Increased transient traffic is taking a toll

Pristine beauty is one of the features that attracted me to Lassen County. I felt drawn to the mountains, lakes, rivers and streams so bountiful here. I was grateful to be able to raise my children in such abundant beauty. Our first Susanville home was near Meadow View School and our family often walked the trail there. We also spent warm summer days lazing in Susan River, as a family.

Later, we purchased a home in the uptown area with proximity to the Bizz Johnson Trail, which was a major bonus. At first, I spent summer days drifting in the cool waters of Susan River near the second bridge. Sometimes I even had a little beachy spot to myself all afternoon without seeing another soul. When our cycling friends visited they were convinced that we have a slice of heaven right outside of our backdoor.

A description taken from a marathon website concurs, “The Bizz Johnson Trail traverses some of the most beautiful and inaccessible country in California’s Sierra foothills. One of the finest gems in the national rails-to-trails network, it’s also arguably the country’s most scenic marathon route …”

TrailLink, a Rails to Trails conservancy refers to the Bizz as, “spectacular.”

And a user review calls it, “One of the most beautiful trails I have ever been on. The canyon is glorious with all sorts of wildlife and geological features.”

Now I have grandchildren who live nearby. I hoped to share many of the same experiences with them that my own children enjoyed growing up in Lassen County.

But, if we want to take our children’s children swimming we drive at least 45 minutes to another of Lassen County’s bodies of water. We still live near the Bizz Johnson but I can no longer laze a day away on the Susan River or bring my grandchildren to splash in the water near the bridges without grave concerns.

A recent Lassen County Times article revealed the unsanitary conditions and practices transient squatters unleashed on multiple properties near Johnstonville Road. It seems feasible and reasonable to conclude homeless encampments produce human waste and garbage too.

Encampments along the Susan River are often visible starting just past Main Street along Riverside Drive and along the stretch behind the Little League field. Some are visible from the road or trail, while many more are better concealed.

Here are some issues other parts of California are dealing with due to homeless encampments:

In San Diego, the Regional Water Quality Control Board launched an investigation in early June into the sources of human waste in the San Diego River and its tributaries after monitoring revealed high concentrations of fecal matter in 12 locations. Homeless encampments were among the suspected sources.

Hepatitis A, also spread primarily through feces, has infected more than 1,000 people in Southern California in the past two years … primarily among people who are homeless or use drugs.

In Central California, homeless activity along the American River near Sacramento was also the suspected cause of elevated bacteria levels in 2017.

Los Angeles recently experienced an outbreak of typhus, causing officials to briefly close part of City Hall due to a report that rodents had invaded the building. The medieval disease is spread by fleas and feces and the city of L.A. links the outbreak to their homeless population.

Additionally, a LAPD officer was just diagnosed with typhoid fever along with six others from the same precinct who are displaying symptoms. The onset of symptoms began after these officers were working in or near the downtown homeless encampments.

Public health officials and politicians are using terms like “disaster” and “public health crisis” to describe the outbreaks, and they warn that these diseases can easily jump beyond the homeless population.

And, while the number of transients and encampments is far less here in Lassen County, they are increasing exponentially. Our Bureau of Land Management monitors encampments along Susan River that most of us have never seen or heard of.

For a glimpse of struggles in nearby areas, just Google images for Redding, Chico and Sparks. Tahoe recently conducted a cleanup of several camps and they have had to limit cattle grazing in certain areas due to sanitation issues created by the camps.

Theories about why abound but we need to know how to keep our families safe and healthy while working out logistics.

And, here’s a number that demands attention: One. The number of sparks it will take to decimate our town.

In May, a San Jose family was displaced after a homeless man started a fire on their porch. The incident was caught on surveillance and the transient was taken into custody.

Shortly before the fire started, the footage from the residents “Nest” camera (which can be viewed online) showed the man sitting on a sofa on the front porch of the home where the flames broke out. The fire destroyed two homes and displaced eight people.

Around 5 a.m. Thursday, July 18, a fire that decimated a South Los Angeles home started in a homeless encampment in the alley behind the residence. The family witnessed the transient running from the point of origin. The father lost all of his construction gear for his job in the fire and the family with their three young children are currently living in their car.

Our law enforcement and city officials are working hard to protect and restore order to our community, but we are their eyes and ears. Vigilance is crucial. Report unusual activity and be aware of empty homes in your neighborhoods. Squatters are building cooking fires in empty homes in this dry, windy weather and it’s not a matter of if, but when a blaze will get out of control.

Surveillance, it seems, is no longer optional but thankfully there are affordable systems accessible to anyone with a cell phone. Lots of cameras covering your property, street and sidewalk can also provide coverage of entrances to neighboring homes that are currently empty.

If you live near streams or have extensive property, it may be time to employ a drone to monitor the perimeter and provide access to areas not easily visible.

Resources charged with providing public safety are stretched thin and they need and deserve our appreciation more than ever.

Hopefully, together we can fortify and protect this hidden gem we are privileged to call home making its neighborhoods, parks and trails safe for generations to come.