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Tahoe’s Hidden Homeless

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on March 18, 2015

In this week’s Give Back Tahoe Sierra Sun page, we explore what it means to be homeless in North Lake Tahoe.  By bringing attention to this oft neglected issue, we hope to open an important dialogue to the larger community so that we all may take steps together to helping serve our neighbors. 

The “image” of a homeless person may conjure up a variety of mental pictures. However, what does homelessness look like in North Tahoe?

In rural and remote areas where homeless individuals take to abandoned buildings and unseen natural spaces instead of street corners, it is easy to neglect the pressing issue of homelessness.

At a January Resource Sharing meeting, representatives from the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee, the Truckee Police Department, Placer County Sherriff’s Office, and more met to discuss Tahoe’s hidden homeless.

In February, Nevada and Placer County employees and volunteers facilitated the 2015 Homeless Count. Thanks to the count’s organizers and over twenty volunteers scouring community service agencies, public spaces, schools, and homeless camps, we now have a better grasp of homelessness in North Lake.  In total, they counted fifty-one people and conducted forty-five interviews.

Because the parameters defining homelessness in children are more stringent than those for adults, the count does not accurately reflect the real number of our homeless children. A child is considered homeless if she lives in a motel room or shares a single home with multiple families; or when she has no proper place to sleep or to do her homework, and she consistently misses meals. When children lack nutrition, sleep, and the structure of a secure home, they fall behind in school at a rate that is eventually insurmountable.  However, unless their families take advantage of community resources, we do not know who they are.

Our homeless adults have many faces. In the style of a classic “hobo”, traveling homeless individuals arrive at Tahoe by train and highway.  They may move on, or live in encampments for the summer and leave for winter.  Some chronically homeless persons, those homeless for a full year or four separate times in three years, may spend the winter with friends while still others continue to live outdoors in dangerous conditions.

Homelessness weighs on the entire community.  Taxpayers take on the responsibility of frequent emergency room visits, criminal justice costs, and illegal fire response calls. Homelessness does not usually occur as an isolated crisis; there are instances of mental illness, neglect, substance abuse/addiction, or domestic abuse.  While several agencies are available to help families and individuals who need resources, we cannot help those unknown.

The Homeless Count and resource sharing meetings take significant steps towards addressing this important issue. By identifying the specific needs of our region, we can implement the appropriate support systems to serve all of our citizens. In our community, every person and child matter.