More than a hundred people came to the Veterans Hall in Burney on Tuesday evening October 24 to seek solutions to the homeless problem in Burney.
The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. and lasted about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Burney Fire Chief Monty B. Keady moderated the meeting. The first half of the meeting consisted of presentations from a panel of speakers.
Keady began the meeting by saying “We want to look at some solutions that are going to come from us, the community. That is the purpose of tonight’s meeting.”
After brief introductory remarks he introduced Rod Armstrong, leader of the Burney Citizens Patrol. The Burney Citizens Patrol patrols Burney and Johnson Park. The patrol monitors businesses, residential areas, and vacant houses. They do not carry weapons or make arrests but they work in coordination with the Sherriff’s deputies to report any suspicious behavior and provide support. They currently have eight members and are looking for more volunteers.
Armstrong said that he had also been involved on a clean-up day conducted by members of the high school Rotary Interact Club along Burney Creek.
“It was incredible. It was all homeless debris. They hauled out four huge trailer loads from that four hours on Sunday morning. It was something to see and I think it impressed the kids… I hadn’t been in that area, but after seeing it, you can tell, we have a homeless problem. There were needles, I mean, just cast off everything.”
After Armstrong’s remarks, Keady emphasized that homelessness is a problem throughout Shasta County, California and the nation. He referred people to the numerous community homeless forums on YouTube where the issue is being addressed.
In introducing the next speaker, Keady said that there were many misconceptions about homelessness that he had shared. He introduced Daniel Lockwood as a “man on the street” who had gone out to survey local homeless people to assess the reality of the local situation.
Lockwood works as a case manager and instructor for the Tri Counties Network. He works together with CalWORKs helping with job services and also teaches a class “Smart About Money” where people can come to for a talk on financial responsibility and nutrition and receive a $25 food coupon. Many of those who come are homeless. Lockwood also went out around town and into the woods along Burney Creek to interview some of the homeless about their situation.
Lockwood investigated the problem from two perspectives seeking information from community members and the homeless.
He posted a question to residents on Tri Counties Network’s Facebook site asking people “in three words or less what would be your solution to help stop the crime and dealing with the homeless in Burney.”
Twenty-seven people responded with 43 responses: 23% defended the homeless. 23% felt we needed stricter penalties, 21% felt we should not enable people, 9% felt that vigilante justice was the answer, 7% felt that we should be more vigilant (e.g. Neighborhood Watch, etc.), 5% felt that more jobs and industry was the answer, 5% proposed other solutions. Among the other solutions proposed were deporting the homeless and allowing pot smokers to work.
Lockwood had conversations of varying length with 37 local homeless people. He used a questionnaire with 24 of them. He summarized his findings as follows: 100% of those he spoke with have used or are currently using drugs; 100% have family in the area; 83% have stolen out of necessity; 50% want to stop using drugs, 25% do not want to stop using drugs.
He shared a number of things he had learned. Among them he said,
“The homeless are not coming from out of town. They are from here or have family here. Many of the homeless do not want to be housed, many just want to be left alone… The homeless community is less community and more individual. They tend not to trust other homeless people. They are afraid of “tweekers” … vigilantes, and they are very afraid of the police…”
He talked about how some he had talked with had made bad decisions which resulted in the loss of their homes, families, and children. They had fallen into hopelessness and despair and some had lost the desire to live. He said that he had enjoyed talking with the people he had met. They ceased to be statistics and became individuals each with their own story. Many are good people who need a hand up.
He also shared that many people have gone through recovery and many homeless people have gotten back on their feet and are productive members of the community.
“Be careful on how we treat people and the expectations that we have based on our stereotypes,” said Keady.
The next speaker was Amber Estes. She is involved in trying to start a mentoring program in Burney. She said that research shows that over 40% of children lack the support necessary to reach their academic and social potential. Ten percent of children are those considered most at risk. That means that in the Fall River Joint School District out of 1208 students, 483 are in need of some help and 48 are at risk. A mentoring program would pair supervised adults with at risk students to help them make wise choices and avoid harmful behaviors. Studies have shown that helping young people in this way results in many long term benefits for the children and the community. She invited people interested in learning about and participating in the program to sigh up.
Next, Lynn Erickson, Director of the Circle of Friends Wellness Center, spoke about addiction. Addressing the difficulties of addiction for individuals and their families, she also shared hopeful stories of people who had successfully gone through recovery from drugs, alcohol, and homelessness. She mentioned numerous services that are available in Burney and the Intermountain area. All of this information is available at the Circle of Friends.
Next, Keady spoke briefly of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule). This is a widely applied principle that states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Keady suggested that we think about the 80/20 rule and offered an explanation of how it applied to the current discussion.
Some problems can be addressed and people are willing to be helped. For other criminal activity, law enforcement is necessary. He encouraged people to call law enforcement and report crimes to ensure an accurate assessment of crime in the area. If crimes go unreported, the situation looks statistically better that it really is.
The two final speakers were seniors at Burney High School named Bailey Turner and Dante Mendoza. Their senior project is a program named the Parsonage Project, done in conjunction with Foursquare Solid Rock Church.The parsonage will provide commercial washers, showers, and toilets for homeless people. The entire roof of the building has been torn off and redone. They also plan to paint the outside of a the building so it will be a “happy color” and a place where people will feel welcome.
