Homeless in Truckee
June 9, 2009
TRUCKEE and#8212;-For the past month, Truckee resident Maggie Deto has been scrambling for a place to park her camping trailer. The obvious answer would be her driveway. But the problem is, this trailer and#8212; which is borrowed, lent to her temporarily by a retired state patrolman and#8212; is now Detoand#8217;s only home.
Deto has struggled on the brink of homelessness for the past six months, ever since she was evicted from her apartment in Henness Flats after a dispute with the apartment complex over mold growth and rent.
The story of how she arrived in this situation is tortuous, but suffice it to say that a perfect storm of mounting medical problems (and bills) along with a run of bad luck have landed her in a state of constant flux, where she is living bill-to-bill and day-to-day.
and#8220;Itand#8217;s like everything came down on me at once,and#8221; Deto said. and#8220;And everywhere I turn, I run up against something else.and#8221;
Deto, along with her 17-year-old son, Christian, stayed in the trailer through the winter months, when she said and#8220;it would get so cold that if you left your shoes on the floor of the trailer, ice would fill your shoes.and#8221; She had been parking the trailer in a church parking lot, where she has been allowed to access their electricity.
Recently, the church asked Deto to move on. And soon, she will have to return the trailer.
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Deto applied for Social Security Disability Insurance, citing her physical ailments, which include fungal growth in her stomach. After being denied the first time, she is awaiting word on her re-application.
Currently, her only income stems from the California Department of Social Servicesand#8217; Cash Aid program, which provides her with $500 each month. Deto said there are small jobs she could work to supplement her income, but said that if she receives a single paycheck, her disability insurance will be denied.
and#8220;Basically, Iand#8217;m just stuck in waiting,and#8221; Deto said.
As a result of her financial circumstances, Deto has been in touch with Truckee social services and philanthropic organizations, dealing extensively with the Family Resource Center (FRC) of Truckee. But, as Deto has found out, there is only so much an organization like the Family Resource Center can do.
and#8220;They have been incredible and have done as much as they can,and#8221; Deto said. and#8220;But they donand#8217;t have all the resources.and#8221;
Monica Caldari, the Deputy Director at the center, said her organization is limited when it comes to providing housing for those in need. Making matters worse, the demand for their services has risen during a time when their funding has been dramatically reduced.
“We can try to set people up with affordable housing, but sometimes we can only be a link for people,and#8221; Caldari said. and#8220;We have dealt with homelessness, and we do have some regular people who are in that situation. Homelessness does exist here, and it could be growing, because we know of several people who are definitely on the cusp of being in that position.and#8221;
Deto is arguably in that position already. Helping her with her struggle is Rob Sayers, a Truckee resident who says he was nearly homeless four times in the last five years.
Sayers said through his experiences (and by observing Detoand#8217;s), there is a need for more social services in Truckee, particularly to address the issue of homelessness. He emphasized the absence of a homeless shelter in Truckee.
and#8220;There is a gap between the needs of the struggling class and the services that are available,and#8221; Sayers said. and#8220;If you are evicted, then where are you going to go?and#8221;
Sayers, who suffered a serious spinal injury when a routine surgery to address a bone spur went awry more than two decades ago, can work only part-time and#8212; he is a clerk at the local Holiday Inn and#8212; but is able to make ends meet with the disability insurance he receives. Before that insurance was approved, however, Sayers said he was at one time down to just $140 to his name, and was contemplating suicide.
When he made a financial recovery, he wanted to start work on an agency that addressed what he calls and#8220;intermediate homelessness,and#8221; for those who are neither acutely or chronically homeless but those in a state of transition.
and#8220;I figured that if I had such a problem when I was struggling, then someone else probably does,and#8221; he said. and#8220;And Maggie is my first client.and#8221;
Sayersand#8217; ultimate goal is to acquire property and#8212; through financial donations or the donation of property itself and#8212; that can be turned into a homeless shelter. Though homelessness is far from a glaring issue in Truckee, the financial crisis has left few untouched. Individuals and families who were already in low-income situations may have to face the prospect of homelessness.
