“Everybody’s talking to each other now, and it’s very exciting,” said Ed Pecis, who gave a presentation about homelessness during an event sponsored by the Weed Chamber of Commerce Thursday in Weed.
Pecis said his aim is to not judge homeless people, and he was impressed with how friendly and fearless Dr. Robert Marbut was when approaching them for his study earlier this year.
The north and south county communities have increased communication on the topic recently, and Pecis said people are asking what the problems are and how can we help.
The newly-formed, countywide Siskiyou Homelessness Coalition will soon have a foundation in place to field those questions. They are working on getting a national database to track and assist homeless people in Siskiyou County.
“To start, people need to change their views on the homeless,” he said. “Many of them are single mothers with children who move from house to house.”
Domestic violence also contributes to homelessness. But some homeless are not who you might think. A couple of the pictures he showed the 35-plus people at the meeting in the Weed City Council Chambers were of undercover police officers.
He pointed out that many homeless prefer being left alone and don’t want help.
TeamShasta decided to study homelessness in the county and called other towns to hear what they had been doing about the situation. A woman in Chico referred them to Dr. Marbut of Texas. TeamShasta received monies from the five police departments in the county along with a gift from the John Lopey Foundation and brought him up for nine days in April.
Marbut had been helping homeless people at his father’s church in Texas for 13 years when he realized they were the same people, whose situations had not changed. He decided to talk with the people he was giving food to and to help in other ways.
He now has the largest homeless center in the United States, including a dental facility, Pecis said, and provides “wraparound care” for them. They may have a pizza night, and he and the staff use that opportunity to go talk with them to find how they can be assisted.
Marbut spent nine days in Siskiyou County this past April, walking with Pecis around to homeless encampments and talking with people from all over the county who come into contact with homelessness. He interviewed hospital administrators, ministers, service providers, people involved with St Vincent de Paul, the Chambers of Commerce, the library, the park district, community resource centers and more.
They interviewed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said, and then Marbut would go and talk with people he found at a burger place in Mount Shasta. “He went non-stop,” Pecis said. “He’d just walk up to them and start a conversation.” They asked local police officers where the encampments were and would go there, he said.
Pecis said one in five homeless people have a mental illness, and it’s important to get them the help they need.
The Siskiyou Homeless Coalition has identified 82 homeless in the county, but said the number fluctuates because some of them are seasonal. The group is interested in receiving federal funds to considerably improve the situation. To do so, they need to take a Point in Time (PIT) survey countywide over a single 24-hour period. Pecis asked all those interested in helping with the count to call him. County sheriffs and police will accompany volunteers on the count when needed.
There are considerably more homeless if single mothers with children are taken into account, an audience member pointed out. Pecis agreed, but said they are difficult to track. He also noted that the number rises at the end of the month when the working poor are unable to afford their motel rooms and become homeless for a time.
The PIT count will help the coalition secure federal grants to purchase a Homeless Management Information System, which would collect information on the homeless and give ideas for housing and other services to help them.
The HMIS is also used by government agencies to track where a homeless person might travel, thereby avoiding the possibility of counting them twice. It helps planners and policymakers make informed policy, too.
The Siskiyou Homelessness Coalition is working to organize a Point in Time count, a tally of homeless people in January, to fulfill a requirement to apply for a $800,000 federal grant.
Internet research shows that there is an annual cost to maintaining the program. Training of the users of the program is one of the expenses, too.
Pecis stressed that the county cannot continue to allow homeless encampments to form. But, he noted, once cleaned up, the homeless do not return to encampments.