By Jim Caywood

I was appalled that our Sonora City Council leaders denied Hazel Mitchell a spot on the homeless task force. Hazel Mitchell is the most knowledgeable person on this issue and definitely should be on the task force.

The Mitchells, Hazel and Dick, have a vested interest in this community, owning several prominent business buildings on Washington Street, as well as helping the homeless. They have constructive ideas on how to solve this situation.

The Sonora City Council essentially voted to criminalize the homeless population of Tuolumne County by their votes to prohibit camping within the city limits. This is how the population is affected; federal studies show that approximately 50 percent of the homeless population has diagnosed mental problems and must have access to mental health to receive care plus sustain their income for disability. They must go to local doctors for treatment and prescriptions.

Many homeless get a check every month of about $950. The money they receive is inadequate to pay rent, utilities, and still buy food. They still have to come to town to buy food and necessary supplies such as batteries, toilet paper, feminine products and the like.

They can’t afford transportation except on rare occasions or emergencies. That is why you see so many walking to their destination. They have no other way to get mail except at the post office by general delivery.

The State of California, when Ronald Reagan became governor had 37,000 patients in state mental care. When he left after two terms there were 7,000. The effect of this failed policy is evident in today’s homeless statistics.

The early release of non-violent felons by AB 109 and other bills has added to the homeless problem and the recidivism rate as high as it is. These are the people the ordinance should be targeting.

Other interesting statistics accumulated by a non-profit called Give Someone A Chance, are that approximately 10 percent of the homeless in Tuolumne County have family ties to the community. If they are forced out of the city, they will just go to the county.

Twenty to 30 percent would work if they could qualify for a job. Many are denied employment due to minor criminal offenses or they lack skills. The Department of Revenue Recovery is tasked to recover any revenue ordered by the courts.

As this affects the homeless, there is no incentive to get a legitimate job because they would have their wages attached. Some do odd jobs for cash just to afford to eat. Modesto was able to obtain a homeless court. They got a state official to put money in the budget for a homeless court in the State Judicial System. This allows them to review deserving cases.

The Sonora Task Force would be wise in pursuing Modesto’s methodology. The ordinance recently voted in the Sonora City Council only shifts the burden from the city to the county, it doesn’t solve the problem, it just kicks the can down the road.

Other successful task forces have included all facets of the community to minimize the homeless problem. To prevent criminalizing, the task force must be balanced from all areas of the community such as churches, hospitals, county Board of Supervisors, qualified homeless advocates such as churches, David Lambert drop in, Interfaith, Give Someone A Chance, Veterans Representative, Sheriff and Police departments, just to name a few.

Jim Caywood is a resident of Jamestown.