One Homeless Man’s Plea: The Homeless Need Help, Not Hatred


George Koen is homeless, and sees himself as a homeless advocate.

Like many Redding homeless, George Koen spends a lot of time at the Shasta County Library in Redding which features bathrooms, drinking fountains, computers, comfortable chairs, magazines, and shelter from the elements. It’s kind of his home away from – no home.

Because Koen concentrates best in quiet places, he sometimes will reserve one of the library’s study rooms for as many hours as staff schedulers will allow. Inside these rooms, he’ll read or write or just enjoy the solitude.

It was in one of those rooms where I recently met Koen after we’d corresponded via email and Facebook for a few months. He is a regular reader of, and sometimes leaves comments.

He reached out to me with some first-hand insights about not just homelessness, but potential solutions.

Koen brought along a colorful notebook and a small backpack. He said he’d stashed his larger bag outside somewhere for safe-keeping, because library rules ban patrons from bringing large suitcases, packs and duffel bags inside.

George Koen is 60 years old. He has a shaved head, a pale mustache and sports a silver stud in each ear lobe. On this winter afternoon he wore a long-sleeved sweatshirt, long pants and cargo shorts over the pants. He wore sandals over bare feet. He had a lot he wanted to say, which he expressed quietly, with a lovely accent, a holdover from South Africa, where he was born, raised, and served in the military as a combat veteran. He still has family in South Africa. He also has a daughter who lives in Cottonwood, and two grandchildren. His eldest granddaughter is 6, and Koen said she is aware of her grandfather’s living situation.

“My family accepts me and the way I live,” he said. “My granddaughter says, ‘Oupa, do you live in your car?’ I say yes, and she says, ‘Oh.’ I won’t lie to a child. I tell her there are poor people, and that there will always be poor people.”

When asked why he’s homeless, Koen said he has significant mental health issues, from chronic depression to a sometimes debilitating anxiety disorder. Koen said he also suffers from PTSD, caused during warfare in 1977 and 1978, fighting in South West Africa’s territorial conflict. Koen said he’s held three primary jobs in his life: managing a bike shop, working in desktop publishing and as a medical equipment provider.

His official working days are over. He now gets by on disability payments, which he said might be enough to rent some place to live. But the thing is, Koen said he’d rather be homeless than be constrained inside a dwelling and deal with all the associated trappings, from furniture to dishes, and even social expectations to interact with neighbors. In fact, the stress and pressure of maintaining a home grew so uncomfortable for Koen that a few years ago he decided to give up his last apartment and live in his car.

“I lived in that apartment for six months,” Koen said. “I couldn’t manage it well. It’s like I have half a brain or something. I cannot handle being tied down. I cannot function if I’m tied down. I am homeless by choice. I spend a lot of time alone, which is the way I like it.”

So Koen lives on the street, somewhere in Redding. Don’t ask where.

“On the street, you don’t tell where you sleep,” Koen said. “It’s about self-preservation. I will tell you it’s a dry place, as cozy as can be. I stay in one place about a week, and then I keep moving.”

Ask him what it’s like to be homeless and he laughs a little.

“It’s the understatement of the year to say it’s a challenge. Yeah, you get cold, you get wet, you get hot, you get sick, and guess what? All those things will pass. I keep telling the homeless people if all you do is whine and complain, then you’re a whiner and a complainer.”

Koen bathes in the river, which he admitted can be numbingly cold. He uses baby wipes to keep himself clean between river baths. He puts the used baby wipes in bags and finds a trash can in which to deposit them. He has a little camping burner and a French press, one of his most treasured luxuries, for Starbucks brand coffee with cream and sugar that he prepares every morning.

On the street, his fellow homeless have named him “the professor” because he’s smart, articulate and carries himself with an air of confidence. He describes himself as a law-abiding citizen, someone who helps fellow street people whenever possible. When he has a vehicle (he’s between cars at the moment), he’ll give people rides to doctors appointments or to the store for food or the pharmacy for prescriptions.

Although he identifies as being homeless, and although he lives among the homeless, he feels set apart from many of the homeless he encounters in Redding. For one thing, he shuns illegal mind/mood-altering substances, and said he doesn’t smoke pot, or drink alcohol, or use drugs. In his clear-eyed state, he can see why Redding’s “housed” have issues with Redding’s homeless.

“The other homeless respect me and most of them listen to me,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Every time you leave your garbage around it gives the housed another reason to hate the homeless.’ I know that one of the biggest barriers to us getting help is us, the homeless.”

On the other hand, he takes issue with some of the housed, too.

“They make assumptions about all homeless,” he said. “They hate us. They blame us for every bad thing that’s happening in this town. They think we’re all criminals. We’re not. They think we all leave our garbage everywhere. We don’t. They think we’re all drunk or drugged or using. We’re not. They think we’re all lazy asssed, and say things to us like, ‘Why don’t you get a fucking job.’ A lot of the people who live on the streets have serious mental illnesses. They’re sick. They need help, not hatred.”

One of Koen’s pet peeves, something he said is committed by the housed and homeless alike, is when people make generalizations and assumptions, two mindsets he believes are the root of society’s greatest misunderstandings.

He believes the city and county leaders sometimes approve decisions that penalize the homeless out of sheer spite, such as locking public bathrooms, disabling city water spigots and blocking electrical outlets.

Granted, Koen is homeless, and experiences the plights of being homeless. However, he’s also a grandfather, which is why, although he spends time in the park with his homeless friends, and although he uses the library restrooms, he believes both places are unfit and unsanitary for his own grandchildren because of conditions caused by some street people.

