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Jack Duran Guest Column - Homeless Issues in Placer County

We have a homeless issue in Placer County and it is growing.  This population by its very nature is transient and unstable, and therefore difficult to accurately count. The last countywide census we were able to take for this population was nearly 600 persons. But they’re not just numbers. We cannot forget the basic fact that they’re human beings who need some help.  

While the homeless issue has perhaps been somewhat hidden from view, camping out in unpopulated areas and under overpasses frequented by few, of late it has been very visible with an encampment on a grassy area in the county’s own Dewitt Government Center in Auburn.  

There is no one solution to the homeless issue because there are many different reasons why people end up that way. Mental illness, physical illness, substance abuse and addiction, chronic or sudden unemployment, PTSD, a distrust of government, and domestic violence are just some of the causes.   Short or long term financial hardship are another reason.  

But before we can craft a plan to deal with the problem, we need to thoroughly understand it.    

Last September, the Placer County Board of Supervisors hired a well-qualified consultant to develop a homeless needs assessment and action plan. While that plan is expected to be ready in February, I have personally met with advocates for this segment of our population and talked to homeless people to get a sense of what they need and where we can better provide services and assistance. 

While I think we can reach more of these people and provide them with things such as housing, medical services, substance abuse treatment and employment assistance, we cannot lose sight that sometimes what these people need are basic necessities: food, a shower, a toothbrush, shoes that don’t have holes in them and clean clothes. 

While I firmly believe we can be more effective in reducing the population of homeless people in our community, I am also a realist and understand that there are some who do not want, nor will they take, any assistance. While we can only do so much, we can do more. 

So where do we go from here? I think we continue to offer help through the county’s service providers.  We work with our cities for their input and gain cooperation in addressing the issue with us.  We continue to work with our faith-based and homeless-advocate community partners. We await the assessment and action plan that should be available in a few weeks and use that document as another tool in our toolbox. We take action to fix as much of the problem as we possibly can.  In the short term we provide emergency shelter to those who need and want it, and work towards a longer term solution that perhaps includes transitional housing options, job training and health services.  

To those who are just down on their luck, a victim of some financial or personal crisis that has spiraled out of control, there are services that we should, as a compassionate and caring society, be offering.  While drugs and drink cloud the thinking of some mired in homelessness and mask their plight, many do not want to be there and simply need some help. While having the homeless once again become productive members of society is good for our community at large, the benefit it does to the individual’s soul is immeasurable. 

As always, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you. I always welcome your feedback and can be reached by e-mail at jduran@placer.ca.gov or by phone at 916-787-8950.

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