We begin our mornings with coffee and the news. These last weeks, local news has been dominated by Sonoma County’s homeless crisis, while world news features stories and photos of the devastating wildfires in Australia that threaten to destroy the country itself. Thankfully human casualties in the enormous conflagration have been low, but reports say that at least a billion wild animals have died.
As one headline said, for Australians and others, the widespread denial of climate change has gone up in the smoke that engulfs even the coastal cities. Pictures of kangaroos and koalas fleeing the flames seem familiar to Californians, although the creatures that fled our state’s fires were our own native species —deer, raccoons, foxes and many other species, not to mention the livestock and pets that perished.
In the fires’ aftermath here, thousands of homes were lost, so the housing crisis grew even worse. More than a few fire survivors have left Sonoma County unable to find housing. People have been forced out due to the rising cost and short supply of rentals. Drive some of the back roads and you’ll see RVs and travel trailers parked along the wide spots.
Last Friday my small church congregation (Guerneville Community Church) volunteered to prepare and serve dinner at the Guerneville Emergency Shelter for the homeless. It’s held during winter months at the Veterans Memorial Building. We showed up with our slow cookers, giant pots, and large bowls with scalloped potatoes, ham and navy beans, roasted vegetables, salad, bread and brownies.
By twos and threes, about 40 people checked in and found their preferred sleeping place. There were four staff members who had set up tables and chairs plus the sleeping mats and blankets that were laid out on the floor. A large urn of hot water sat on the counter next to various packages of tea. The staff handed out towels for those wishing to shower.
Once we opened the sliding partition that closed the kitchen serving area, people quickly lined up. As more men and women arrived, the line was filled with talk and laughter. This was our second time there and things went well, a bit smoother than our first experience. One thing that was the same was the gratefulness that almost every diner expressed. “Thank you so much…” “This is so great…” “Wow, you guys don’t know what this means…”
Some 35 years ago my husband and I found ourselves trapped in a major recession in Oregon. When we could no longer afford rent, we spent more than a few nights in our vehicle or set up our small tent where we could find a pull-off away from major roads.
No matter where we parked, every night about 7 p.m., which was his bed time, our 3-year-old son would whimper and repeat the same word over and over, “Home… home… home…”
I couldn’t find a way to explain we didn’t have a home, so I would hold him on my lap and rub his back until he went to sleep, then tuck him into his sleeping bag.
Remembering that time, my heart aches for everyone who can’t find home — the fire survivors in all of California, the almost three hundred people camping alongside Highway 12 near Sebastopol, the people of Australia who must wonder if there will be any place left for them, and all the living creatures, wild and domestic, that have lost their safe places here, in Australia, and in so many other places in the world.
Pamela Tinnin writes from her ranch on Pine Mountain. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.