It’s 8:15 a.m. Monday outside the Shasta County Library. It’s snowing. Three men with large backpacks and an assortment of bulging plastic bags stand in front of the library’s tall spiked locked gate. They’re waiting for the library to open, which won’t happen for nearly two hours.
One man’s name is Ron, and the other’s Tim. Ron says he’s been living outside off and on for 28 years; almost half his life. His smudged, brown-quilted jacket hood is cinched up tight under his chin as he looks up and watches the snow fall.
It will be spring in two weeks. It’s 34 degrees in Redding.
Ron — who’s worked as a fisherman– and Tim — who’s had all kinds of jobs, including as a butcher — have been staying at the Good News Rescue Mission for about three weeks. They sleep there and eat breakfast there, but are supposed to leave by 8 a.m. They can return for lunch at noon, but then leave at 1 p.m. They may return for dinner at 6 p.m., and then they’re in for the night. The next day and the next day and the next day it’s the same old thing all over again. If the weather is extremely horrible, mission guests are allowed to stay inside the cafeteria. There, they sit, and sit and sit.
Tim and Ron talked about places many unhoused folks go for shelter; besides the library. Two examples are the Mt. Shasta Mall and Win River Casino (which require bus rides).
Ron has clear blue eyes set in a handsome face with unlined olive-colored skin. He’s missing his top four front teeth. He’s a talker. He’s traveled up and down the west coast and back, and the only reason he’s in Redding now is because usually the winters here aren’t bad. He did not expect snow this time of the year, that’s for sure. He recalls other homeless hideouts, like a concrete “Slab City” outside L.A., and porta-potty-sized houses for the homeless in Oregon. Apropos of nothing, Ron asked if I cared to hear his solution for cities that are sick of seeing homeless all over town.
“You find some big piece of land; maybe a rich person could donate it,” he said. “It could be a huge lot, kind of out of town, not around the regular people. Put a fence around it. Tell the homeless people, ‘Here. You can camp here.’ There would be restrooms and showers and stuff, and rules, of course.”
Tim, Ron’s companion, listens, as if it’s likely he’s heard all this before. Tim’s age could be anywhere between 35 and 45. He has dark hair, with a slight matching stubble on his face. He has deep brown eyes. He’s stocky, and wears a black hoodie. His backpack, that looks as heavy as a full-sized microwave, is slung over his back like a massive turtle shell. When Tim speaks, he’s articulate, educated and obviously extremely intelligent. Tim says that his current stint at the mission is temporary. He’s there because he’s going through a “rough patch” that includes struggles with addiction and mental illness, but he’s working on his next step. He said he’s had many, many ups and downs.
“It’s nothing I didn’t do to myself,” he said.
Time for Tim’s (and Doni and Shelly’s) idea
Asked if he agrees with Ron’s idea about that fenced lot for homeless campers, Tim paused before speaking.
“There’s high value in having a place for the homeless that’s about compassion and respect for the people there,” he said. “Also, it’s about feeling productive, like you’re doing something that matters to yourself and other people. If the site had a garden where people could grow and cook with their own food, that would be great.”
Tim did not know the genie he’d just released from the bottle with those words. I didn’t attempt to conceal my excitement when I told Tim that my twin and I have imagined a place precisely like he’d described for years; almost to the point of an obsession, because we can see it so clearly. (Identical twins can imagine the very same things.)
Yes, like Ron’s idea, Shelly and mine starts with a big piece of land. On that property would be fruit trees, chickens, bees, a wood shop, a garden and a place to repair everything from furniture to shoes. This place could teach residents carpentry, masonry, canning, sewing, knitting, welding; you name it; everything anyone could think of to allow the residents to have a place to not just exist, but to really live, learn, participate, and feel a sense of worth and excitement to wake up and create something in a thriving, joyful, respectful community.
I didn’t mention to Tim studies that suggest that various components that drive some people to addiction are disconnection, isolation, and not being part of a community. That’s why my and Shelly’s idea features bunk houses, not tiny solitary houses, where people are alone.
I did mention to Tim the concept that everyone at that place would be expected to do something to contribute. Something. Gather eggs, plant gardens, make rag rugs. So many options. The place could have onsite caseworkers and specialists to treat those suffering from addictions and mental illness. No drugs or alcohol allowed. Plus, it could have a retail store where all those goods made by residents could be sold. Artfully designed tags could say something like, “made by Tim” or “made by Ron.” Of course, the makers would be paid for their sales. Eventually, they’d earn so much that they might one day get on their independent feet and leave that place to start new lives, or stay, and become a staff member, rather than a resident.
Tim smiled for the first time. He said that was exactly the kind of place he could imagine living. He said the best part about it would be the feeling of accomplishment and self-worth.
“You know, we aren’t treated very well by a lot of people,” he said. “We aren’t welcome a lot of places.”
