Open Mic: Finding a Way Forward

I live across the street from the Novato Library and the homeless encampment at Lee Gerner Park. Like many of my neighbors, I don’t want to see people living in such unsightly squalor. Ugh! But unlike some neighbors, I don’t think that simply scraping them off the land and banishing them from sight is the answer. Where will they go? The city seems to have no answers. Therefore, I celebrate Federal Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’ temporary restraining order against the city’s planned evictions. She is upholding the law.

Park residents are human beings, and their plight brings into question our own humanity. Research points toward the likelihood that many homeless have experienced severe trauma and abuse. That, to me, implicates the greater society. They, too, are my neighbors.

I’ve spoken to residents there, and collectively they say: “People don’t have to be afraid of us. We’re not bad people, we’re just homeless.” In numerous interactions, I never felt threatened. Last summer during the smoke, I hesitated to walk 50 yards to my mailbox without an N-95 mask. Yet I saw these, my unhoused neighbors, breathing that smoke 24/7—and was heartsick.

Novato City Council’s anti-camping ordinances are heartless, though I understand the pressure good citizens were applying on them. No camping during the day would mean an inability to maintain even the barest of stability for people without homes. In progressive Marin, are homeless people the last sub-humans, deserving no dignity?

I appreciate the Pacific Sun/Bohemian coverage of the controversy. Yet, I haven’t seen in your coverage the fact that some who live near the park have spoken in favor of keeping the encampment there, with bathrooms, wash stations, trash receptacles and homeless services provided. I testified at the City Council meeting in favor of park residents, as did other locals—though clearly the Council’s decision had been made prior to the meeting.

Believe me—I, too, want the encampment to go away, but only through supplying options, services and a way forward toward a decent life for everyone currently homed there.

Bill Blackburn lives in Novato. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected]
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