“Those places can get pretty disgusting,” he said.

That’s partly why he can understand why many Redding residents have reached a zero-tolerance boiling point over the increasing number of homeless living on the streets, granted, without knowing those homeless people, their personalities and/or unique situations and challenges.

There’s Bill the Canner, a character Koen describes as someone full of light, a man in his 50s who collects cans for money. Bill the Canner gets rambunctious when he’s had too much to drink, but at his core he’s funny and “smart as shit”.

There’s Antenna, a sweet man who believes aliens will abduct him, but Koen said Antenna is also generous to a fault, demonstrated the time Koen was hungry, and Antenna spent his last $2 to buy food for Koen.

There’s tiny Janie, who has a tag-along named Dave who’s mainly there when Janie has money. Janie is giving, too, but she’s incapable of making good decisions, and rarely holds onto money for very long because she falls prey to homeless moochers.

And then there’s Betty, pretty much a female version of Bill the Canner.

“Heart of gold” is the term Koen used to describe every one of these homeless  friends.

Koen’s goal is to bridge the divide between the homeless – like the friends he described – and the housed. He’d like to foster more understanding between the two groups, whether it’s educating the housed to realize that not all homeless are a blight on society, or whether it’s reminding the homeless that not all cops are bad.

He has an idea he believes could alleviate some tension between the housed and the homeless. He’d like to pitch his idea to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors and Redding City Council members, and said he’s sent emails requesting a time to make presentations to both entities, but hasn’t received a response.

He says his concept is simple, and fairly cost effective, at what he estimates would be less than $1 million; a far cry from the many millions more the county proposes to solve the homeless crisis. Koen envisions a plot of land with basic amenities for the homeless located far outside Redding’s city center. He pictures a large piece of property, upon which are many concrete pads especially for the homeless to pitch their tents and set up camp.

His ideal homeless habitat would provide hot and cold running water, and showers. This place would be self-policed, with plenty of rules, such as no drugs. Everyone would pay something for the opportunity to stay there, even if it was as little as $10 a month. This homeless haven would have toilets, food, and regular visits by the HOPE van. If there was a community need at the homeless park, then the residents’ money could be used to buy it.

“Give us a space,” he said. “We’ll take care of it. Give us seeds and water and we’ll grow things. What if, instead of begging, the homeless had a place to have a garden, and we could eat what’s grown there? That would be awesome!”

How would the homeless get there?

“That’s their problem. But maybe there’d be a special bus stop, or a van that could take the homeless there.”

What if some homeless didn’t want to be there?

“I would hope they’d all go, but they don’t have to. It’s not a prison. It’s optional.”

Would he go there?

“Probably not. I don’t like to be tied down.”

Koen said he knows his idea is an imperfect solution, but he said it’s better than doing nothing, which is the way he sees leaders handling Shasta County’s current homeless crisis. He said it’s time for the city and county to wake up, and quit pretending the homeless issue is going away on its own.

“As I tell my granddaughter, poor people are always going to be here,” he said. “I know the housed don’t like the homeless here, and the homeless don’t like to be treated unjustly, which does happen in Shasta County. Why don’t we get together and find a solution? If we can’t mend bridges between the homeless and the haters, then for now, out of sight out of mind could work.”

One of the saddest things for Koen is the observation that many people are so fed up with the homeless that they’ve stopped recognizing them as individuals, or even human beings.

“I believe in taking responsibility for my own actions, and I know a lot of homeless have bad behavior, like slamming dope,” he said. “But at what point do we say, ‘Yes, this is a person who made bad choices, but how far down does that person have to go before we them give some help?’ ”

The way Koen sees it, in Shasta County the door to understanding and caring about the homeless is slammed shut.

“There’s not even a key – at least not one that I can see – to open it. Wouldn’t it be great if some of the more pressing questions were simple, like, ‘How do we make you smile? How do you make me smile?’ Without some kind of understanding, we’ll never get there.”

Soon, Koen will have saved enough money to buy another used car, which will mean a warmer, dryer place to sleep, and a means of getting from one place to another, and giving his friends rides to food and appointments and shelter.

Beyond getting the word out about his homeless park idea, and buying a car, what’s next on the horizon for Koen?

“You mean a plan? I have goals, but I don’t make plans,” he said with a smile as he picked up his backpack.

“I’m homeless. I’m a minimalist. You’d be surprised how little you can get by on. There’s nothing to tie me down.”

Our reservation was up in the study room. Our meeting time was over.

In the silence I glanced toward the west-facing window of the library’s second-story study room that overlooks the park below. The view displayed the park’s green grass, upon which were many clumps of men and women, lying on the grass or milling around. There were shopping carts, black garbage bags and piles of blankets strewn about.

Just another winter day in South City Park, located in the heart of Redding, a park so sketchy that even Koen, a homeless man, wouldn’t bring his grandchildren there to play.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. 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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100 Responses

  1. Avatar Tim says:

    Turn Stillwater into the next Weedpatch Camp? hmm…

    • While George and I spoke, I kept thinking about the place my sister and I dreamed up, “Good Works” – which is similar to George’s idea.

      I wouldn’t blame anyone who didn’t want to be shuttled out of the city center into a homeless holding pen, even if it did offer showers and food and other amenities. I swear I’d shoot up, too, if I had nothing to look forward to than just eating and sleeping and taking handouts and being looked down upon by the community at large.

      I believe the missing link is a place where the homeless can feel productive and become contributing members of society. I envision creating opportunities for them to earn money from what they’ve made, whether it’s selling eggs from chickens they’ve raised, or jam from fruit they’ve grown, or braided rugs from old clothes donated by the public.