It was about 9:45 a.m. when I left the library. By then dozens of people — mainly men — had made their way toward the locked library gates where Ron and Tim would be first inside to claim their favorite spots, use the restroom, and keep warm. The parking lot was dotted with beat-up cars, some with all the doors flung open as scruffy passengers stretched their legs outside in the falling snow as they watched and waited. A blue tarp flapped on the roof of a car that was missing the driver’s side window.
Guess who was not approaching the library? Families with kids. Gee, I wonder why?
Where can unhoused escape extreme weather?
The main reason I was out driving in the snow this morning in the first place was to drop off mail at the post office. Also, I wanted to check on some of the regular street folks I’ve come to know who hang out around Redding’s downtown post office. I parked, left my heated car, wrapped up in a down coat, knit hat, a scarf and gloves. And I was still cold. How could anyone survive on the streets in these kinds of temperatures in wet clothes and nowhere to go? I wondered and worried about Alexander, the dark-bearded hobbit-looking guy with the leather vest over a bare chest who sleeps curled up against the fence along Oregon Street. And I thought about Brian, who I always think of as Buffalo Bill, because of his leather jacket, leather hat — even in the hottest weather — and his wide white mustache, who sits on a planter on Yuba Street kitty-corner from the post office. He sometimes helps Randy, who sells awesome hotdogs, but not when it’s snowing, or when it’s 110 degrees.
That returns us to the weather.
I remember as a kid there was the Armory as a warming/cooling shelter, but that’s long gone. So this morning I made some calls for information about where the unhoused can go when it’s snowing, or when it’s 114 degrees in the summer, for that matter.
I went through the City of Redding’s recorded phone tree and eventually pressed some number, and spoke with a pleasant woman. She said she believed the library was an official warming center, and that a press release had gone out recently about that, and also there was information on social media.
It doesn’t take an investigative reporter to pose the next obvious question: How do the unhoused learn about those press releases and information on social media? She said she’d guess word of mouth, and asked if I had another idea. I said well, how about a big bus that drives around town to the known homeless hangouts (we all know them), and they could give the unhoused opportunities for a ride to the library, or to the rescue mission.
I didn’t mention that I thought hot chocolate, hot coffee, donuts and sandwiches would be a nice touch, too.
She said the city doesn’t have any services like that, but maybe I could try the city’s housing department. I asked if she could transfer me. No, because she was working remotely.
I turned to Shasta County and checked its website. I found all kinds of services, but nothing about where the unhoused could seek shelter when it’s literally freezing outside. A long shot, but I called Adult Protective Services, which provides many services, but no, they don’t provide shelter for unhoused adults in bad weather, either. I got the idea to call Children’s Services, because one of the guys outside the library was a young man who could have been a teenager, but it was hard to tell, because his face was covered with tattoos. He was so thin that he kept the snow from falling on his head by crouching like a pretzel inside a medium-sized, front-zip rolling suitcase, surrounded by his bags, like a homeless Houdini. Looking at him, I finally realized what he reminded me of: an illustration of a baby in utero, all scrunched into an impossibly small space; fists beneath his chin, knees to his chest.
I described the young maybe-teenager to the woman who answered the phone. She asked if I knew for certain he was a teenager. No, I said, I did not. She asked if I knew for certain whether he was a victim of abuse or neglect, or if he had no adult caregiver? I answered no to all those questions. As a last resort she said one option would be to call the police department, and ask if they’d do a welfare check on him. I imagined dozens of ways that scenario might play out. I did not make that call.
No wonder our police are burned out.
All those calls made me wonder — once again — why Shasta County doesn’t have a version of One Safe Place, except geared specifically for the unhoused, and those suffering from mental health and addiction issues. One Sane Place, prominently located in downtown Redding. Not lists of dozens of phone numbers, emails, and agencies, many of whom can’t help, but they will happily refer callers to another agency that will refer you to another agency, and on and on.
Shasta County’s homeless crisis reminds me of a massive swimming party where there are so many adults and kids that all the adults assume everyone else is watching the kids. That’s how a child could drown just feet from all those caring adults.
I’m not blaming the non-profits or various public service agencies, because I know the people who work there are probably pushed to their mental and physical limits, especially considering Shasta County is down more than 300 employees, many in the Health and Human Services Agency departments.
Please don’t call and chew me out for not calling that one particular elusive non-profit number.
There needs to be ONE phone number that anyone could call, 24-hours a day, for real solutions, not just another phone number. If’ a trained journalist couldn’t find one simple answer in an hour’s worth of phone calls, how can some skinny kid who stuffs himself and his worldly belongings in a weathered rolling suitcase?
Woman sleeps on frozen Redding sidewalk
I’ve been especially haunted by the unhoused in the snow since I watched a YouTube video posted on March 3 by Chris Solberg, a vocal, self-appointed homeless advocate who is known for his Redding Coalition for the Homeless.
