I write this from Portland, Oregon. If you drive any of the freeways here, you can see it, but taking the light-rail train from the airport toward my son’s family’s house, the homeless issue is all the more apparent as you hurdle through a long, uninterrupted diorama of plastic and twisted metal elements of one of our society’s most complex ills. Big city problem? Hardly.
My son and I have had many conversations about it, but I was also speaking with a friend of mine, Stephen Klatt, who also grew up and still lives in Cambria. Many people in town are familiar with him recently through his efforts to clean up Santa Rosa Creek and the surrounding environs, posting heartbreaking videos on social media. I asked him what prompted him to take on this job that nobody else seems to want to address.
“I was taking my kids into the forest and along the water when I started finding old needles and waste… I was so disgusted and bummed out! When I was a kid growing up here in Cambria, we used to all play outside and roam the hills and creek bed. I don’t think anyone does any more. Nobody is actually out there seeing things, being a presence out there, keeping an eye on things.
“Now there are just a bunch of older folks laying wood chips on trails that make it like a park, but what is happening to our watershed and the edge of the woods? What is the real conservation effort going on here? I mean, I’m grateful for the acquisition of the ranch and the opportunity to enjoy it, don’t get me wrong! But, it is not complete.”
Like many of us concerned about not only our environment but the well-being of our fellow humans, Klatt feels people may be just hoping it won’t exist here. I agreed that many are turning a blind eye to the problem unless they’re faced with a panhandler on “their” street corner.
We all agree resources are scarce to nonexistent for addiction and mental health care, but the economy in general here is driving young, able-bodied people out of town and out of the state. “Without anyone going into the woods, being ‘around,’ all kinds of stuff starts happening like it is now. We can’t afford to live here, there are few opportunities for decent jobs. I mean, I’m eager to work hard but…”
My son agreed he could never carve out the comfortable life he and his family have created in Oregon.
“I realize people need a place to live, and I don’t mean they should go somewhere else but they gotta take care of this place, be responsible for their encampments. It’s harming us all. It’s a vicious circle — we’ve all got to work at this. It’s really complicated, I understand that. But it’s not going away!” Klatt said.
What do we do now? Pay attention, greet our transient residents so they know we know they are here, explore our resources more fully and actively work toward solutions… and roll up your sleeves.
Thank you, Stephen, for the huge job you’ve taken on so far!