Mark your calendar — at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 at Jensen Hall — the Lassen County Board of Supervisors has invited the Susanville City Council and the public to participate in a joint special meeting to discuss the homeless issue in Lassen County. The city council also has announced it will place the homeless issue on its future agendas to give residents and the councilmembers an opportunity to discuss the matter in a public forum.
A crowd of frustrated city residents appeared at the council’s Jan. 15 meeting to complain about crime and the homeless in Susanville, but the councilmembers were limited in their response because the item had not been agendized and they were unable to discuss it in any detail or take any action — restrictions imposed by the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law. While some in attendance at that meeting suggested all the crime in Susanville is due to the homeless, others said drug addicts who have places to live and receive county assistance funds also are to blame.
According to some members of the public, in any case, the council is responsible for all of this. When one member of the public criticized the police department, another pointed out police officers are city employees — the council hires the chief and the officers and they should be fired if they’re not up to the tasks for which they’re responsible.
When Mike Wilson, city administrator, pointed out any resident could file a complaint against any officer, a member of the public continued to press the council’s responsibility, reminding the councilmembers they work for the people and the people are here at this meeting putting this issue at their feet.
Everyone should take a deep breath and calm themselves. City residents have been complaining about crime and homelessness in the city for years, but now they’ve had enough, and the status quo is no longer good enough for them.
Some local residents demand immediate action and immediate results, but that is unlikely. One court insider estimates the prosecution of a single homeless person who demands their legal rights — to be represented by a court appointed attorney, to face a jury trial of their peers — who is convicted and then incarcerated would not only disrupt the lives of many residents called to serve on the jury but would cost the county perhaps as much as $30,000.
And for what? When that homeless person is released after a short time in custody, they would still be homeless and face all the challenges they faced before prosecution. The insider said this was not a very productive use of taxpayer money or the public’s resources.
Despite all the frustration, there is some light on the horizon. The California governor has proposed as much as a billion dollars to address this issue. The county is expected to receive nearly $500,000 to address the homeless problem in Lassen County. The county is contracting with agencies that have years of successful experience dealing with the homeless — moving them off the streets and into shelters and then getting them the services they need to overcome their substance abuse or mental health issues.
Such programs will not succeed overnight, but our public officials should be aware — the residents are restless and they’ve reached their tipping point. It’s time for us to work together to begin to resolve this problem once and for all.