      If I won the lottery, I’d create that place.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I’ve often posted that same idea, Tim. Why not? Doni’s term of Still Birth for that area rings true. I’ve read some of George Koen’s comments here on ANC, and often wondered about this well-spoken man. Thanks, Doni, for the introduction.

  3. Avatar conservative says:

    Why did he choose Shasta county seat? Why not other California county seats like Stockton, Marysville Oroville, Eureka?

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      I imagine because his daughter/son and grandchildren are here.

      • Avatar conservative says:

        The Tehama county seat is three miles closer to Cottonwood. The drive to Red Bluff is five minutes faster, a straight shot on I-5. The drive is prettier. The drive through Anderson to the Shasta county library is more congested and passes through one of the worst sections of Shasta County. The Tehama county offices are downtown. Healthcare and shopping are downtown. The benefits are the same in all California county seats. Tehama county library is brand new.

      • Avatar George says:

        Nail on the head Beverly. If she moved to Mars I would follow her. I stay in the background, but I believe it is vital to a healthy family, that Oupa (Grandpa) be a whistle away.

        • George, thanks so much for popping in to answer some questions. I think what conservative (some day he may use his real name) is asking is why you chose Shasta County over Tehama County.

          I suspect the heart of his question has to do with people who wonder why Shasta County seems so attractive to many homeless. In your conversations with people who live on the street, have you heard explanations for why Shasta County – Redding in particular – is so popular with the homeless?

          I know you’re just one guy, and you don’t speak for the entire homeless population, but any insight would be helpful.


          • Avatar George says:

            Purely conincidental I assure you. But I too have heard the Shasta County ‘ease of benefits’ thing. PIT counts have proventhat about 80% of homeless here are in fact ‘natives’.

            As I intimated, it could have been anywhere.

  4. Avatar Bob says:

    Very poignant. A dilemma.

  5. Avatar cheyenne says:

    As someone who actually works with housing the homeless, as I have posted on here, there are two major problems with homeless housing.
    One problem George pointed out, many homeless do not want the restrictions that would be placed on them in a housing situation. In Cheyenne and Denver, despite the cold weather(winter snow storm raging right now), many homeless seek shelter other than the homeless shelters. This is their lifestyle and it frustrates me as I try to find housing for them and all they want is a handout. Sorry, George, but it is the truth.
    The second problem, which frustrates me even more, is the Nimbyism toward homeless shelters. Everyone says they want it, just not in their neighborhood.
    But I will continue to help them, now here in Phoenix, as there is no more satisfying feeling then helping a homeless veteran, who has been through experiences I can’t imagine, to get off the streets. Their feelings of relief are obvious.

    • Avatar George says:

      No need for apolgy. Personally, I am not a handout kinmda guy. I am a realist Cheyenne. Acceptance of reality, good or bad, is a life step that many people avoid. Acceptance is just one way for us humans to dispense with the ‘everything has to be perfectly lined up’ disease. It is our lot to deal, not in perfection, but reality. And as we all know, reality will never be perfect.
      Lastly, thank you for what you do. I know it is often a thankless and frustrating task. The key? You said it . . .keep trying.

    • Avatar Olhipie says:

      I too am vexed by Nimbyism which is rampant in Shasta county. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of George’s posts on fb, and I like them. I hope to soon go to one if his meetings . At the moment I’m trying to finish college and assist in any way I can to change the sentiments regarding the in housed in our community. I like George’s idea of developing a plot with access to gardening. I despise segregation though. So no and George, thank you for this article.

      • Avatar George says:

        You excite me. Your responsibilities do come first. Anytime you hear generalizations and assumptions, challenge them.

  6. Avatar Gary Solberg says:

    Would he go there? “Probably not. I don’t like to be tied down.”
    Koen suggests a creative solution or at least an idea. In his own words, it probably would not work for him. I suspect most other homeless would not want to live in a kind of refugee camp away from town, even if it offered running water, showers, toilets, tents and a place to grow food. I respect his right to choose to live and manage his life in an unconventional way. And I applaud his willingness to be an advocate for the homeless, both within and outside the homeless community.

    • Avatar George says:

      It seems the end of your comment suggests to me further comment?
      As for me being there, I have thought upon this since the interview and have changed my mind. (Sucks to be human right?) Why? Because I would be able to move freely. Nothing would really keep me there if I felt the need to move on.

      Yet Gary, the principle is a good one. It is good because many homeless folk would indeed buy into this.

      Your comments touch on things such as the human mindset. Philosophically, at least for me, you have left a door ajar, inviting further discussion? Life is trully quite complicated. I often hear the twinges of a form of ethnocentrism in comments about the homeless. (Not in your case.) I often ask myself when it became a crime to be homeless? Why did society allow itself to demean another? We all, as we read in the Preamble, are equal. Intrinsically, no person is better than another. No person deserves more, or less, than another. I believe the saddest persons are those who base their worth on external factors. Such as material possessions, wealth etc.

      There is only one place we can find joy, peace, contentment etc. Within. It resides no where else. One cannot claim the joy of another in the hope it becomes their joy. My joy is in the simplicity of life. My diagnoses ‘demands’ life be clear of clutter be it psychological or material.

  7. Avatar Common Sense says:

    Thanks for shining some light on this issue Doni! Cheyenne made some statements that I have personally witnessed also. Many, not all perhaps but many don’t want to conform to societies rules. They want to do what they want when they want with whomever they want. Call them Rebels if you will.

