On a warm summer day, a Colusa police officer stopped a homeless man from stretching out under a shade tree in Veterans Memorial Park. He was one of several adults that typically congregate in the park during the day and find shelter at night wherever they can.
“If you have no place to go during the day and no place to go at night – that’s being homeless,” said John C., a park regular. “The police keep telling me to leave town. I don’t want to leave town. I was born in Colusa in 1952. Colusa is my home and I want to stay here.”
According to the Colusa County Department of Health and Human Services, the number of unsheltered people trying to survive in Colusa County has increased in recent years, just as it has across the state and nation.
The rising problem has prompted county officials to develop a strategic plan to address one of the root causes of homelessness: the lack of affordable and supportive housing for at-risk individuals and families, and those with chronic problems, such as illness, physical disability, mental health disorders, and substance abuse.
According to a survey authorized by Colusa County, as part of the Dos Rios Continuum of Care, which also includes Glenn and Trinity counties, there were 196 people in the three-county area identified as homeless during the last 10 days of January.
“At the point in time that the survey was taken, there was an average of about 87 that were identified as homeless without shelter,” said HHS Director Elizabeth Kelly. “Additionally, we had 35 developmentally disabled adults that were displaced as a result of the Paradise fire, so we provided transitional housing for them from November to March at the migrant housing.”
Colusa County officials commissioned the survey as part of a strategic plan to address homelessness with resources committed by the State of California under the No Place Like Home Program.
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors approved the plan in August.
“Homelessness is a national crisis affecting those experiencing it, but also impacting almost every aspect of society, including the economy, the environment, and our social norms,” the plan states. “Homelessness has many causes and few current solutions.”
According to the survey, 23 people were homeless but sheltered, three individuals were sleeping in abandoned buildings, seven stayed in a motel, six were outside, two slept in a park, three slept on a sidewalk, and seven were living in a vehicle. Of those, 18 were homeless for the first time, the survey said.
In the three-county area, 18 percent of all homeless are children, 8 percent are military veterans, and 8 percent have a mental illness.
County officials said that ending homelessness would require a unified and strategic plan to expand affordable housing opportunities that are paired with other local supportive services.
According to the Public Policy Institute, California renters pay 40 percent more than the national mean, yet the state’s median household income is only 18 percent higher than the nation’s average, making California home to more homeless people than any other state.
In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom committed $1 billion to fight homelessness.
Colusa County’s strategic plan will be used to apply for up to $500,000 to reduce or end homelessness by expanding secure housing opportunities or temporary shelters, which are partnered with lifetime supportive care programs.
“I hope the county gets the money,” John C said. “I really do. I think we can all use some help.” ■