Below is the text that accompanied Solberg’s video about an unhoused woman who’s been in the same Pine Street location for months before the snow fell.
“I am absolutely shocked to see this homeless woman sleeping freezing, suffering in one of Redding’s most busy downtown streets where thousands of cars drive by her yet the Redding Police Department has not stopped by once…
I have watched while getting gas homeless walk by this woman and go through her possessions as I’m sure some kind hearted souls give her. This woman is sleeping in a bed of snow for Gods sake.
Building in background with a birds eye view of this travesty is Redding Chamber of Commerce. I have called Hill Country but they have not returned my call.
For Humanity’s Sake Shasta County Health and Human Services Shasta County Supervisors Open Your Veterans Memorial Building As Nighttime Emergency Shelter In Anticipation Of Next Snowstorm Covering Valley Floor SAVE LIVES.”
Here are Solberg’s photos of the woman’s pre-snow Pine Street camping location.
Solberg and I have not always seen eye-to-eye regarding a variety of subjects over the years. There have been times I’ve blocked him on social media and on A News Cafe. Many parts of Solberg’s commentary in this video are wince-worthy, harsh, difficult to hear, and sometimes unfair.
But like him or not, there’s no denying what Solberg shows in this video. The video doesn’t lie.
After I saw that video (in which Solberg called out media, including A News Cafe), I called Hill Country Mobile Crisis Team. It was early in the morning, and the message said nobody was in the office yet. I left a message that described the woman, her condition and her location. I called back to see what had happened with the woman. A man who answered the phone said although he couldn’t share confidential information about her, rest assured that if someone calls in an emergency, their team will respond.
Shasta County Board majority’s time-wasting distractions
I cannot remember the last time I wrote about a Shasta County issue that wasn’t related to the political insanity happening here that’s put the North State on the map in the worst possible ways. At the most recent Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting, Dist. 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye claimed he wanted to focus attention on important things, like homeless people sleeping in the snow.
Oh, please. Talk is cheap. Save your breath, Crye.
That was the same meeting during which Crye dumped a surprise-announcement turd in the chambers about his preposterous polarizing affiliation with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
That absurd conversation contributed to the Feb. 28 13-hour Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting. Crye waved a sheaf of emails overhead, supposedly from looney Lindell himself. Crye acted as if he was Moses with the 10 Commandments, the self-appointed savior to protect Shasta County from being sued for ditching our trustworthy, perfectly-functioning Dominion Voting System. Likewise, hours and hours and hours of supervisors meetings have been wasted on Dist. 4 Chair Patrick Jones’ delusional Second Amendment resolution. Then there are Jones’ truly incomprehensible agenda items, like one he placed on that marathon Feb. 28 meeting that sucked up time nobody will ever get back about the concept of having an assistant CEO. In the end, no action was taken. Step right up to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors circus, where homelessness gets lip service, while guns, conspiracies and Christian Nationalism are the main events.
Dist. 3 Shasta County Supervisor Mary Rickert is the strongest person on the dais. And sometimes lately Dist. 2 Supervisor Tim Garman comes through with a vote that indicates he has a functioning conscience. But those two supervisors are no match for the wrecking-ball board majority – Crye, Jones and Dist. 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom. Those three are too busy destroying the county and making it into their own far-right lawless image. They don’t prioritize truly important matters, like the closing of the Opportunity Center, a beloved organization that served and employed hundreds of disabled Shasta County citizens for more than 50 years. Jones gave the Opportunity Center short shrift, and placed it as one of the last agenda items of the Feb. 28 meeting; not heard until about 10:30 p.m. Torturous hour after hour after hour Opportunity Center staff, clients and their families were forced to listen to Jones’ and supporters’ insanity before they had their turn to speak. By then, the chambers were almost empty, so those impassioned speeches were never heard by the public.
So here we are. Shasta County is experiencing a massive homelessness crisis while Jones, Crye and Kelstrom diddle around with the deranged MyPillow guy. They huff and puff about gun talk, and conspiracy theories about the Big Lie and patently false information about Dominion Voting Systems.
I’d recommend a recall of those three, but in what must be an unprecedented situation throughout the nation, Shasta County’s Dominion Voting Systems has been scheduled by the board majority for cancellation after all work is complete for tomorrow’s March 7 election. After that, Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County’s Registrar of Voters, has 30 days to canvass the election. Then, it’s all over but the shoutin’.
So unless the board quickly, magically, comes up with a Secretary of State-approved replacement for the board-majority rejected Dominion Voting System, or unless the board rescinds its devastating decision to cancel the county’s Dominion contract, the board majority’s irrational vote will soon render Shasta County without means to hold an election.
Yes, those are the kinds of mental midgets we have running the county.
Meanwhile, this very minute, there are scores of unhoused Shasta County residents huddled beneath bridges or down ravines and behind buildings.
It’s starting to snow again.
Editor’s note: This story was revised for clarification 8:30 a.m. on March 7, 2023