Local residents pack a special joint meeting by the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and the Susanville City Council at Jensen Hall Tuesday, Feb. 18 to listen, learn and voice their concerns about homelessness in the area. Photo by Sam Williams

Community voices homeless concerns at joint meeting

It’s time for solutions, many said Tuesday night, Feb. 18 during the joint Lassen County Supervisors and Susanville City Council meeting regarding homelessness.

Jensen Hall was packed with county residents, many standing, eager to learn more about the services provided to those experiencing homelessness in the county and to voice their concerns and opinions on what could be done to remedy the issue of crime and people living along with river and in abandoned buildings.

By the end of the meeting, both boards offered city and county staff direction to work together in forming a task force to more regularly tackle the matter and find solutions that will work for the area.

The meeting, though, also offered residents time to share their thoughts and concerns during the one hour and 50 minutes of public comments. Supervisor board chairman David Teeter let anyone who wished to speak do so.

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Ranging from local government needing to take action keeping the river clean for events like the Junior Fishing Derby and for public health, to tent cities, to making those who aren’t accepting services uncomfortable to the point where they do accept help and the need to support Crossroads Ministries, there were voices on both sides of the matter, but ultimately with one shared goal: To help solve homelessness in Lassen County.

Wade Workman, Lassen Sportsman Club president, shared the different feelings around town regarding the Junior Fishing Derby, of which he is chairman. Often, parents express excitement in the months prior, but this year, Workman said many don’t want their children on the river with the trash and people there.

“We really need to do something to get the river clean,” he said. “It needs to be accessible to everybody, a pleasant place to go. We can’t have things in the river that can hurt other people … I think everybody’s right — it’s going to take a community effort to make it happen.”

Others at the meeting shared it will take daily action to help keep those experiencing homelessness off the public lands.

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Some suggested the trails along the river should be utilized more to have a constant presence along the rivers; others wanted to include the state water board to help protect the water quality, and cut back brush along to river to open up the landscape and limit places to hide. Susanville Fire Chief James Moore later shared permits for clearing the understory are awaiting approval, and there are some limitations on what can be cleared directly on the river, per the Department of Fish and Wildlife to maintain water temperature, but the department is working on it.

There were also some who shared concerns of people taking advantage of social service programs and coming to the area for assistance, while others shared their own experiences with homelessness and the appreciation for the services they received.

One man spoke about his experience being homeless in 2017 and his struggle with substance abuse.

Then, he entered Crossroads Ministries, where he said he received an outpouring of love, when he couldn’t love himself. From then, he’s been able to help others with the same struggles he faced, feel self-worth and improve their situations.

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Cheri Farrell, Crossroads Ministries director, said she is blessed because she gets to see transformations take place, but said it takes everyone supporting the person for transformation to take place.

“I know there have been a lot of things spoken, there are a lot of feelings, but this is Susanville, for crying out loud,” said Farrell, adding she moved to the area because of its residents’ love, acceptance and respect for others.

She said in January, there were 70 unduplicated people who came into the shelter, but in the same month, 15 people were relocated out of the area and state to family, programs or back home. She thanked God for what He does in the lives of people, said Crossroads doesn’t advertise and thanked assistance from law enforcement and county agencies.

Others, including a social worker from the hospital, also noted Crossroads’ importance for having somewhere to send people for shelter following medical treatment.

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Further statements during the public comment portion of the meeting stressed the lack of safety for people alone on trails, panhandling and the potential affect on local businesses hoping to draw tourism to the area.

There were also concerns brought up about abandoned houses being broken into and warming fires causing destruction.

Local contractor Michael Kirack said there were “a lot of good people leaving” the area, and criticized the lack of code enforcement on abandoned buildings.

He suggested the city work on an economic development plan and bolster its code enforcement efforts.

Moreover, speakers wished for a solution regarding those experiencing homelessness who are not accepting the assistance from community social service programs or crossroads.

Reuben Mahnke said the community should work to “severely limit their excuses,” for not accepting help, and suggested a workability program, like San Diego’s Wheels of Change.

Additionally, some suggested a type of tent city off the river for those in need of shelter.

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Resident Jim Chapman called for the joint collaboration between the city and county, suggesting a parcel to host the tents and facilities.

“We cannot tolerate a lack of solutions,” he said.

Overall, the city council members and the supervisors offered their direction to their respective staffs to form a task force committee to start bringing about solutions to the problem at hand, with the supervisors also offering direction to look for land for a potential shelter.