By Frank Smart

The homeless situation in Tuolumne County is never going to get better, only worse, unless a coalition of people, organizations, and governments come together to start the long, expensive process of getting a handle on the situation.

Throughout our state and nation the number of people who are homeless continues to grow, and it will not stop no matter how good the economy gets.

In some areas, the federal government and the Department of Veterans Affairs have had some success getting people into some form of affordable housing. Locally, the Catholic Charities FAMVET organization has had some success.

The numbers have increased dramatically since I was first involved with ATCCA in 2006 in a Point-In-Time Survey. Then my focus was on learning how many veterans were homeless and that was the catalyst for me organizing Stand Downs (five in eight years) to help alleviate their condition. Those Stand Downs were sponsored by Chapter 391, Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., of Tuolumne County, a veterans group I started in 1988.

I stopped doing the Stand Downs because I felt I was not getting anything much accomplished for the time, effort and expense involved. I had little or no housing resources.

Here, therefore, is my initial and incomplete proposal to start the process in Tuolumne County to address homelessness.

First, form a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation for fundraising, thereby making donations tax-deductible.

The non-profit corporation would be the vessel to start raising money but eventually an organization, probably a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), would be the group to take the funds and apply them to the situation. Perhaps that organization could be ATCCA.

The involvement of the City of Sonora and the County of Tuolumne is absolutely essential. Then civic/social groups such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lion’s and other non-profits, to include veterans organizations, would join in.

Other organizations, such as businesses, foundations, churches and other religious organizations, could help as well as one of the most diverse and dynamic groups in Tuolumne County: individuals who are concerned and are led by conscience and/or religious beliefs to become involved, sometimes referred to as heavy hitters.

The first thing that probably comes to mind is how in the world would you ever get this many groups to work together and accomplish anything?

It has happened before and by that I hold up Interfaith Community Social Services.

It would not be easy. It is complicated concerning many rules, regulations, codes, etc.,etc., but unless I miss my guess it could be done and the people of Tuolumne County can make it happen. This is the most generous place on the face of God’s earth.

And I say that after 30 years of involvement with veterans, the homeless and the disabled and other facets of life in Tuolumne County.

What we need is someone or something to take the bull by the horns and start moving forward and stop kicking the can down the road.

It would probably take five to 10 years to start making a dent in the situation, maybe less.

Another group I hold up to view is Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County, which Jamestown resident Ruth Callahan and myself started in 1998 and has built 28 houses so far and more to come.

It is the only sustainable low-income housing in Tuolumne County and those words are from the mouth of Supervisor Randy Hanvelt.

But we are talking about lower than low-income.

We are talking about people who have not been able to rise even to that level and sustain that level long enough to get off the street.

The issues of mental illness would, of course, have to be addressed, along with education, voc-rehab and law and order issues.

At some point, the state and federal governments will come into play but that will happen, I think, when the local group has made some progress and can point to that success.

I know some will ridicule this idea, and me, and start hurling barbs, pointing fingers and trying to place blame and pooh-pooh the whole idea.

The fact remains the people of this great community absolutely must do something. The fragmented efforts by several groups aren’t working.

If not now, when? If not this idea, what idea? If not us, who?

I stand ready to do whatever I can.

Contact Frank Smart at fsmart@rocketmail.com, (209) 536-0439 or (209) 559-1908.

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