I was one of about 120 people who volunteered for the once-a-year homeless count and survey in Redding this year. Hopefully an accurate count will bring more resources to our community. Some volunteered at specific locations like the Mission. I volunteered to search for people in camps and on the streets. I wanted to help, and figured I’d learn a few things. Indeed so.
My line of work is all about homes, so those without homes seemed alien to me. We humans are tribal beings, and I notice a tendency to lump together “the homeless” like they were some homogenous tribe of humans. That is far from true. I saw old people and kids, drugged and sober, men and women, sane and certifiable. No rhyme or reason, or pattern. Just unsheltered humans trying to make their way through life.
A few observations:
Some scary looking people are themselves very scared.
Recent heavy rains made outdoor camping impossible. Many obvious camps were empty.
Most people I met were more than happy to talk about themselves. But not all.
Most of the people I interviewed had solid connection to Redding and Shasta County. They weren’t transient. Several had lived here all their lives. If you put them on a bus out of town, they’d come back.
You can’t tell who is homeless just by looking at how they are dressed.
I now realize I have underestimated how many homeless live in cars in Redding. A vehicle is a better option for the unsheltered than a campsite in winter. They are sprinkled in parking lots and less-traveled locations.
That realization led to another conclusion. I understand the idea of a homeless day center is controversial. I myself have always favored the “housing first” approach. But a day center would serve the homeless in cars and others in an immediately useful way.
Consider this: If you don’t actually have a homeless day center, then your whole fucking city is a shitty version of a homeless day center. And we all live with the consequences.
They are rousted out of the canyons and riverbanks. So how can we be surprised to find them on our streets and entryways. It’s illogical at best.
A couple of poignant moments:
A reticent young man in Caldwell Park looked me clearly in the eyes and told me he’d been clean and sober from meth for 33 days. I don’t exactly know why that choked me up, but it did. Still does.
I interviewed an elderly gentleman who called himself Bo on the lawn in front of Taco Bell. He looked like hell. He told me that he’d been living under the bridge at Cypress Street and some of the younger homeless were beating up the older homeless and taking their meager belongings. He said, ” I don’t know if I’ll last another week out here.”
When I asked “elderly” Bo his birthdate as part of the questionnaire, I realized he and I were the same age.
Take the questionnaire for yourself. Click below to enlarge. Where are you sleeping tonight?