Suzelle reported that at two Roundtable meetings held earlier this year five ideas emerged from the participants expressing the one thing they thought was the most important thing to do to address community problems:
1) Create a Code of Rights and Responsibilities along with a List of Community Values to be communicated to travelers;
2) Seek Education and Reach Out to other areas with a goal to find out what is being done elsewhere in response to problems;
3) Dialog with Homeless and Travelers, to see who they are;
4) Create a Resource Center, to offer available services; and
5) Find a Place Where People Can Congregate Safely, that wouldn't create problems for the local citizens.
Michael de Leon has dialoged with street people who were clogging sidewalks or engaged in other potentially disturbing activities: "Generally speaking, when I spoke to people about the concerns of the town, they would respond in a very positive way."
Blackberry commented that CLMP has made up a hand-out called RESPECT LIBERTY & JUSTICE FOR ALL, Some Guidelines for the Public Use of Public Spaces in Southern Humboldt, and Michael has been handing these out.
The first caller thought that people were being denied housing and jobs and were being discriminated on because they are 215, "which basically means the system itself needs to take responsibility," he said.
The second caller was Paul Encimer who said he spoke with the recent victim of a severe beating on the sidewalk, and after explaining what he knew of the incident from talking to witnesses, he expressed a strong opinion that law enforcement could have done more to follow up on it.
He had two ideas for the positive side. He invited people to join him under the clock the next day to display signs of solidarity with homelessness, and he called for a town meeting on Oct. 12 at the Veteran's Memorial Hall to talk about Violence in our Community and what to do about it.
De Leon said a positive thing would be to stop the demonizing and the scapegoating of the homeless.
Jacob Shafer offered, "Going out and talking to people you find all different backgrounds: people who are homeless by choice, people who are traveling, people who are homeless by circumstance. There are people from all over, different demographics. You may have addiction. It seems to me, until we get some data and a real handle on this, we can't really move forward. . .because we have a lot of anecdotal evidence, and that's notoriously problematic." He suggested someone with a lot of money finance this.
John Casali called in and offered his list of acts of violence in the transient community alone, and 347,000 pounds of trash. He said, "And it's all about disrespect." Asked if he had ideas for solutions, John said, "How about letting them camp at the Community Park and work on the farm? Why not that?"
Bonnie Blackberry: "I think that sounds like a great idea to have a place to camp out and work." But she thought that would work out well for some but not for others who "just need a whole lot of help because they're strung out on whatever they're strung out on."
The next caller informed us that "a segment of the homeless avoids the drug addict and are themselves a community, and there is a community of drug addicts." He said he has been homeless in the past, and he is a trimmer, and he suggested that there "should be someone organizing a trimmers' union of people who come for seasonal work."
Blackberry said, "All communities are experiencing this because of what's happening in our country, the whole economic situation, and all these people that seriously need some help that have mental problems or addictions, or whatever, that are just being turned out onto the street." And Hockett added, "Or physical disabilities." And De Leon: "Veterans are over-represented: many veterans. And, "Since 1980 the homeless population has doubled. And now 29 cities say that their homeless population is growing at 6% every year. It's just going to be more and more and more, and we have to deal with it on a rational basis."
The fifth caller said he agreed with John Casali. "I live in town, I see what's going on every day," and he didn't think mental illness was the problem. His solution was: "The Elephant in the room is overpriced weed. Let's legalize it." He expressed the theory that if the price just covered the costs of growing the crop, there wouldn't be people "looking for easy trimmer jobs."
When De Leon commented, "Some surveys have shown that 26% of the homeless have mental illness," the caller responded: "So that's 3/4ths that are not mentally ill. We have a serious problem in town. The cops are being called nightly. There are fistfights. The incident with the metal pipe the other day, that's not new. It's happening in town on a regular basis."
Caller Jeff Wright from Mendocino Coast announced he has recently been evicted even though he paid all his rent on time or early, "because some other (commercial) tenants didn't agree with what he said on the radio, or didn't like his lifestyle, or whatever it was," anyway, for "no legitimate reason . . . I am, through no fault of my own, camping. It's not easy, but I can deal with it." And he addressed Casali saying, "Give them some trashcans and toilets."
Seventh caller said, "I think that we can be the community that knows how. You know, 'give us your poor, your tired, your strung-out.' Why not? . . .And I think that if we were pro-active, and assumed we're being called to be a healing community, we have a lot of talented healers here. . .creative people with sufficient income. . I'm sure they can figure out creative ways to suss out the potential of the people who come here."
The next caller was succinct: "We have problems here, but it's not okay to just push it down the road. These are folks. They have civil rights. . . And furthermore, we're getting to a point where people are taking out violence on folks to move them down the road, and there's a certain amount of liability in our leadership when they don't provide real solutions like bathrooms and legal places to camp. Because just like drugs and alcohol are social problems, you can't simply legislate them away, and you can't legislate away the poverty and the poor people. . . If the one-percenters have our money, in effect, then when we pick on the poor, we're scapegoating them and not taking responsibility to go after the real problem."
De Leon: "You're right, the income gap in this country is a huge factor. . ."
And Blackberry added, "And the joblessness. A lot of jobs don't pay enough money for somebody to get by on, and then there are a lot of people that can't qualify to get jobs. . ." And De Leon quoted, "A family with a full-time worker making a minimum wage could not afford a fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States. The lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest factors behind homelessness."
Ninth caller gave a profound and positive speech defining the influx of people as economic refugees traveling the constantly flowing global highway 101. He noted the reputation of Humboldt all over the world, and encouraged caring, compassion and openness to help people get a foothold. From his own experience he said good things would happen. "And I think: treat people like refugees, provide services, basic dignity, place to live, place to eat, and they will thrive. They will give back."
DeLeon agreed and said that many people feel that getting rid of the homeless is an option. "That's not an option. Over and over, people are going to come here. That's the way it is. . . Tom Ammiano recently introduced a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights in Acts of Living, and in it he says that 'the homeless have a right to life-sustaining activities such as resting in public spaces, such as pan-handling provided it's not done aggressively, and such as having clean water, a right to affordable and accessible housing, and bathrooms. All these things we take for granted, and that's the right of the homeless as well.'"
Tenth caller said, "I just wanted to let you know that I've been talking to people all over every county in the state, and other states, and it's happening all over. We're not special. . . And I think we have a solution: every county should have a bunch of campgrounds where people can have safe sleep, they can have dignity, they can use the restroom, and they can bathe themselves."
Last caller was Dan Taranto: "Housing Element stuff. This is a great topic. It always comes up every time the Housing Element of the General Plan is up for review, which it is right now. And I think that this conversation that you've opened up in your show tonight could easily carry over into the next hearing to be held in Redway School on October 23rd from 6 - 8 PM, to discuss all the different types of affordability issues in Humboldt County, including the homeless one."
Blackberry summarized from notes about things people thought would help the situation. She added, "I think if we all get more involved in taking this on, in a compassionate, nonviolent way, that that would help," and she concluded, "There is definitely a big problem, and I have a lot of empathy for the people that are dealing with it in town in their businesses. We need to continue to talk about it."
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