A look at being ‘Homeless in Inyo County’

By Deb Murphy

A vehicle fire in the foothills recently took a good friend’s home. Yes, he lived in his compact motor home, so he was homeless by the conventional definition.

A Vietnam vet, he is part of a small community within a community. He shared great stories, followed local news and gave pep talks on regaining your power with friends who worry about how he’s going to get out of this jam.

His is just one face of the homeless in Inyo County.

Last January, volunteers with the Consortium of Care counted 63 homeless people in Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties. But there’s a glitch in what looks like a relatively small number of folks with no conventional roof over their heads.

“We think this represents a fraction of the population,” said Supervisor Jeff Griffiths.

The national count was held at night in the dead of winter when it was anticipated the urban homeless would be conveniently housed in shelters. In Inyo, there are no shelters.

The homeless are dispersed in the back country, at campsites, along the Owens River, or couch surfing at friends’ homes, according to participants, Griffiths and Larry Emerson, Inyo/Mono Advocates for Community Action’s housing and planning director. “It makes our count a challenge,” said Griffiths.

Those 63 identified homeless aren’t going to raise many red flags from funding sources.

IMACA initiated the Consortium, a federal program, in 2013. “Based on the clients coming to the office,” Emerson said, “we determined there was a need to initiate homeslessness prevention and homelessness programs. It’s a coalition of stakeholders that provide services.”

In addition to federal and state funding, the program provides a way to coordinate services, a more efficient way to share resources, Emerson said.

So, who are the county’s homeless? According to Emerson and Griffiths, “they’re an eclectic group.” In other words, they look like the rest of Inyo’s population: veterans, families, males, both young and old. Some were hanging on to a permanent address, then lost jobs or had health issues. Others have underlying issues that have to be resolved in conjunction with finding a stable home. They live where they hope to be invisible.

The Consortium members speak to some of the needs: Wild Iris, Inyo’s Department of Health and Human Services, faith-based organizations Homelessness has many facets. IMACA’s programs address just some of those facets. “We can take people off the street,” said Emerson, “find a landlord willing to work with us, pay first months’ rent and deposit. Then we start providing supportive services to keep them there.”

“People without a home can’t get a job,” Griffiths added. “Rapid Rehousing puts them on the path to self-sufficiency.”

IMACA also helps those at risk of losing their housing.

The best funded sub-group, Emerson said, is homeless veterans. “We’re focusing our efforts on outreach to this group, to get them the assistance they need.”

Bishop and IMACA have been working on the 71-unit Silver Peaks low-income housing project for years. Currently, the site is being appraised for purchase from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. When completed, the project will be one of those “all boats rise” projects.

As folks move from low-rent areas into Silver Peaks, opportunities to house more people will open up. When you live in a tent, housing amenities aren’t as relevant as a roof and a bathroom.

Inyo County’s role focuses on the root causes of homelessness. “The issues of poverty have to be addressed,” said H&HS Assistant Director Marilyn Mann, issues like education, job training, access to medical/mental health care.

Inyo’s Wellness Center, a drop-in day facility, addresses some of those issues. The Calworks program helps find jobs. But, in a valley focused on the tourist industry with its minimum wage jobs and disproportionately expensive housing, it’s an uphill battle.

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O. Twist
O. Twist
5 years ago

Too bad; but $95 million – Inyo County’s FY 16-17 budget – can only go so far, people.

Low Inyo
Low Inyo
5 years ago

Inyo County isn’t a good place for the homeless,unless your willing to tent-it for a while….high rent for most….even high space rent for trailer owners or renters…back in 2000,I was fortunate enough to land a part-time job at a local mobile home park that included an old beat-up modular to… Read more »

Denise Waterbury
Denise Waterbury
5 years ago

Affordable housing is becoming a problem in Inyo County, especially Bishop. Today a friend of mine looked at a place for $900/month. He was astounded… Because it was so dilapidated. Wages here aren’t the highest and I think that landlords don’t realize this. It’s getting to the point now with… Read more »

Trouble
Trouble
5 years ago

I’m glad Sierrawave is reporting on this issue. The only place I know of to send a person for real help is the church. Which is good, but not enough. Sometimes it seems like Mammoth cares more about their bears then their people. In Bishop, we pay more for food… Read more »

Low Inyo
Low Inyo
5 years ago

When I got to Inyo County 16 years ago I was homeless,staying in a tent by the creek in an illegal spot for 5 months before they told me I had to go….what I did was get to Inyo,contact a couple Churches,and they set me up with some handyman work… Read more »

Tinner
Tinner
5 years ago

“minimum wage jobs and disproportionately expensive housing” Understatement of the decade or two. I recently changed my opinion to favor a minimum wage of $15.00, something has to change. I am a veteran and a paycheck away from being homeless myself. I’ve made several attempts at finding employment with Inyo/Mono… Read more »

Mono Person
Mono Person
5 years ago
Reply to  Tinner

I have a housekeeping position open….

Charles James
Charles James
5 years ago

This is yet another great article by Deb Murphy. She continues to keep the Sierra Wave on course when it comes to the long-time tradition of reporting on important local news stories since the loss of our champion Benett Kessler almost two years ago. Homelessness is not something new despite… Read more »