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HOMELESS in PARADISE

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HOMELESS in PARADISE


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A fulfilling life choice for some, a

devastating turn of events for others

BY JAMIE WANZEK

Staff Reporter

 

The evening is coming to a close at the Sierra Nevada College campus.

The hustle and bustle of students is replaced with moonlit shadows from the canopying pines, while the library and art studio hold quiet whispers of the remaining students working on their studies.

One student who can be found working diligently in the art studio on her degree in Fine Arts, is Sophomore Miranda McFarland. Before McFarland retires for the evening, she works on homework and artwork in the Hollman Art Building.

While many students will head home after their studies, Miranda’s home looks much different than her peers. With a bedroom under the stars, a mattress made of sand, and a 1,600 foot deep bathtub known as Lake Tahoe, Miranda’s home is a collection of paradisal conveniences shared with the back of her car.

In order to obtain a self-sustained lifestyle, Miranda has made the conscious decision to be homeless in paradise.

“The biggest reason I made the decision to be homeless was for simple living. I have so much freedom making this dramatic lifestyle change,” McFarland said.

This choice has allowed Miranda to gain a rich experience with lessons of  self-sustainment. While living in the back of her car, McFarland  finds herself with freedom and resilience to experience college and Lake Tahoe. With the studio and library as her living room, McFarland uses her resources at SNC to assist her experience without a roof.

“I am taking more classes and not stressing. I have a lot more freedom in the end. I have time now. Time is the essence. The world we are living in, we are always running from the clock. It’s a lot more stress free, I enjoy my new lifestyle,” McFarland said.

This lifestyle is not uncommon within the SNC community. Another student, Senior Tom Letson, has also experienced a self sustained lifestyle. Letson spent last summer adventuring Tahoe and the Pacific Northwest, camping in the woods. Letson spent his evenings camping out while meeting an array of people living a similar lifestyle.

“I met a lot a people living a similar lifestyle, a lot more than if I was living in a house. We played music and shared stories,” Letson said.

Letson gained a unique experience through being homeless in paradise, from evenings spent in bat caves on the beach, to playing music. With similar reasons as McFarland, he wished to pursue a lifestyle of freedom that comes with not having a roof over one’s head.

“I think about how much I miss it all the time. It’s too comfortable in a house. When you’re out there, you’re not comfortable,” Letson said. “You don’t know where you’re going to sleep at night. I think a lot of the things in life you get the most out of are being uncomfortable and scared.”

Due to the unique environment and economic standpoint that Lake Tahoe offers, homelessness comes in  many different shapes. Unlike what is found 40 miles east in Reno, the face of homelessness here is seen in a much different way.

These different shapes of homelessness are largely related to the seasonality of jobs in the community. While individuals such as McFarland and Letson have the privilege to make the choice of homelessness for self improvement and challenge, there still resides an invisible issue of homelessness in our community.

According to the U.S Census Bureau, 78,000 people in the US  and 1 million worldwide are without a home. In Washoe County alone, there are currently 3,000 children categorized as homeless, according to the director of Volunteers of America, Rachel Relisher.

“Two hundred and ten people are considered homeless in North Lake Tahoe. This number shocked me. This number is categorized by either people staying with friends in a hotel or motel and living in their car or woods,” Director of Project MANA Heidi Allsted said.

This fall, SNC hosted an informational forum regarding the issue of homelessness in the community. The forum was brought together with inspiration from SNC’s community to read Nick Flynn’s book Being Flynn; a novel that explores and depicts homelessness through a personal lens.

According to an article written by the Eagles Eye, Sept. 10, Being Flynn,“went on to explain that the vast majority of homeless people in America are invisible.”

Therefore, the Washoe County Crossroads Program brought together an eight-person panel of experts to discuss the ‘invisible issue’ of homelessness in the community.

“This is not an easy topic to discuss  although the homeless tell us something about our community and world. There is a cause and effect responsibility that occurs with homelessness. It does not have to happen,” Dr. Andy Wyman said.

Within North Lake Tahoe, there are numerous organizations working to improve and support the homeless issue in the community; Volunteers of America, North Lake Tahoe Family Solutions, Tahoe Family Solutions, Project MANA and Tahoe Safe Alliance, to name a few.

Due to the location, the weather is a large factor when it comes to nailing homelessness. With a community based in ski resort tourism supplying the jobs here, the fluctuation in seasonality jobs impacts this layer of our community immensely.

“There are working jobs here that do not pay a living wage. There are families living top of each other or without inhabitation. They all have issues and it takes understanding why they’re here and in these situations,” Rachel Relisher director at Volunteers of America said.

Relisher explains the importance of being proactive with this layer of our community. It takes providing services and resources towards those in need.

“It’s important that any community is being proactive in creating programs that not only stop people from being homeless but help provide services to get them where they need to be. By doing this, it also cuts the cost of the entire community,” Relisher said.

Relisher also advocates the importance of breaking the stereotypes of those in a homeless situation.

“There is a preconceived idea the homeless is an old fizzled man who is lazy and just does not want to work and wants to live off the system. Most of the time this is not the case and it is important to break similar stereotypes. It takes social service understanding the problem, and the community collaborating to donate time to effectively solve homelessness,” Relisher said.

A program that deals with homelessness in the community is Project MANA. Project Mana is an non-profit organization that believes in reducing the incidence of hunger and its detrimental effects upon individuals, families and the community.  Project MANA serves 210 individuals per week and offers 4,000 services to those in need of support. This past fall, SNC has been supporting this organization through canned food and coat drives.

“While Project Mana works with hunger relief in our community, we are the entry point into social services for those in need. While we do not have a shelter at the lake, we give people the resources they need,” Executive Director of Project MANA Heidi Allsted said.

Allsted explained that this layer of our community is rooted within the transient aspect of living in Tahoe. The seasonality of jobs that occur here make for a lack of work during the shoulder seasons in our community. While not all the individuals that use Project MANA as a resource are homeless.

“Even in the last week we’ve seen our food number increase. The seasonality of jobs here forces social services to pick this time of the year,” Allsted said.

When the weather stays warm, not only do the tourism rates go down, the unemployment increases and the homeless rates also increase. Resources such as Project Mana tend to see their numbers increase substantially due to this factor.

“We can usually tell if it is going to be a bad winter, then Project Mana is going to need to prepare their services,” Allsted said.

While there are many resources available for those in need, Tahoe does not offer a shelter directly at the lake. Even with the dire need for working class jobs, there is no place at the lake that offers this direct resource.

In 2001 there was a homeless coalition that was started due to an interest in creating a shelter at the lake. Although it disbanded in 2012, they were not able to build this resource.

The shelter was not built because “people do not want to see a homeless shelter in their backyard. The NIMBY concept unfortunately plays in here,” Allsted said.

Even while living in an environmentally and economically unique place, there still resides a large national issue of homelessness. Since this layer of our community is not revealed in an obvious way, it still demands attention from our community in either a situational, receptive and productive way.

“The proactive way is much more productive than the reactive way we deal with homelessness in America,” said Relisher.

 

 

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