Saturday, July 12, 2014

(Nevada County) Grand jury report doesn’t come close to root of homeless issues

July 11, 2014
The Union of Grass Valley
Opinion, by Janice O’Brien, president of Sierra Roots

As a person who has worked daily with the homeless in Grass Valley and Nevada City for the last 10 years — and as a co-founder of Hospitality House and as the president of the new nonprofit called Sierra Roots, whose mission is to build community with the homeless of our community who cannot or will not go to Hospitality House — I am appalled at the Nevada County civil grand jury’s report about the “PVTs” (panhandlers, vagrants and transients) in our community.
I hate that label and disagree completely with the jury’s findings.
First of all, I’d like to know who exactly the unnamed interviewee, “who is extremely experienced in working with this population,” is. Whoever it is, that person’s facts — “Most PVTs are males with drug and alcohol addiction problems;” “They (PTVs) do not take responsibility for their condition and do not seek treatment;” “Their behavior is not healthy to themselves or our community;” “Their camps resemble a third-world site with dangerous trash and potential health issues for the community as a whole” and finally, “the majority of PTVs are not willing to be rehabilitated” — are completely bogus.
Anyone who can make these sweeping accusations of a general population must be identified and qualified. The paper goes on to say that the identity and qualifications of that interviewee were not included in the report. Are you kidding me?
As an advocate for the homeless who has worked directly with the addicted, the mentally ill, the dirty and the desperate of our community for 10 years, I wish to weigh in on my experience with them.
First of all, most of them are not males with drug and alcohol problems. We serve nutrient-dense food weekly to as many as 30 local homeless; out of that number, I estimate that there are five seriously addicted men who struggle over and over again to get sober and stay sober. They relapse and start over again while fighting mental disorders such as anxiety disorder and depression and PTSD, as well. It is known that recovery is extremely difficult when you’re living on the streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go and no hope of a better life.
Sierra Roots works with each of these desperate folks to help them get the help they want when they want the help. Through our personal connection and encouragement, we are a support for them to get sober and to stay sober. We work with Common Goals, CoRR and Salvation Army to offer the rehabilitation they want when they’re ready.
Secondly, they do take responsibility for their condition and do seek treatment — mental health treatment, physical health treatment and rehabilitation treatment — when we help them get the transportation to get to appointments and meetings since they have no money and no means of transportation. Most of them walk and walk long distances when they can. Most of them feel very guilty about the poor decisions they have made in their lives that have led them to their situation now. Many of them suffer great sadness and depression because of the violent family issues they experienced as children. Most of them have been damaged psychologically since childhood. Many are disabled physically from work accidents and even when on some disability, they don’t get enough to rent a room or an apartment.
I could go on down the line and refute every accusation the “unknown” interviewee made. The grand jury did not seek out real people who do in fact work with these desperate people every day, all year long.
I call for justice, compassion and truth in these reports. Yes, we have a homeless population, as every town and city of this nation has. How we address the situation will speak volumes as to what kind of people we are.
I disagree that this grand jury’s report speaks for this community. The attitude of this report is not what I experience with the great number of volunteers and supporters who want to address the situation with real solutions, instead of false and exaggerated accusations of a faceless and nameless population labeled as “PTVs” by a nameless and faceless person — the unknown interviewee.
I quote a well-known Catholic theologian, Walter Brueggemann, on how to speak truth to power. He says, “Legitimate power always includes attentiveness to justice. When power is not attentive to justice it cannot endure. This is a summons to us to keep the agenda of justice for the vulnerable alive and front and center to maintain a kind of subversive stance toward power.”
If anyone who reads this wants to help find real solutions to this situation in our community, join Sierra Roots to get to the root of the problem. Visit

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