Balcita: Stories shine light on hardships faced by South Lake Tahoe residents suffering homelessness
Special to the Tribune
The holiday season is here and with it has come the cold weather and for some it has brought mounds of debt from buying gifts to impress people they don’t like.
In all of the joys and dramas of the holiday season, it can be easy for some to forget about the people that will be braving hunger and the colder weather out on the streets this Christmas.
In the hopes of shedding light to the conditions members of our town’s homeless population have to live in, I recently took to the streets and interviewed a vast array of people from all walks of life who are homeless, whose stories will help the rest of us better understand the barriers, difficulties and indignities they face day in and day out.
For privacy reasons, their names have been withheld.
“I’m almost 18. It’s hard to be homeless, especially here in Tahoe, because of the cold weather,” said a local Lake Tahoe Community College student. “The hardest part for me is trying to protect myself, because I have been assaulted multiple times. People don’t know how hard it really is out here. Life is really hard and we’re just trying to make it through.”
Some feel the challenges are made greater by what they perceive as a local government that prioritizes economic growth over individuals. “I have watched the city of South Lake Tahoe cast us aside in the hopes of rushing the rich people in and the poor people out, so they can make Tahoe more upscale,” said a Vietnam veteran, and longtime local. “They don’t realize what they’re doing to us. I have almost died on these streets countless times.”
He is not the only one who feels enough is not being done to help the local homeless population. “The worst part of this is I have been spit on, assaulted on the streets, and so hungry because I give everything I can to get my son his next meal,” said a single mom, who is a domestic violence survivor. “I want people to know that homeless people are not less than you. And SLT government, we are citizens here too, and it is your jobs to represent and help us the same way you do for people that are not homeless.”
Despite those perceptions, however, both city officials and homeless advocates point to a healthy relationship that has helped provide shelter during the harsh winter months.
“The current council voted for the city to lease a space to us for the Warm Room last winter,” said Dr. Marissa Muscat, director of the nonprofit Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. “Last winter we were open for 98 nights (90 of them in the city building), served 109 individuals, and provided 1,809 shelter bed nights.
“Police Chief Brian Uhler and some of his officers have served on a task force to discuss ways to collaborate. They have helped us improve our operations so that we are in sync with the police department on how to promote safety among the homeless and the community. I have been impressed and grateful for the relationship we have developed with the city in our short time as a nonprofit organization.”
And the effort will continue at the city level, according to Chris Fiore, the city’s communications director.
“We are actively trying to reduce the homeless population in our area and have taken steps to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect,” Fiore said in an email. “Like cities all across the country, especially in California, South Lake Tahoe is consistently trying to find ways to address the affordable housing problem we have here at home.”
Homelessness is a multifaceted issue that according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness more than half a million people face in our country today. People can blame the government or the homeless but in my opinion the problem lies in perception.
The solution to abating homelessness is changing our perceptions and uniting to make a real lasting change. If we do not take action as individuals, a community, and a country toward aiding the homeless, the homeless population will continue to grow.
Change begins with you and me. The first step we can take toward helping the homeless in South Lake Tahoe is by joining Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless in their efforts by visiting their website at tahoehomeless.org.
Blue Balcita is the editor of The 1974, the new student newspaper at Lake Tahoe Community College. She also volunteered as a police records technician intern with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.