Thank you for sharing the story of the "Family on the Corner" (Nov. 4). I live and work in this area and I have passed the family many times, wondering what their "story" was.
I decided many years ago that giving money doesn't help people "flyin' a sign" to change their circumstances. When approached by a panhandler I say: "I don't give money anymore, but I do give money to the local Food Bank and the Rescue Mission."
I have worked for nonprofits for over 25 years. I know the network of services in our community and I do believe that people do not need to go hungry -- now called having "food insecurity" -- or be without shelter. It is a complicated issue and there is not a homeless profile that fits all.
What I do know is that giving this couple a bunch of twenties is not the solution. With the state budget crisis in California, our local nonprofits struggle to provide services to the homeless, families, youth and the elderly. Increasingly, these service agencies rely on donations from community members. Besides providing financial support to these agencies, you can also volunteer to assist these agencies. I have been a CASA volunteer for many years and I know that our community supports them. The recent CASA Kid Walk made over $90,000.
Why would this couple stop panhandling if they can make more in a day than they would if they had minimum wage jobs? It sounds like they have had the support of some of our community services, but this has not helped them change their lives. I know that people can change their lives and survive incredible loss. If we support the agencies that help people like Timothy and Cheyanna, we can help them. What we can't do is make them accept this help and change. And from Heidi Walters' reporting, this reader believes that Cheyanna and Timothy are not ready to change their lives. I don't think that the home that Cheyanna dreams about will be a reality until they do.
Nancy Corral, Eureka
I think that all of us who are local homeless service providers were dismayed to see your cover photo of the young family camping at Costco. I am almost certain that somewhere in that double stroller is my business card from Arcata House, from when I stopped to offer them help. I hate seeing young children begging with their parents.
The family pictured is similar to many of the homeless families and individuals that I have met in the past 10 years. Our families at Arcata House are all poor. Some are domestic violence survivors. Others have made unfortunate choices. Often there is a history of drug and alcohol abuse.
Right now it is true that our community does not have enough spaces for families who are wanting/waiting to enter transitional living programs. All of our programs have long waiting lists and need more beds. We also need more treatment beds for people to go when they are ready to quit using alcohol and other drugs.
As a provider, I do not feel good about aiding folks who are "flying a sign." I would encourage people who want to help to make a donation to one of our Humboldt County nonprofits that are working to get families re-integrated into the community by securing permanent housing. There is no guarantee that when you give money to a family begging on the street that the money is going exactly where folks claim.
This family has relatives in Hoopa who are willing to take the young mom and her two kids and get them off the street. I have met too many families who did not have that kind of safety net. Communication with extended families was completely cut off. If I were that Grandma in Hoopa, I would get in my car and take those kids back home until their parents were able to provide a safe place for their children. It has been my experience at Arcata House that babies and toddlers do not like living on a street corner and when they come into a safe transitional house they thrive. Children need a stable and safe environment for healthy development.
I wish that family well -- they can call Arcata House on a weekly basis and check on their application. They can do "whatever it takes" to end homelessness for their family. I am sure that they have a "Cal Works" worker. The County of Humboldt has social services that will gladly aid this family, and AA and NA meetings are free and open to anyone. Yes, there are "bad people" in Eureka (and McKinleyville and Garberville) but my experience is relapse happens whenever you don't take your recovery with you.
The Christmas holidays are coming and our community is always very generous with homeless services providers during this time. Please remember that all of our nonprofits need your financial support to survive and continue our work, not just in December but all year long.
One last thought. When we advocate for a new project that will serve homeless people, please come out and support us. Be a YIMBY !
Karen "Fox" Olson, Executive Director, Arcata House
Communication can be a tricky thing. When I read the article "Family On The Corner" I became afraid for this family in ways I wasn't worried about before.
Heidi Walters and I have had a few conversations about houseless people through the years, so I wasn't prepared for her ignorance of the possible fallout that could be the result of this story -- either that, or recklessness.
I haven't seen these kids since the story came out. If it were you on the front page of a paper where people were painting you as worthless, what would you do? Say you're an addict who hasn't gotten into a program yet to learn to be his own best friend, instead of dope. Do you think that this public exposure would be a good thing? I can tell you that most addicts I've known will find this to be one more log on their fire; few will find it humiliating enough to turn them around. I'm continuing to pray that love will reach their hearts.
Also, I was misquoted. I don't believe I said "Give them time," as if I didn't understand the seriousness of the family's situation. I do, which is why I let them stay with me, to give them an opportunity to clean up and begin the better life that they say they want.
When Walters asked me at the end of the interview if I had any closing words of wisdom, I said "Keep hope alive." I don't believe in giving up on people. I will not support their habits. I've kicked mine; they can do the same. I will respect them and always hope for the best. That is what has gotten me on the road to health, so I'm passing it on: It's called Harm Reduction.
Kathy Anderson, Eureka
Sweet Spot: Fox Olson wins a Bon Boniere sundae for sending our favorite letter of the week.