transients have had a profound impact on our lives.
It is time to stop this madness before it chases more folks out of Redding by tolerating more and more homeless, transients and expelled criminals.
Prior to moving to Redding, we lived in Carson City, Nevada. With a number of concerned citizens, we formed an organization to serve homeless men, women and children– as it was becoming a significant problem, especially during winter. We were able to use two large vacant school buildings. We cleaned the buildings, provided beds, etc. and cleared the surrounding area and even tilled a large patch for the folks to garden. We had clear expectations, including a maximum 30 day stay limit, hygiene requirements and required them to report to the unemployment office on a regular basis to actively seek work.
After six months we realized that we were enablers and had attracted an overwhelming number of transients. The word had spread far and wide about what we were offering. There were fights and other personal issues as well. We could not get folks to leave who refused to conform to the established rules. This great idea turned into a nightmare and the facility was shut down within the year. What we learned was that, by offering better opportunities for homeless than elsewhere, the system became overwhelmed. It seems to be happening in Redding today.
No matter how much we care or do, if this trend of increasing numbers of homeless intermixed with criminals, is allowed to continue, the city of Redding will be overcome.
Good folks will leave, property values and tax revenues will diminish, police and community programs will be overwhelmed and transients will increase until the vicious cycle ruins this amazing community. No one wins, including the homeless.
It is time to “man up” and put on “big boy pants” and make hard decisions.
There is a limit to how much any one community can handle … period. No amount of compassion or care can change that fact. Indeed, the more we allow, the more inhumane it is for folks to live in our parks, river banks, canyons and doorsteps who not only require safety but also hygiene facilities. During one clean-up of the river-front property, a human latrine was found to be 75 feet long and only a few feet from the river. This was not only inhumane, but a serious health problem and huge pollution disaster for the Sacramento River.
The bottom line is Redding must determine what its limits are, what services it can provide and how many homeless it can serve. The city must determine how to firmly move the excess capacity along. Frankly, this has been a problem for an extremely extended time and the solutions will most likely come from outside the realm of the politicians and bureaucrats who have had authority and opportunity to correct this for many years prior.
Who will step up to address this crisis? If the community does not come together, unified in resolve and focused on direction to work out this problem, it will be a disgrace to Redding and its citizens and certainly impact its ability to serve even a modest number of this needy group of folks.
Conclusion: An assessment needs to be made of  the current available community services,  what (if any) can be added  identifying the various needs of the homeless,  how many can be served, and [5 ] what to do to help the remaining folks move on.
How this comes to pass may necessitate a residency requirement, psychiatric care, participation in humane programs and a call for civil (self-manageable, respectful) behavior to be part of the mix. In addition, an ordinance should be established defining what and where caring citizens can serve. This should eliminate any feeding or passing out clothing and sleeping materials in parks, neighborhoods and public places.
Citizens of Redding: A major change must transpire in order to limit this dilemma to a controllable level. Just as it has become worse over time, it will continue and possibly overwhelm the community.
Dennis Mihalka, DDS, Retired