HOMELESS OR HOME FREE?
Inyo County has historically been an area to attract eclectic characters from all over the country, drawn to the sweeping landscapes of cowboy country juxtaposed by colossal mountain ranges.
But it has become increasingly expensive to live in the area.
The Sheet did a ride along with Inyo County’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), partnered with IMACA (Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action), which conducted a point-in-time (PIT) count on Wednesday evening of people experiencing homelessness in Bishop. Part of the reason for gathering the correct numbers of the homeless population is that those numbers are used by the California Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to determine government funding for public services.
According to employees of Inyo’s HHS Department, homelessness has been increasing overall in the county during the past few years. This is most likely due to the lack of available affordable housing.
The count was primarily conducted in the Bluffs area along a dirt road. Volunteers would knock on vehicle windows in an attempt to gather information. The count was conducted from 5-7 p.m.
This was just one team of several combing Bishop.
During the two hours, we encountered perhaps 10 people, but saw around thirty different vehicles dispersed in the brush and surrounding area. It was one of the coldest nights of the year, with temperatures below freezing by 5 p.m.
The homeless population we spoke to included a diverse demographic, including those who choose to be homeless, and those who have no other option. This included young people who have come to the area to devote their time to rock climbing and “would rather be tied down to four wheels than four walls,” and older people who have lived in the area most of their lives and have been squeezed out of their dwellings due to high rent prices.
We met one woman, a 23-year old from Oregon, who has been living in her van for the last two years. She is a nature photographer and avid rock climber.
Another man in his mid-thirties sold his home back east and has been residing in a hitched-trailer connected to his pickup truck with his three dogs.
There was a 63-year old long-time local woman who has been homeless since 2015. She is living in her Honda Civic, unable to pay rent with her $1,000/month Supplemental Security Income.
Parked alongside truckers on Route 6, she explained that she often tries to make herself look like a man, “because there can be creepers.”
The point of the count was to be able to gather information about 1) how many people in the area are homeless, and 2) to learn what their top needs are from social services.
Almost all of the people interviewed listed their top three priorities as: access to food, to water, and to a place to shower/use the restroom. There was a mixed consensus regarding whether they wanted any kind of designated parking area if those services were offered – some did, and some didn’t.
*Nonetheless, the County is in the process of trying to establish a safe parking area, which would include bathrooms.
The local food pantry and Salvation Army have been trying their best to serve food to the homeless, but it is only one entity and more help is needed. According to Inyo Health and Human Services, there is also a large gap in mental/behavioral health services in the area, which affects the homeless population greatly.
Another problem the County currently faces is the fact that HUD does not consider someone to be “homeless” if they are sleeping under a roof of any kind, including if they are couch surfing; even if these people state that they are homeless, HUD won’t recognize them and therefore won’t provide funding to the County for these individuals. This puts a wrench into the County’s pit-count, as many homeless people in the area stay with friends/family during this time of year in order to escape wintry temperatures.
The Department provided the participants of their survey gift bags that included hygienic supplies, gift cards to local businesses, and Narcan kits. They are doing their best to place people in homes whenever possible.