    For many, living on the streets is a choice. ” No one is going to tell me what to do”. For others, they dream of getting their lives back on track and are just needing a hand up, not a handout.

    I learned a lot about this topic many years ago. I started a Documentary on this topic. My main Character “Buck” Buck Horn was a brazen old Viking that lived on the streets in Redding. He supported himself panhandling and Canning. His Territory was the Hilltop area. He would dumpster dive every morning and fill 2-4 carts full of bottles and glass and aluminum. He would then take that to recycling and get approx 20.00. He was homeless by choice. He was an Alcoholic. He was very clear that this is what HE chose, and very clear that it was not an easy lifestyle! He looked right at the camera and said “Kids….don’t choose this…..stay in school….get an education….this is not an easy way to live! “….I never finished the Film….Buckhorn died under the Cypress St Bridge of Exposure on a cold winters night,approx 25 years ago.

    He said many poignant things during our two interviews…one caught me off guard. “You Don’t know Freedom!”…..I was like…OK…he said….a house payment and a car payment and credit card bills are NOT freedom!…..Wow…made me think a little bit.

    At the end of the day….everything is a Choice in life….even doing nothing is a choice….to do nothing.

    I don’t see this problem going away until people realize…we are All One. If you realize that… wouldn’t probably treat homeless people with disdain or contempt. You would recognize that they need help and counseling and other things. But even if those things were provided….you would have some that probably wouldn’t want to use those services for what ever reasons.

    I believe it was Russell that mentioned a tent city on city-owned property down by the old community health center. Even with that…. only a percentage would probably use the place and stay there.

    You can only help those that want to help themselves…that’s what I learned from that experience.

    • Avatar George says:

      2-4 carts?! Guess I have canned in the wrong places.

      But you are correct in your comments. I am not one to attempt to disguise reality. If readers are able to see this as at least trying to ‘normalize’ the interaction between housed and homeless as it is today, then it is a step in the right dirrection.

      One starts by building a foundation. Foundations are not pretty to look at. In fact, they are rough and unfinished. That is what this article is, a foundation. Once that foundation has set, only then can we begin to deal in details and finishing.

      As for those who choose not to participate, all I can say is that we all may go fishing, but not all catch a fish.

      • Avatar Common Sense says:

        Indeed! He referred to himself as a “Working Homeless”. He was a Veteran and had what some would call the perfect life, married, house, cars, money etc. Then he told me when his wife left him…it was all downhill…he started drinking…..then lost his home and basically walked away from it all.

        The Video was to be shown in the Schools when finished. He was very clear that he wanted the youngsters to know…it wasn’t a glamorous or easy life what so ever and they should choose something different if they had the choice!

        It was all about Freedom to Buck….once he got the taste of what he described as “True Freedom”….he never tried to get back to what some would call a “normal” life with all the trappings that come with debt etc.

        R.I.P Roland “Buck” Horn…..he had personality.

        Many Blessings to you George. May you find what your are searching for on your path and may things get better for you each and every day!

        • Avatar George says:

          Have you considered making your video available?

          • Avatar Common Sense says:

            I have not George. It was shot on SVHS. That was one of the best quality of consumer video around at that time. I would have to search around in all my boxes in my garage to try to find it.Hopefully its still around and not damaged. Not sure if it would make sense not finished and all but the point he wanted to make is, it’s not an easy life and the youngsters should stay in school and not drop out and be like him in the end!

  8. Avatar name says:

    At least he has ideas, and is attempting to do something, which is a lot more than we can say about most (including city/county employees and officials).

    But most of them would probably like to be in town, or very close to it. They need to be close to stores, and the mission, etc. Where would they collect cans if they are posted up out of city limits?

  9. Avatar Cathy says:

    Thank you for interviewing this gentleman, Doni. The fact that he didn’t feel he would participate himself in some of the ideas that he came up with shows how difficult a problem this is to solve. A few friends and myself were discussing the problem of the homeless in Redding a short while back and we were really struggling to come up with some sort of realistic solution, but we quickly saw that there is not a “one size fits all” problem. But we have to keep the discussion going and include the homeless in all discussions.

    • Avatar George says:

      Cathy, since the interview, I have indeed come to the conclusion that I would participate. Humans, always changing their minds right? Certainly this is not a one size fits all. But imagine if the person who invented the wheel decided to trash the invention and tell no one??

      • Yes, we all reserve the right to change our minds. 🙂

        George, I could well imagine you helping set up this program, and even being a liaison between, as you say, the housed and the homeless.

        You have a lot of insight, and I appreciate your transparency, humor, intellect and humanity.

        It speaks highly of your character that not only did you reach out to me to share your thoughts, but today you’ve extended the communication via replies in this comment section.

        • Avatar George says:

          So many do not seem to understand the concept of what you let into your life is what you become. For example, I make every attempt to not let circumstances determine who I am. You would be hard-pressed to find me to be a proponant of self-pity. When it does raise its’ head, I will allow it a very brief period of time, and then I will caste it aside. I will never allow it to reside within because all it can and will do, is destroy who I really am.

          WIthin human limitations to understand, if one determines to live like a pig, how then is that person surprised if she/he is treated like one? What one allows into ones’ life is what one will become.

          Thank you for your words of encouragement. You are the catalyst behind this shared knowledge.

