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This letter is in answer to Wendy Schultz’s article titled, “Hangtown Haven, a Flip Side.” There are so many false and misleading statements in it, I hardly know where to begin. But let me try.
Mr. Gardino’s first statement about homeless living on his property and “leaving their trash,” is the biggest reason why we built Hangtown Haven to begin with. Thank you for pointing out the reason why our community needs a clean, organized and safe place for the homeless to live together. A homeless person living by himself or herself out in the forest and on private land is one of the biggest dangers we face. Individual campfires can get out of control very quickly. Just ask our police chief and fire chief. At Hangtown Haven, individual campfires are not permitted. A fire is permissible only in the common fire pit, near a high-pressure water hose, something that is not available in the forest. Notice how much cleaner your ranch is, Mr. Gardino, now that the homeless have moved into Hangtown Haven.
His second statement about homeless in Sacramento defecating on streets, writing on walls and sleeping on streets are other very good reasons why we need Hangtown Haven. We provide porto-potties, a wall to write on and tents with sleeping bags that solve all of the problems you mention, although I am at a loss to equate our situation with that of Sacramento.
At this point he has identified two very good reasons why Hangtown Haven is needed in Placerville. Let’s look further.
Next he talks about women being raped and money stolen from the homeless. Let me ask you a question Mr. Gardino. Is a woman safer living by herself in the forest or in an encampment with 30 other people camped around her? I can only quote one of our single women, whose name I will not use, “I feel so much safer here than I did living alone in the woods. These guys are really looking out for me.” Now Mr. Gardino has given us three good reasons to build a shelter where homeless can live in a safe, clean environment.
He is next concerned about dirt in the creek. Hangtown Haven was cleared with a bulldozer run by the most skilled dozer operator in El Dorado County, Russ Reed. With the skill of a surgeon, he and his brother, Rob, moved dirt away from the creek clearing poison oak and blackberry bushes while not one drop of dirt landed in the creek. Nobody in our camp has access to the creek because it is fenced off. If anyone approaches the creek from the road, they will be mired in dense brush and blackberry bushes. But there was this access from the road before the Haven was built. And by the way, portable toilets do not leak and they are located as far away from the creek as possible. I am sure that the Wilkinson Corp. will take umbrage at your criticism of their product.
Smoking is only permitted in the common area and butt cans are distributed in abundance.
“Walking in the roadway” is a serious issue. People have been walking along Broadway for the 20 years that I have been living here. I gasp when I see women who are not homeless pushing baby strollers along that road inches from cars that are roaring by. Yes, two things need to be done that have nothing to do with homeless. The walking area needs to be widened and concreted by the city, and drivers need to drive slowly and carefully all along Broadway. Pedestrian safety has nothing to do with the homeless. People were walking up Broadway long before Hangtown Haven was built.
Sacramento has no relevance to what we are doing here in Placerville. Our community, city government, churches, non-profits and generous individuals have joined together to provide a safe, clean and organized place to live so that you will no longer see trash on your ranch and will see the possibility of forest fires greatly reduced. The homeless people living in the Haven adhere to the laws of the city, or we call the police. They follow the laws of the encampment or they are forced to leave. “Hard decisions” have been made and are being made every day. Please come by and see what we are doing Mr. Gardino and meet some of our homeless citizens. I will gladly take you on a guided tour.
You will “Create a problem you cannot control,” is an absurd statement. The establishment of Hangtown Haven has reduced problems. Just ask the police. They report that there have been fewer instances of crime and other disturbances in our city to which they have responded now that the Haven has been established. Ask Chief Neilson. His men and women come by every day and talk with the homeless.
So “something must be done.” Exactly what Mr. Gardino? Close down the only organized encampment existing in Northern California? Throw homeless men and women back out onto the street where they will sleep on the pavement, throw trash on your property, use your sidewalks for a toilet? Tell me why that is better than providing a clean, safe and organized camp for them.
Change is tough. Change for the better is inevitable and providing a place for our homeless to get off the streets at night is the best thing we can do for our community. Thank you Mr. Gardino, for giving us so many reasons why building Hangtown Haven has been so important.
President, HangTown Haven, Inc.