siskyoudaily.com, Virginia Rea
An informational meeting about homelessness drew a capacity crowd, and then some, to the Yreka City Council chambers on Tuesday night.
“Homelessness 101”, presented by Dr. Robert Marbut, included statistics regarding the homeless population in Siskiyou County; perhaps surprisingly to some, Marbut estimates the entire year-round homeless population in the County to total between 50-82 people, with about 15-32 residing in Yreka, 12-20 in Mt. Shasta, and about 23-30 in the rest of the County.
Marbut makes a distinction, however, between the actual local homeless population and those who are “seasonal eco and spiritual tourists,” some of whom come to the county to visit but end up living off the resources available to them here, and those who are traveling up and down the I-5 corridor and get dropped off here, but do not stay more than a few days.
One of Siskiyou County’s challenges, Marbut believes, is the many vouchers the cities give out to travelers; the county is well-known as far away as Los Angeles, he said, for their generosity to transients, and he believes that generosity would be far better used in an organized fashion to get people the help they really need, rather than the temporary fix of a night in a hotel, gas money, or a bag of food. While Marbut said that he believes temporary shelter for the homeless population during the freezing temperatures the county experiences in the winter is essential, he advises strongly against a year-round, permanent shelter being put in place, at least until the issues have been thoroughly explored.
Marbut praised the consensus he found within the county regarding the issues involved in homelessness and its solutions, as well as its “do not sell alcohol to” lists, and the cooperation among cities and law enforcement agencies. He focused on the need for cooperation and collaboration among northern counties, and related that two city council members, Duane Kegg and Mayor Joan Smith-Freeman, are on a committee to deal with the issue of homelessness in Yreka.
While Marbut warns against “creating new bureaucracies” to deal with the problem of homelessness, he was happy to report that representatives from Siskiyou County, including Kegg, will be attending a “Continuum of Care” meeting in Redding on July 21 that will facilitate the cooperation and collaboration he believes is necessary, and might even result in some funding. He also praised the Family Resource Centers for the work they do in the area of providing information and other resources to those in need.
Marbut cautioned attendees against allowing “encampments” to flourish, stating that they are dangerous in many ways: They tend to be fire and health hazards to both the campers and the surrounding communities, he stated, and related that three people have already died in them this year.
The real problem, Marbut believes, lies in addressing what he believes are the underlying causes of homelessness: Mental health and substance abuse issues and unavailable affordable housing, among others. He also related that most homeless people have medical and dental problems, which result in sleeplessness due to pain, and can lead to illicit drug use. Because they have no access to bathrooms, Marbut says, they tend to limit their intake of fluids, which causes dehydration as well.
Remarking on providing food and meals to the homeless, Marbut commented, “Food doesn’t get you out of homelessness – it’s a symptom.”
Marbut recommends developing a common understanding of definitions of the different groups of people called “homeless”, and treating the different groups differently; creating a county-wide case management system and meaningful mental health and substance-abuse rehabilitation services; working to create additional supportive housing and short-term winter shelters; a zero-tolerance approach to encampments; and other potential solutions.
After Marbut spoke, a lively question and answer session ensued, and it lasted until after 9 p.m.
Residents voiced concerns about everything from fire hazards to trespassing on private land to the extra burden placed on law enforcement, volunteer fire departments and medical personnel by the homeless population, while many expressed compassion for the truly homeless. A representative from the Beacon of Hope Gospel Mission spoke, as well as Jason Suter, the Yreka Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief, Yreka Police Chief Brian Bowles, and Ed Pecis, a volunteer with 40 years’ law enforcement experience who, with “Team Shasta,” a faith-based organization in Mount Shasta, is collaborating to work on issues associated with the homeless.
Marbut, who has a degree in psychology and two masters degrees, one in government and one in criminal justice, and 30 years experience in working with the homeless, remarked that, although over time some people can become conditioned to homelessness and eventually stop trying to change their situation, in the 30 years he has been dealing with the issue and meeting and talking to homeless people, “I never met anyone who chose to be homeless.”
A report on Marbut’s findings is expected to be released in the near future.