As Kaili Sanchez, the Truckee Program Director of Project MANA (Making Adequate Nutrition Accessible), said no one is immune to financial turmoil.
and#8220;What Iand#8217;ve found through referral services is that people are coming to use our services that used to own businesses,and#8221; Sanchez said. and#8220;And itand#8217;s the first time theyand#8217;ve ever done that. But now they have a problem because of the economy. And this means there is an increased need for rental assistance and bill-paying and other related services.and#8221;
Project MANA, which serves Northern Nevada and Northern California counties, distributes food each week in Truckee. Sanchez said the number of people served each week has risen from around 40 individuals in the fall to around 80 families per week during the winter months. She also said homelessness is an issue that needs increasing attention.
“Thereand#8217;s always homelessness here, whether itand#8217;s people who camp, people who get dropped off hitch-hiking,and#8221; Sanchez said. and#8220;We have people living in trailers and tents through the winter time and#8212; not a huge population and#8212; but we have people doing that. Thereand#8217;s definitely a hidden population here that people donand#8217;t necessarily see.and#8221;
Sayers describes that population as people and#8220;between the cracks and in the trenches.and#8221; He said that when individuals wind up in a dire situation, they have to learn to navigate the social services arena and#8212; something he said can be a daunting task.
and#8220;If youand#8217;re plunged into the struggling class and#8212; working poor, low income and sub-low income and#8212; youand#8217;re plunged into the social services arena to help meet your needs,and#8221; Sayers said. and#8220;But when you go to that well, you sometimes find yourself thrown down it.and#8221;
Sayers recalls the struggle he had in acquiring disability insurance after his spinal injury, when doctors denied he had problems, even while he was suffering from throbbing neck pain and various other debilitating ailments. It wasnand#8217;t until an MRI verified that his spinal cord was damaged and a cyst had developed in his spine that he was no longer branded as and#8220;hysterical and hypochondrial,and#8221; Sayers said.
Deto has ran up against similar challenges while applying for her disability aid, since it is not easy to objectively identify the stomach pain and other physical issues she struggles with. Sayers said Deto has tried everything and#8212; and#8220;When youand#8217;re poor, you have to work all the angles,and#8221; he said and#8212; but still remains in a waiting game with no definite outcome.
If her disability insurance does not come through and#8212; which would be in the neighborhood of $2,000 per month and#8212; she feels like she will have nowhere else to turn.
The feeling of helplessness is what Truckee local Rob Sayers wants to address through the creation of a homeless shelter and an outreach agency.
and#8220;From my experience, at every turn, there is a need for more services for the struggling class,and#8221; Sayers said.
Family Resource Centerand#8217;s Monica Caldari agrees that Truckee could use more help. Asked about a homeless shelter specifically, she said, and#8220;I wouldnand#8217;t think itand#8217;s a bad idea.
and#8220;We have talked about that subject here because right now there are people and#8212; people who are not actually homeless and#8212; who have received eviction notices because they canand#8217;t make their payments,and#8221; Caldari said.
Again, though, Caldari said that while her agency has discussed the idea of a homeless shelter, the Family Resource Center is having enough trouble maintaining its current level of services with its financial circumstances.
Caldari thinks the creation of a shelter, if it were going to be a sustainable venture, would require a collaborative effort with local government.
and#8220;I think it would have to be done through the Town of Truckee,and#8221; she said. and#8220;You would need the property and the money to run it. It would definitely have to be a town-community collaborative effort.and#8221;
Assistant to the Town Manager Alex Terrazas said that the town is not currently exploring the possibility of a homeless shelter, though he added that and#8220;there are probably some folks out thereand#8221; who are struggling to find housing.
The town does offer its affordable housing program, which is available to residents who meet the income requirement.