They were inspired to do the project after seeing so many homeless people walking the streets of Burney. They also participated in the Interact Club cleanup on Burney Creek.
They have raised $700 through several car washes. Pit River Casino has donated a commercial washer and dryer and also the services of a construction crew. They estimate that they need another $6000 dollars in donations to complete the project.
Turner said that one out of 332 people in California is homeless. California is populated with about 35 million people. If you do the math, there are estimated to be at least 150,000 homeless people in California. Most are located in San Francisco, LA, and Northern California.
“We wanted to do something for our senior project that actually benefited the community and made it a cleaner place where people could come and see and say, ‘Oh wow! We need to do something for our community because those teenagers did something crazy and made something for their homeless community.'”
After the panelists had all spoken, Keady opened the floor to the audience. He invited people present to propose constructive solutions. For the next half hour a variety of speakers offered ideas.
Mike Kiser, owner of the old Sportsman building, said that he would be willing to offer the building for one dollar a year to be used as a homeless shelter. The building has 5000 square feet of available space and would need to be improved by the community for that use. He said that the Pit River Tribe has expressed interest in participating.
Shelley from Little Country Church said that she would like to see the churches in the valley get more involved.
A man named Daniel said that he had an abandoned house that was being used by homeless people behind his property torn down and offered that as an option. Keady added that the Burney Fire District would help owners of derelict houses to secure their house. He said the district would supply labor if the owner provided the lumber.
Alex Colvin encouraged people to follow Lockwood’s example of engaging homeless people so they could get to know them one on one. He challenged people if they had an available room, and they knew a good person who needed a helping hand, to let them stay in their house.
A woman who had worked with the mentoring program in Klamath Falls spoke of the successes of the program and encouraged people to participate in the mentoring program here.
Sally Armstrong from the Rotary Club spoke of a mentoring program that Rotary started three years ago. They work with first, second and third graders once a week. She expressed the hope that this program could feed into a mentoring program such as that described by Ms. Estes for older children. Fire Chief Keady said that he had also been working with the Rotary mentoring program.
A woman named Tanaka said that she had helped organize a clean-up. About 50 people expressed enthusiasm, but when the time came only about eleven showed up. She said that people can sit on the sidelines and complain, but if you are not willing to pitch in and help, then you are part of the problem.
Jen Luck said that everyone is in need of help at some point in their life. She said that “your community is part of your family.” Some people don’t qualify for services because they are middle class. She referred people to a Facebook page started by Amber Estes called “Pay it Forward” where neighbors can help each other. “You help somebody now, somebody else is going to help you later.”
Fred Ryness advocated raising taxes in order to improve law enforcement and provide half-way houses. He said we need to address problems relating to the prison system. He also spoke about thinning out the forests and utilizing the resources to create new sawmills and cogen plants to create jobs for the unemployed. He also spoke about the food co-op which is a cooperative effort by churches in the area to provide food for the needy.
Rev. Buck Buchanan said he is encouraged by the cooperative spirit and practical ideas expressed in the meeting. He emphasized being grateful for what we have and putting our resources to work. He expressed his belief that with “faith, hope and love” we are ready to take the next step here in Burney.
Ross Jones from Fall River Mills said he is diametrically opposed to all taxes. He is pro law enforcement and encouraged people to contact Rod Armstrong and join the Citizens Patrol. Just driving through an area and being seen can do a lot to help prevent crime.
A man named Bob who is active in community service organizations advocated rejuvenating Neighborhood Watch. He spoke of ways in which services could be provided to those of the homeless who wanted to improve and find jobs. He encouraged the churches to get involved. He said that we need law enforcement to deal with the crimes but for the rest of the social issues we need to deal with it as a community. He advocated the formation of a community task force to delve into the issues of providing social help, counseling, and jobs.
A woman from the Native American community spoke about elders who are living in the woods because they have been put out of their homes. She welcomed the idea of a shelter in the Sportsman’s building so that people would not have to freeze to death in the winter.
Bruce Parrish from the Fall River Citizens Patrol encouraged citizens to call the Sherriff deputies so there would be greater response.
A woman who lives on Sugar Pine said she had had issues with garbage and drug use around her house and was unsure what number to call to get a deputy. A member of the Sheriff’s office said there is a non-emergency number posted on the front door of the Sherriff’s station. The number is 53o-245-6540. If it is an emergency call 911.
Sally Armstrong spoke again suggesting that a volunteer bank be established. Cindy Dodds responded by asking people present to sign up on lists that had been created for each of the projects talked about that night. Tri Counties Networks will help convene those people who have expressed an interest in those specific topics. Anyone who was not at the meeting should contact the Tri Counties Network if they want to be involved. Ms. Dodds said she will also be creating a general volunteer list for people who want to be involved in projects like Burney Beautification, campground cleanups or other programs.
Jen Luck explained that 211 is a number you can call if you do not know who to call for specific services. It might be child services, animal control, traffic related issues, etc. Dial 211, they will get you to the people you need to talk with.
Concluding the meeting, Keady recapped the meeting and Denise Luntey and Daniel Lockwood outlined the many services provided by Tri Counties Community Network including Senior Nutrition, employment, children’s programs, mental health and other programs.