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Weighing In On Pallet Shelters

Mark Dyken Photo courtesy of Resiliency Village

Recently the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of a plan to build a managed campground on Old High School Road, near the shuttered Harvard Mine site outside of Jamestown in response to the rise in the number of unsheltered people in the county. The plan calls for up to 30 small pallet shelters, some trailers, and a dedicated site for camping.  Pallet shelters are easy to put together and provide space for two small beds, some storage, electricity, heat, and air conditioning.  You can learn more about the structures and the public benefit company that manufactures them by visiting the Pallet website www.palletshelter.com.

The county is also proposing case management, resource connection, transportation solutions, and other services. It is an ambitious plan but even as big as it sounds it’s still not enough to meet the needs of our community members who are currently experiencing homelessness. So many more beds and a great increase in services are needed to match the intensity of the challenge.  It will require cooperation across all segments of our social services network, non-profits, faith-based organizations, and the community at large.

As with any project serving the most vulnerable, there are public objections on many levels.  There are people who dislike the location -which will happen no matter where it goes-, some don’t like the concept of a managed campground, some are afraid of unsheltered people, and others are angry about people getting “free stuff” and being rewarded for poor choices, and many people are completely opposed to the idea of helping unsheltered people in any way.

On the day the vote was to be held the supervisors’ chamber was packed with people who wanted to comment on the location and implementation of the plan, the vast majority of whom were opposed. This is what invariably happens when a plan is put forward. The opposition is aroused and all the old talking points are dragged out about the danger people experiencing homelessness present to the neighborhood, the threat to property values, the increased crime, and general unsightly appearance.  It doesn’t matter most of the objections are based on bad information and have been overcome in dozens of communities, the feelings are out there and being acted on. Listening closely, and addressing the concerns of people who express opposition is important to being successful in any operation of this type. The community must be respected by doing everything possible to make sure none of the worst-case scenarios come to pass and by being prepared to address any unexpected challenges. Do good work and let that work speak for itself. To their credit, The Supervisors respectfully listened to all the public input, along with the information from county staff, and the recommendations of The Tuolumne County Commission on Homelessness, and went forward with the plan as the best possible way to start working toward a solution.  This is a significant step forward in Tuolumne County.  It’s the first time the county has decided to put forth resources in the form of temporary housing, combined with social services to help those experiencing homelessness.

Of course, there will be setbacks, mistakes, unforeseen challenges, and unexpected outcomes.  It will be messy, and success will be hard to find and measure but it absolutely must happen.  Homelessness won’t go away if it’s ignored, criminalized, or pushed out of sight.  We are only as safe as the most vulnerable in our community and a risk to one is a risk to all.  I’ve heard it said, usually as a point of pride that “we take care of our own.”  Our own includes the kids who don’t have a bed, the moms and dads struggling to make ends meet, the former foster child who has nowhere to turn, the badly injured, the traumatized, the addicted, and the lonely.  I’m happy to see some of our public time, treasure, and talent being spent on our most vulnerable neighbors.

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