  10. Avatar Virginia says:

    Oh, Doni, I have read over the years of the Searchlight days the columns you wrote about the homeless. There is no one answer for all, or even four or five answers. As your “George” talked about. He has mental problems, but doesn’t want to take medicine to help himself. Or the drug addict. Yes, I know about drug addicts from volunteering at an addicts live-in facility. I was their “square”. Several women I had to my home for dinner and ping-pong, but they would not mention the visit at their NA sessions. Afraid that others there would leave and break into our home. Most of the people I knew there, including a director I went to school with, ended up back on drugs. There is no simple answer to the homeless problem. There wasn’t during the Great Depression, when the vagrants stopped by and asked for food, which my mother would provide.

    Nor did I feel wonderful a few months ago when two homeless tried to break-into my home from the patio at 3:30 am. And another came back a few days later for front dinette window. Fortunately, my little dogs helped with their barking. The police office said they were “crazies”, and took them out of my own area as he couldn’t take them to jail as I couldn’t ID their faces. They would have been booked and released.

    If anyone figures there is a one-fix solution, they are only fooling themselves. Stillwater? Why would most go there. It is not where the people can panhandle the public because of distance. Without panhandling, they would have no money, for the most part. Mental hospitals were mostly closed years ago. And, more who have become addicted to drugs today from the 1960s. Then it usually was one generation, the youth. Now it is the grandparents, parents, and children… So nothing changes often, but tends to get worse. I remember reading that a minister in Chico gave bus tickets to homeless to come to Redding. I had one person who said they smoked pot. It was not addicting as alcohol. I found a long time ago, when there are problem(s), it is better to face the problem(s) than try to drown one’s self in drugs or alcoholic beverages, but that is how I am. Face life works for me. Good or bad…….and work to change the situation.

    The one shot answer? There is none, unfortunately………

    • You’re right that there are no single answers for this problem.

      I keep picturing a huge cafeteria tray with different compartments: homeless veterans, homeless mentally ill, homeless AB109ers, homeless heroin addicts, homeless alcoholics, homeless meth addicts, homeless aged-out foster youth, homeless life-crisis families, homeless unemployed, homeless from being displaced from a fire sans insurance, and on and on and on the list goes.

      And each of those groups of individuals have different needs.

      One thing I wanted to correct is an assumption you made about George, that he refuses medication to help his condition. We don’t know if that’s true or not. I didn’t ask him if he takes medications.

    • Avatar George says:

      Virginia, I am indeed on medication. Not be be confused with other drug use. But as with much in life, there are bumps that leave me quite unaware of things. In fact, I was once listed as missing and at risk.

      I am truly sorry about your negative experiences. Your comment was very circumspect and I appreciate that immensely.

  11. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    The Public (Emilio Estevez Movie) – Official Trailer

  12. Temporary housing for the homeless has been mandated by the Federal Courts in Los Angeles and Orange County. If the City/County removes the homeless from their camps, they must provide alternate housing…in that case it was 30 days of hotel lodging while the County constructed tent camps for the displaced persons.
    I propose a temporary housing camp be constructed on the County Property on Bresslaur way, next to the Jail Farm and Welfare Office. I realize that only a small percentage of the homeless would utilize this resource, but its a start. Over time, work programs and training could be developed and implemented. Screening and placement for housing in a more permanent environment could start there.
    Stillwater Park is too far removed from the services the homeless need and want to be a viable alternative.

    • Royal, I like your location suggestion. I have suggested Stillwater as an option (mainly because it’s languishing there, available), but I like your idea better. It makes sense.

      • Royal, I found this 8/8/2017 comment you left on a column I wrote that was related to the homeless issue:

        Here’s an excerpt of your comment for those missed it. (Your comment was among 314 comments, which might be’s current record.) I think you made some excellent suggestions:

        BY ROYAL BURNETT- 8/8/207: “Why must we try to re invent the wheel ? Tiny houses will only provide shelter for a chosen few families while the numbers of the homeless are legion. Tiny houses and structured communities might have a place in the long term plan, but we need solutions now. The homeless sleeping on the lawn of our Civic Center and bathing in the bathroom of our County library is a disgrace…Shame on the City Fathers and County Supervisors for not recognizing the problem and providing a solution.
        I propose that Shasta County and Redding City open a combination shelter and soup kitchen using the same model as Calfire uses when they set up fire camp at Anderson Fairgounds. Feed two meals a day. A simple breakfast ( scrambled eggs,toast and hot cereal ) from 7 to 9 in the morning and a soup or stew type meal for supper served from 5 to 7 PM. The ideal location for this camp would be on the existing County property on Breslaur Way, next to the Welfare Offices and the Old County Hospital.
        The City and County would have to build sheds similar to those used at the fairgrounds…nothing fancy, just a place to get out of the weather. Simple restrooms could tie into the City sewer system which should be adequate since it handled the Hospital in past years.

        Police protection should be provided cooperatively between the City PD and Sheriff using one sworn officer with non sworn officers as staff.

        The Hope Van could set up and provide health and mental health services.

        Calfire or the National Guard could be called on to provide a Mobile Field Kitchen . Would it be possible to have a Sugar Pine Conservation Camp Crew staffing the kitchen ? Would the County jail be able to provide any of the cleaning and maintenance ? Could we utilize the California Conservation Corps in any way ? Would the various Church and Mission groups be interested in participating ?”

    • Avatar George says:

      Excellent idea in terms of location. Love it!

    • Avatar cheyenne says:

      Royal, did this ruling in federal courts also include funds to implement it? Or was it another unfunded mandate by politicians patting themselves on the back to say they solved the homeless problem. I do more in one week furnishing kitchens for homeless apartments than all the years of unfunded mandates have done.

