Homelessness is an issue throughout California and the rural parts of the state, like Amador County, are not immune from its ever-increasing numbers and impacts. All over California homelessness has ballooned over the past decade and has begun to expand into the rural counties of the state. Much has been written, from many varied perspectives, about those people in our Amador community that are without stable housing. Depending on each person’s experience with homelessness, this knowledge can influence your personal approach for solutions.
With the inception of the Amador County Homeless Taskforce (ACHTF) in 2018, multiple community members have joined in a collective intent to address the needs of families and individuals who are in need of safe sheltering and life sustaining services. Attendees represent a broad spectrum of service organizations, churches, county employees, elected officials, physicians, counselors, and citizens from a variety of backgrounds and knowledge fields. Led by Supervisor Frank Axe, the Task Force meets monthly to address the issues facing those without stable housing in Amador County. One approach was to create subcommittees to address specific deficiencies such as; Food and Meals, Housing, Funding, Outreach, and Strategic Planning.
Our mission is to compassionately serve the homeless; identifying needs and gaps services in order to efficiently address homelessness in our county.
Through the Outreach subcommittee, a Homeless Resource Fair was held in May of this year, serving 58 adult attendees with three children. Although this only accounts for a small portion of the homeless population of Amador, this data is representative of the demographics of those with unstable housing. Of the 58 attendees, 32 have lived in Amador County for five years or longer; 10 have lived in one of the other three counties in our joint Continuum of Care jurisdiction – seven from Calaveras, two from Tuolumne, and one from Mariposa; six are from neighboring counties; six are from other California counties; four are from other states. Even if they were not from here in the immediate past, the majority have had a connection to this area. The majority stated that they would like housing but due to lack of income and lack of affordable housing, they have not had the ability to secure housing.
Much of the funding for homeless services is managed by the service providers that participate in the Continuum of Care, which is comprised of four nearby counties – Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa. The State of California and the federal government view our county as part of this group. Many of the service providers participating in the Continuum serve all four counties. Funding is not necessarily designated per county, but is driven by evidence-based need.
Yes, there is drug addiction and/or mental illness among the unhoused but studies have shown that the rate of addiction or substance abuse and mental health diagnosis is proportionally the same as among the housed, just as are crime rates. Crime among homeless population is no higher than the housed population as per the Sheriff of Amador County. In fact, those unhoused with a mental health issue are nine times more likely to be a victim of crime as they are to be a perpetrator of a crime.
Each of us could be at risk of homelessness. Studies have shown that any person or family can be in an unhoused circumstance if he/she were to suffer a serious medical condition, accident, or death of a family member that resulted in loss of income or employment. Homelessness is on the rise throughout the nation due to many causes. Respected research institutes have proven that a major cause is that the cost of housing has continually risen as the unemployment rate has dropped and commuters are willing to locate further away from the source of employment (Bay Area statistics given at Homeless Task Force in Fall 2018). Even the middle class is having difficulty finding housing in the foothills that does not exceed two or three times their annual income. Being unhoused is a traumatic event that can lead to many characteristics: anxiety, depressive mood, hypervigilance, and, when becoming a long-term situation, could develop into depression, PTSD, or other mental illness diagnoses.
Again, your personal approach to relief for our unhoused neighbors and reprieve to commercial businesses and service agencies will be impacted by your own life experiences. But the one idea that all have agreed on is that we must work as a coalition to identify the needs for each segment of the community and to set practical, realistic goals that will benefit all of Amador citizenry.
Both the State of California and the federal level have been addressing these issues. Some important legislation has been passed on both governmental levels and by the citizens of CA through the intuitive process to design programs and produce funding to alleviate the stress that is being placed on local policy makers, businesses and service agencies. What is needed at this time is for more interested residents to contribute to the discussions being held by the Amador County Homeless Task Force (ACHTF) and for the elected officials of each local jurisdiction to support the recommendations of this vibrant body. While money is never the answer to any social concern, programs designed by local residents will be beneficial and the funding offered by various authorities can make it possible. We are hopeful with the recent partnership of Amador Behavior Health Department and Housing Tool, Inc. in exploring the possibilities of using funding under such programs as No Place Like Home, Housing First, Mental Health Services Act, SB2, SB3 (assisting veterans), and multiple other state and federal programs for which Amador County is qualified – each program targeting a special population, social condition, and/or economic issue. This public-private enterprise merger should be replicated by every official body throughout the county.
Just as a start for the discussion please consider the following recommendations that were developed by the Outreach sub-committee of the ACHTF this year.
Long term goals for the Homeless Task Force include:
• Research all types of shelter/housing;
• Work closely with local Planning Departments and the Board of Supervisors to identify barriers to building, operating and sustaining Shelters/Transitional Housing and methods of lowering such barriers;
• Have representative(s) from the Task Force selected to become active member(s) of General Plan for Amador County with emphasis on the Housing component;
• Establish ongoing Safe Parking Program in all five regions of Amador County (Ione, Plymouth, Jackson, Pine Grove, upcountry);
• Establish food and clothing distribution in all five regions of the county;
• Establish access to services in all five regions of the county;
• Identify facilities that can be used for safe cooling and warming centers in periods of extreme weather.
In conclusion, members of the Amador County Homeless Task Force have come together to address the challenges faced by persons residing within the borders of our county. These residents who are experiencing a period in their lives in which they are unsheltered, under-sheltered, or inappropriately sheltered include family units and individuals, often with animal companions that lend them a sense of comfort and safety. We honor the concerns of business owners and public safety authorities, including the impact on safety and public health. The Task Force has been diligent in their work and have already produced vital data and identified needed services. Therefore, we request the following support of the Amador County Board of Supervisors and each of the cities within Amador County:
• The recognition and continuation of Amador County Homeless Task Force with appreciation of the work already accomplished;
• A report from the Homeless Task Force to become a monthly item on Board of Supervisors and each city’s agenda;
• The Board of Supervisors should direct the Homeless Task Force to select representation to working closely with Planning Committee members and staff and to participate as full members on the composition of the General Plan for 2019.
Submitted by the Outreach sub-committee of the Amador County Homeless Task Force.