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Another View

Time for summit on homeless issue

By: Mike Holmes, Auburn City Councilman
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In large cities they are called street people. You see them with their shopping carts and plastic bags filled with their belongings. You may see them, covered with cardboard, sleeping at the entrances to closed buildings.
 In our more rural area they are simply referred to as the homeless. Causes of homelessness are about as varied as the number of homeless.
One homeless man recently expressed in a letter to the editor (Reader Input, Dec. 26) the reasons he was in that condition “I lost my job, my home and vehicles.” While some choose to live rough, others are plagued by drugs, alcohol or mental health.
The people of Placer County began to take this problem seriously in the 2004-2005 period with the establishment of the Placer Consortium on Homelessness and Affordable Housing with the goal of eliminating homelessness in our area in 10 years.
The consortium has a nine-member executive board of representatives from local government, non-profits, faith-based organizations and other organizations plus a 20-member advisory council designed to provide support for the 10-year plan.
The consortium has been working quietly to address the problems of the homeless and its biggest success has been in finding permanent housing for our veteran population.
In 2002 there were estimated to be 405 homeless people in Placer County. According to a November 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 742 homeless in Placer and Nevada counties in January 2012  — a significant increase.
The numbers are exacerbated by AB109 parolees being released into our community and the closure of state parole offices in Placerville and the Yuba City areas.
Furthermore, it is not expected to get any better as a result of Proposition 36, which was passed in November. Proposition 36 allows “three-strike” felons sentenced to 25 years to life to petition the courts for release if their third strike was a misdemeanor and non-violent. We can expect the courts to release any number of people in that category.
A Dec. 14 Auburn Journal article focused on the homeless problem at and near the Auburn Airport and included photos of homeless encampments on both public and private land.
It is clear that city and county law enforcement officials can not arrest our way out of this dilemma. Hauling the homeless to jail will only see them back on the street in less than 24 hours. Furthermore, any possessions taken from the homeless by police must be inventoried, stored and returned to the individual after release.
Private property owners need to be alert for encampments on their property, but can collect the possessions of the homeless and take it to the dump or dispose of it without the same restrictions as government.
A report earlier this month from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reveals only a “marginal decline in overall homelessness (-0.4 percent) along with a 7 percent drop in homelessness among veterans and those experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness.” Another homeless census is scheduled for our area next month. We must be prepared to face the truth about this issue.
In an opinion piece in the Nov. 23 Auburn Journal, Suzi deFosset, executive director of the Gathering Inn, stated that for every dollar given to panhandlers that is used for drink or to purchase drugs, it costs the community $7 in arrests, police time, incarceration, court costs, ambulance, paramedic, fire department and shoplifting. She pleaded with the public not to give panhandlers money.
It is time we got more serious about this issue. In my opinion the consortium needs to issue a call for a summit on homelessness, which would include a wide spectrum of city and county elected officials as well law enforcement and those private non-profits and faith-based organizations.
My conclusion is it is going to get worse before it gets better.
Mike Holmes is an Auburn city councilman.