    • Avatar Common Sense says:

      In total agreement with your comments Royal! Stillwater is a mute point. The City needs to fill that with taxpaying warehouses/manufacturing/prop 64 operations of the largest kind! Get that tax money flowing in to help with your suggestions and take it from concept to completion!

      I can imagine a large lot in the city with 40-50 of those ” tiny homes” on them. The folks that tried to help themselves and got themselves clean would have first priority in living in those. Make it a temporary deal with say 1-2 year stay to give them a roof over there heads and start back on the right track.Take it case by case. Help them….to help themselves. George would get the first one to live in and could be the Ambassador to the community. The Bridge.

      If the land were large enough they could have a community garden there also. Perhaps Providence could get involved?

  13. Avatar Jim Dyar says:

    Thanks for this excellent article, Doni. George’s point about people dehumanizing homeless populations is a central point. When we start to scapegoat and marginalize groups of people based on factors like race or economic conditions, we become lost as a society.

    • You’re welcome, Jim.

      And thank you for your eloquent observation. Spot on, Jim.

      (p.s. It’s nice to see you here.)

    • Avatar Common Sense says:

      Right on the Money Jim, it’s ONLY when we can see other people out there as we see ourselves can we have compassion and understanding.

      There is an old saying…. ” I am not what you think I am ….YOU are what You think I am”!

      It amazes me every time I see people who are Supposed to be”Christians” refer to homeless people as, Them/Those/ Those People/Those beggars etc….

      What would Jesus do? He would Feed and help those that needed it! He would not Judge…What did Mother Teresa do? So got to work…she fed and cared for and loved everyone!

      “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love” ~ Mother Teresa

    • Avatar George says:

      I have nothing to add Jim.

  14. Avatar Stephanie Luke says:

    Coincidentally, there will be a presentation next Monday, March 19 at 7pm at the Carter House Art Gallery–located in Caldwell Park–by photographer James Canter on the Homeless Art Project which includes his many portraits of individuals in the program. This was an effort by the Shasta Arts Council and other organizations to put a face on the issue. Free and open to the public.

  15. Avatar Connie Koch says:

    Great article and interview Doni! It breaks my heart that there are so many “Georges” out there. Coming up with a solution to help those that want the help should be a priority of our City Managers and Council Members. The Good News Rescue Mission does it’s part, but I am sure they are just touching on a small percentage of the problem.

    You know how I feel about this, you and I have responded back and forth about this over the past few years. Stillwater could be an ideal location – but are our city leaders willing to explore the possibilities? My guess, is probably not!

    • Avatar Richard Christoph says:


      Stillwater is far removed from services and an encampment there is likely to discourage prospective businesses from making the investments needed to someday (we hope) make it successful.

      However, when Royal Burnett first had his RS Speak Your Piece published which recommended the County-owned property off Breslauer, we took the opportunity to visit and check it out. All the necessary County services are in close proximity, transportation is available, and the open space there could easily accommodate many of the currently unsheltered. Not a complete remedy, but a City-County collaboration there would be a start, and surely an improvement over what presently exists.

      • Avatar Connie Koch says:

        Yes, I saw that after I had posted my reply. Doni and I talked about Stillwater months ago. We envisioned a little community, with access to laundry, showers, tiny houses, an area where they could grow gardens, wifi, a help center to help them get jobs etc. in return for them working and contributing to their own space.

        Closer to town makes much more sense! I just thought that since Stillwater has been sitting empty for so darn long, why not make use of the vacant land. In my opinion, if a business park hasn’t happen by now, it is doubtful it will ever happen! Not unless, they get some big distribution center like Google, Amazon or Walmart to come – my gut feeling is it will remain vacant for a long time.

  16. Avatar Tim says:

    George, thanks for answering our questions. I’m wondering about the logitistics & magnet aspect, perhaps I could get your thoughts.

    1) From how far away would you expect people to come to a government camp in Redding/Shasta County?

    2) Would most homeless in Shasta County go to a government camp in Colusa or Sacramento counties?

    3) What major infrastructure, if any, is needed near a camp? Interstate highway? Railroad? Social services?

    4) Of the canners & working homeless, how many work temporary jobs?

    5) If you were to estimate, how many homeless are there in Redding?

    6) How many of them were working poor who suffered a 1-time catastrophe and lost a home/apartment, but just need a temporary boost?

    7) If they were provided with food/travel/lodging, how many would permanently move across the country to someplace where good-paying jobs are plentiful?

    8) If there was a large mental health hospital, how many would be regular or permanent residents?

    9) How many, if any, should be in jail for extended stays?

    • Avatar George says:

      Oh my!

      I will need to digest your questions before responding.

    • Avatar George says:

      Tim, I have given your questions much thought and have decided that in the interests of avoiding an uncomfortable degree of conjecture, I have to refer you to relevant agencies that can provide researched answers. The city and county have this information publically available. I apologize if this is a greatdisappointment to you.

      • Avatar Tim says:

        I can readily find earlier PIT reports, but can only find news articles describing 2017’s:
        700 homeless for all of Shasta County seems awfully low in comparison to Butte County’s recorded 2,000 or even the Good News Rescue Mission’s 1,400 first-time clients for the year. So I’m skeptical of their numbers and curious if you had a better guesstimate based on what you see from the street.

        Their rough ratios:
        2/3 men
        1/2 chronically homeless
        1/2 substance abusers
        1/2 disabled (mentally or physically)
        2/5 mental health issue
        1/3 first time homeless
        1/4 PTSD
        1/5 under the age of 25
        1/10 veterans

        That said, those numbers don’t tell us anything about how far people will go to a government camp. You’ve gone 15 miles presumably for better opportunities, would you go 30? 100?

