In the winter of 1992, national news services ran a story of about a house that was perched precariously on the edge of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. The pale, yellow modernist house sat on the beautiful sandstone cliff, like enchanted aerie in a city beloved for its steep hills. The whole area had been evacuated, after two weeks of heavy rain that sent mud and rocks sliding down the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill. Then February 15 huge chunks of the battered hillside tore away at the foundation of the little yellow house until it broke into pieces. If a house comes undone it’s usually through neglect or a catastrophe of some kind, in this case it was a catastrophe for the owners. Loss of their home was bad enough but now their problems began anew; how to reclaim their belongings and what about insurance policies that do not cover mud slides? They commiserated with others about the impossible task of finding a comparable place to live. A house built on bedrock is not supposed to crumble and fall into the sea.
This story has stuck in my mind for years, and has generated many stories. It relates in so many way to the plight of the most vulnerable members of our community. The homeless, a group that includes families with children, people with chronic health conditions, and disabilities, veterans, people with mental health issues, and those who are victims of violence, all lack stable housing. They are forced to endure hardships, like the torrents of rains that pounded the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, battering away at any sense of security they ever had. In essence, their little yellow houses have gone over the cliff. Everyone deserves a home; the foundation of our wellbeing depends on being safe and secure where we can live in peace.
What then has to be done about the homeless population? We know that the lack of affordable housing has been related to an increase in substance abuse, aggravated mental health issues, criminal activity and an inability to maintain familial and community connections. Affordable housing is basic to the struggle for keeping people in homes of their choosing. For that reason the Home Fund organization has been established and supported by Interfaith Works.
Some people have told me “They who are out on the streets, sleeping in doorways and wearing what amounts to rags, do that because they want to live that way. It is their freedom to do so. Furthermore why should “we” who have homes to live in take care of those who don’t? If you help them, it won’t last, they will be back again and again for a handout.” Maybe this argument works for a few, but I for one, acknowledge the importance of compassion for the down-trodden.
Who are the homeless? We pass them everyday, but we don’t know their stories. The following are only three examples of people who would not choose to live on the street if there were housing available. A large number are military veterans, unable to find work and who have developed alcohol and drug addictions, which led to their broken home situations.
A forgotten category is young people who are former foster children. They have reached the age of responsibility, usually 18, and were forced to leave the foster home by governing regulations. The foundation of their ”little yellow house” crumbled years ago when their parents could no longer care for them. Although, they now have freedom for most part, it is often experienced once more as if their home is going off the cliff, again.
A disturbing reality is a homeless mother with children. She doesn’t have a job, or has a job that does not pay well enough to afford rent; the car has become their only shelter. She is trying to keep her kids in school, clothed and fed. But like the ‘little yellow house’ that teetered on the edge cliff, it is not sustainable, the rubble of her life is crashing down on her and her family.
The goal of proponents at this time is to convince the Olympia City Council to put the Home Fund levy proposal on the ballot for November. Readers can get more information at www.olyhomefund.org and show support for the Home Fund by writing an email letter to the City Council. Tell them not let another little yellow house go over the cliff before they act.
Delores Kelso Nelson has lived for many years in a sturdy house on the Westside of Olympia. She is a Memoir Writing Instructor and can be reached at Delores at Bridgeworkmemoirs@comcast.net.
The Home Fund is a levy proposal to drastically reduce homelessness through the creation of safe and secure, affordable housing and rent assistance for the most vulnerable in our community. The vital component of this 10-year plan is a levy on real property at $0.36 per $1,000 a year. Annual tax on a $250,000 home would be $90. New and refurbished units are proposed to be built and acquired through nonprofit and private developers, such as Housing Authority of Thurston County, Homes First and Low Income Housing Institute. The levy would generate $2.2 million dollars and will create 250 units of housing over 7 years, scattered throughout the city limits and primarily located on city bus lines.