When it comes to the homeless, it’s time our elected city and county officials made solving the issue a top priority.
We are talking about more than lip-service or adoption of toothless resolutions. More than grandstanding and finger-pointing.
We are talking about concrete actions.
It has been three months since a federal court ruling opened public property as a place to sleep for the homeless. If that ruling did nothing else, it took an issue that remained largely out of sight and put it front and center.
It’s time for some ordinances and policy guidelines to address public safety — for those of us fortunate enough to have a place to call home as well as for the homeless.
Look no further than our neighbors to the north in Brookings if you want a clear illustration of the looming disaster that lurks from inaction.
Soon after the Ninth Circuit U.S Court of Appeals ruling allowing the homeless to sleep on public property, an encampment took over the Brookings library parking lot. For weeks the library was a gaggle of makeshift tents, cars stuffed with personal belongings, recreational vehicles and chaotic confrontations between the public and the homeless. It became great sport for some local vigilantes to drive by at night, threatening and harassing the homeless. Only constant vigilance by law enforcement prevented the scene from becoming violent.
Once the library board, on advice from legal counsel, finally adopted rules prohibiting camping, the homeless left and life at the library returned to normal.
This is not a call for ordinances or policies to push the homeless out of sight. Rather, we need rules that protect everyone. What we’ve seen so far is a lot of talk and no action.
Estimates of the number of homeless people in Crescent City and Del Norte County range from less than 200 to more than 500. Last year’s official count by the Department of Health and Human Services was just shy of 180.
Talk to others who work directly with the homeless on a daily basis and the estimates go up to 400 to 500.
Recently, the county school system disclosed there were at least 130 homeless students. Other experts suspect the numbers may be greater. We wonder why in any community this is not considered a crisis. Disadvantaged children often become disenfranchised adults. A cycle that perpetuates itself.
Forget any altruistic reasons. It is in our own self-interest to work toward ending homelessness.
Experts agree that tackling the mental health crisis will have an impact on homelessness. However, this is not a one size fits all problem. Law enforcement, school personnel and organizations such as True North who are the first point of contact for the homeless need the city and county to have a plan, one that addresses the root causes of homelessness whether it be mental health, addiction, or simply hard times. This plan needs to include an allocation of resources and options for these frontline organizations to use to help those they serve as quickly as possible.
Recently, True North Organizing Network and its Lead Organizer Mike Thornton — himself once a homeless person — launched an effort to end homelessness in Del Norte County. Their plan is to get all stakeholders involved — government, law enforcement, business, churches, local tribes and the schools.
We are encouraged by the dialog that has been started by True North Organizing Network. The signing of Resolution No 2018-51 for Ending Homelessness is a first step. In this resolution, the city and county “commits to actively supporting and participating in a community-wide initiative to end homelessness in Crescent City.”
We applaud the True North plan and encourage others — particularly Crescent City Council and county supervisors — to get behind it with active support.
Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Del Norte Triplicate editorial board, which includes Publisher Kim Fowler, Editor Robin Fornoff and Managing Editor Matthew Durkee.