        How many are anchored to the North State and how many would participate in a 1930s-style relocation program that helped people move to where workers are in high demand? I shake my head at folks who are proud of their ancestors for braving a voyage to the US for a better opportunity than what was available in their home country – and yet who refuse to leave their father’s town after its only industry shuts down…

        It says nothing about how many, if any, are incorrigible criminals (incidentally, Butte County counted jail inmates without an address as homeless – it appears Shasta County did not).

        It does say 50% have a disability, but it doesn’t say how many are willing to work when and if they can (e.g. taking gigs on good days)

        It doesn’t say how many are even on assistance programs – whether existing ones could get them off the streets or whether they are on a housing wait list or whether they aged out of unemployment benefits.

        It truly is remarkable how little we know.

  17. Avatar sal says:

    10) Will your car be insured?

  18. Avatar Carolyn Doty says:

    There are more sites with similar housing. There is no reason, with the money spent to make people go away, why we can’t as a community, do something like this for more than just the homeless. Senior housing and college housing would do very nicely in like housing. No excuse for not using this technology. Similar to mobile home parks and the land could be rented or purchased outright. Jobs could be made within the community as well as education and training. I’d love one!!

    • Avatar George says:

      Yes indeed Carolyn. It leaves one wondering what their motivation is.

      Thanks the post and links.

    • Avatar jeff L Haynes says:

      Sacramento has one and it is working. It was intended to be in use only for the winter months, but it is working so well they are considering extending it as long as funding is available.

  19. Avatar cheyenne says:

    All these comments about what someone else should do about helping the homeless. Why not comment about what YOU are doing. It doesn’t take a big grandiose plan to help the homeless, it takes small steps. It frustrates me that the posters can google the latest Trump misstep, or what other areas are doing, but apparently the local posters are unable to google their own area homeless programs and help them. I will probably get deleted but most of you posters are all talk and nothing else. All ideas and then off to your morning coffee and the homeless have not been helped one iota.

    • Avatar George says:

      Truth is truth no matter who speaks it. To that end, I will be hosting a meeting at the library at 4pm in room E. It is the first step toward active addressing of the homeless situation . . .

    • Avatar Common Sense says:

      You must get a frustrated a LOT Cheyenne, when people don’t behave as you think they should? So what are those small steps?? Since you know a lot about this topic?

      • Avatar cheyenne says:

        I have posted several times on here what I do and what Cheyenne does for the homeless but you have ridiculed those ideas. When the Cheyenne Police Department posted on it’s Facebook about how people should not give to panhandlers you posted a link to LA Times about how vile that was. There is no reason to give to panhandlers in Cheyenne because, unlike Redding, there are places for housing, food, free clothes, free medical care, and even daytime showers. Attend George’s meeting for a small step or do you just google?

        • Avatar Common Sense says:

          I have ridiculed? Show one link to where I have Ridiculed? Telling people what to do probably has not fared well for you I am thinking. I help feed the homeless….that has been my contribution thus far. I might entertain helping out with some solutions and making a contribution to that effort also. I can guarantee you if I do….it won’t be because someone told me I should do that!

          • Avatar cheyenne says:

            You ASKED me for small steps and I answered you and you ridiculed my answer. You post so much nonsense not only do others not read you but you can’t remember what you post yourself.

    • Avatar Tim says:


      I am generally of the opinion that most Northstate homeless programs do far more to make volunteers feel good about themselves than they do to address the causes of homelessness. For that reason, before giving some of my limited time/money I like to see evidence of a program’s success (or a plausible explanation for why a program works, but would have no hard evidence).

      Unfortunately, most of the promising programs are discriminatory in some fashion. In Redding & Red Bluff, this tends to mean serving only those adhering to an old testament lifestyle. In Chico, you’re more polarized — either the old fashioned religious group, or a handful of new super-specialized interest groups that provide housing just for women or just for LGBTqiwtfbbq. Then there are the arbitrary barriers like “no pets” (have you seen how many homeless have dogs???).

      Many of the older, larger programs seem to have become addicted to government grants which tend to be awarded based on how large you let homeless PIT numbers become, creating the perverse incentive to specialize in palliative “solutions” (similar to what is happening in the prescription drug industry) rather than cures.

      And there are a some just plain bad actors: Charities that close their doors suddenly and reopen a few months later under a new name or groups that convince churches & businesses to let them use a facility overnight as emergency winter shelter only to leave it trashed in the morning…

      • Avatar cheyenne says:

        Tim, why don’t you attend George’s meeting and maybe you can find ways that will appeal to you to help the north state homeless. Or you can do nothing which seems to be the general course of action for people, not just in the north state, but everywhere.
        I have had a letters to the editor published on Anews on what I and others have done in Cheyenne. Why don’t you come out from beyond your anonymous cloud and write a letter to the editor about your positions, which you seem to have a lot of. And those positions, which are not singular obsessed on one subject like another poster on here, would be interesting to read. At least I would find them interesting.

      • Avatar George says:

        How would you feel about contributing on a personal level?

        • Avatar Tim says:

          What do you have in mind?

          What I do now is offer work when I have it (I have rental units throughout the Northstate and they often need painting or cleanup or yardwork during a turnover). I pay $20/hr cash and provide lunch. If the unit is vacant, they can also use the shower. Usually there are a couple days worth of work at a time.

          I also give out some contacts of other folks I know who often need work. Last year a ton of ranches and farmers in Butte, Tehama, & Colusa were hurting for work because migrants were afraid of Trump and not coming up in their normal numbers. Most of these were $15-20/hr jobs.

