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In the life of a community, like the life of an individual, there are defining moments, moments that illuminate true character. This is one such moment for Placerville. The question is whether the quirky, creative, entrepreneurial, openhearted personality of our city, which is part of our gold rush heritage, can extend to include our homeless. Right now the answer is no.
As of April 1, the generous wintertime hospitality of our area churches came to an end. In addition, the city-sponsored day shelter at Christ Like Services also closed. Hangtown Haven, the legal homeless encampment, was closed last November. Next month, the Community Resource Center will close its doors. Our elected officials and others in leadership are operating with a tough love mentality that believes the following:
1. Providing shelter and resources makes the homeless lazy.
2. By eliminating legal camping and outlawing panhandling, the homeless will be encouraged to get jobs and stop using alcohol and drugs in order to have money enough to have permanent shelter.
3. Knowing that there are no more handouts will drive the homeless away from Placerville.
Maybe there will be a few success stories with this approach. The question remains, what about those for whom tough love can’t work? These people include the mentally ill, chronic elderly alcoholics, soldiers suffering from PTSD, young people “graduated” from the foster care system at 18 with no life skills and no family to turn to for guidance, ex-convicts required to stay in our county, addicts with brain damage from drug use, women escaping violent environments with limited education and devastated self-esteem. Given the right programs there’s a chance that the foster care kids and the abused women can have traditional lives. But for many of the others the life they have now is the life they will always have. They have nowhere to go but here. They are members of our community, many with generational connections to our city. What they need from our community is the right to call Placerville home, which is to say a place to sleep at night and a place to be during the day that is legal and safe.
We understand that not everyone is called, as we at Mercy Way Rescue Church are, to love and know intimately these broken desperate people.
We get it that business owners don’t want our people loitering downtown. But where then are they to go? The new chief of police told one of us that his intention is to have our homeless brothers and sisters either “get out of town or live life on the installment plan 30 days at a time in the county jail.” Is that the best Placerville can do?
PASTOR FRANK GATES AND DR. MARY MAAGA
Ministry Team at Mercy Way Rescue Church