          Unfortunately, my response rate is pretty low. Surprisingly few of guys holding “will work for…” signs actually take me up on the offer. And often they don’t show up for day 2 after having been paid on day 1 (I suspect many have used their money to get intoxicated). So I tend to use the laborers hanging around the big box home improvement stores…

  20. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Cheyenne writes:

    “I will probably get deleted…”

    Why would you think that your comment would be deleted? You make valid points to which I would add that the library where many spend a great deal of time has excellent resources and assistance where those in need can, as you say, “google their own homeless programs.”

  21. Chuck Prudhomme Chuck Prudhomme says:

    Excellent informative article Doni! I still think there should be a national draft where everyone is required to serve this country in some capacity for 2 years. This could be military, conservation corps, fire fighting, highway cleanup, trail crew etc. Much of the problem begins at home where there are fewer and fewer father figures and lack of discipline. A draft would at least give everyone a baseline and perhaps even make them feel a sense of accomplishment. I knew many draftees from less than desirable backgrounds during the Vietnam War that became successful citizens!

  22. Doni, Thanks for being a catalyst to facilitate thought leaders in a proactive solution driven exchange to serve the needs of the homeless (at least the 33% who are mentally and physically able and eager to have the opportunity that George describes.
    I make it a regular part of my circulation to interview the homeless and provide some job training and placement for the homeless and unemployed. I serve as a volunteer citizen with a non-profit with a 18 year history of providing livelihoods for a lifetime. Providence has a relatively new domestic program to grow healthy people, plants, places, partnerships and planet which offers an on ramp for those mentally and physically able to work and reenter the marketplace.
    George has a good idea which has merit. To pursue it the political leaders would need to support it which may be the challenge. Land has been offered but there was strong resistance by the BOS to the idea. There is strong verbal support but the back office action is resist and obstruct.
    Here is a summary of what most all homeless people have indicated they need:
    1. A safe affordable place they can lock and call their own
    2. A locked Post Office Box
    3. A secure place to lock up their possessions and back packs if housing is not available.
    4. A clean and safe 23/7 place to shower and have clean restrooms
    5. A one stop place where services come to the same place each week
    6. A mentor/coach/support person or group.
    7. An opportunity to learn, learn work and make a contribution
    All these could cost effectively be provided in an off the grid tiny home village on 20 acres with solar,
    digester, gardens and common areas for meetings and recreation. This village concept can be sustainable and affordable. There are other macro solutions for financing from people who have done this successfully in other communities. They live in Redding and can connect the dots. It is an issue of the political leadership being congruent with what they say publicly and moving in a joint public, private sector partnership to make it happen. It may take getting new board and council candidates that commit in their platforms up front to make this happen and be held accountable to it.

  23. Avatar cheyenne says:

    There are a lot of good ideas put forth by the posters here. But the problem is not all political. The main obstacle to homeless and affordable housing everywhere, not just in Redding, is NIMBYism. In Littleton, Colorado a 600 unit affordable housing project has been held up by NIMBY protesters. Here in Cheyenne, where there are many homeless shelters, a proposal for affordable housing has been held up by NIMBYism. In Phoenix the light rail expansion into the West Valley is being protested by those, mostly in Sun City, that say the light rail will bring “them” out to the West Valley.
    Politicians are elected by the voters and a lot of those voters are NIMBYists whether it is a rural section of Shasta County or a large city like Phoenix or Denver.
    The first order of business, this is not an order but what works, is do not give handouts to panhandlers. This will make the professional panhandlers, not homeless, go some where else.
    The second order of business should be downtown walking patrols by police officers, or official police volunteers, to inter react with not just the homeless, but business owners and tourists. The patrols inform the homeless of shelters or food banks and stop aggressive panhandling. This was done in Cheyenne and made the downtown more pleasant. It works.
    This is not telling you what to do, as some posters say, but what works.

  24. Sorry I missed the Meeting on the 19th. I’m not sure how to get the word out, but I would like to attend the next one. Please give at least a week’s advance notice.

    • I was unable to attend, too, because it was short notice. But of course, is happy to get the word out about any future meetings, as long as we have some advance notice so people can make plans. 🙂

  25. R.V. Scheide Jr. R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

    See, I told you this was the meanest county in California. We reap the whirlwind of the prosperity gospel, where the well-to-do are chosen and the hungry deserve it.

  26. Avatar Bobbie Jean says:

    To be without housing itself can cause extreme mental anguish, extended periods of time can cause people who are normally functioning to lose hope and give up, many times they will turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. It’s a dangerous rabbit hole to enter. I am sad to hear that the city leaders have not accepted your proposal to speak on this matter, but I cannot say I’m surprised. To be honest, the leaders we have are winning by default in many cases.

    As a community, we need new people who are willing to run for these seats, so that when we go spend over $100,000 for a public safety blueprint that gives the same answers many local organizations have been asking for, we can actually follow through on them. #1 would be the homeless day resource center, it works in other communities, offers showers, restrooms, kennels for pets, resources to help. This is a simple and quick place to build, especially since the research has already been done.

    I have plans myself to build art centers that will offer entertainment, exploration, and hope. To prevent a new generation of people who are disconnected and go back to a simpler way of living. We plan to build community housing at each center that is affordable and offers a path to ownership with increased wealth and opportunities.

    I have also been turned away by the city in regards to my own ideas. But, we will absolutely see changes because little by little we are all creating it ourselves, and with a common appreciation of one another, we will make it all right.

    Thank you for using this platform to publish thoughtful story’s that inspire good!