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.


9 Responses to A look at being ‘Homeless in Inyo County’

  1. O. Twist September 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

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

  2. Low Inyo September 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    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 stay in for a few months if I wanted…and then another part-time job untill I could save money to get into a rental with a GREAT landlord and low rent that I’m in to this day 15 years later…no matter what you do,you HAVE to lower the bar and pride and get help to make it,at least for a little while…most Churches will help with that,food,supplies,and mainly finding you odd-jobs…It isn’t easy,but it can be done…lots of really good people living around here willing to help if your willing to help yourself.

  3. Denise Waterbury September 8, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

    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 Air B&B’s where housing is also becoming harder to find. If you own a rental you can make three times as much as you would in 1 month by renting daily through Air B&B.
    There needs to be some rent control as well so people who are homeless or getting back on their feet have a chance.

  4. Trouble September 8, 2016 at 4:45 am #

    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 and heating then almost anywhere else in the nation. Yes, I said in the nation.
    I’m glad Jeff Griffiths our county supervisor is speaking up on this issue.i challenge him to make this a priority at his next open meeting.
    There are many little things homeless people need here but don’t even know where to go to ask for help.A few signs pointing out where to go. Flyers the police and firemen can hand out.
    Inyo county and Bishop are great at getting goverment grants, at least try.
    So if Mr Griffiths is reading this, I know you care, but the real challenge is actually trying to make it better.iIf you need help, just ask.

  5. Tinner September 7, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

    It’s not just locally either.


  6. Low Inyo September 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    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 in town…after a few months by the creek, saved up some money to get into my own place….found full-time work,got a better vehicle,and doing well now.IMO,the key to it is….be willing to work for less than $ 15.00 an hour….and be there each day and on time when you get it….there is PLENTY of handyman work available in the Owens Valley,for those willing to work….I chuckle at those trying to say they have “given up” on finding work,cause there isn’t any….bull….Another key to it is keep away from the drugs and booze,and the kind of people that base their lives around it.In these little towns the word spreads fast if you choose to drink and dope and drive and do stupid things with the bad people. I’ve seen many people come and go around here mainly because of that,and not wanting to really start their lives over again.

  7. Tinner September 6, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    “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 County, Caltrans and LADWP for jobs I am totally qualified for. I’ve been told by a handful of others that you have to know somebody already working in order to land a job with them. I’m not sure how much truth there is to that but the number of times I’ve heard that is difficult to ignore. If true, isn’t that a “good ole boy network”? Corruption? I don’t know.
    I said here a while back that I’d probably be found dead and homeless, or homeless and dead, living in an rv in some campground one day, that day seems to be fast approaching as I get older. I don’t do drugs or get drunk and I have a better work ethic than 98% of those who I currently work with, most of whom seem to have some sort of family money, trust fund babies, lucky bas**rds.
    Oh well, I will continue on fight the good fight and never surrender!!

    • Mono Person September 7, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

      I have a housekeeping position open….

  8. Charles James September 6, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    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 most Inyo/Mono residents giving little thought to it, not because of indifference, but rather, as pointed out by Deb, the homeless often live on the periphery of society and on the outskirts of our small communities in the foothills and campgrounds. In some ways they are almost “invisible.” Here in Big Pine there have been some living in tents outside of the campgrounds or living out of small motor homes, vans, or even in their cars. It is likely happening around all of our communities to some extent, but for most residents it is an “out of sight” and therefore, “out of mind” problem.

    Homelessness is often the result of extreme poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, or poor health, to mention a few of the causes. More than a few people are only one or two paychecks from homelessness. Nationally it is estimated that half the homeless are families with children.

    While the numbers of the homeless might not be overwhelming locally, there is some cause for optimism that a few local coordinated resources may be brought to bear which might have a substantial impact on those unfortunate few that find themselves homeless. A coordinated effort by local goverment and our local community NGOs and churches, could go a long way to mitigate some of the worse conditions suffered by the homeless. A good example of a local effort is the Bishop Methodists Church Soup Kitchen which serves free lunches three times a week for those in need.

    Thank you Deb and the Sierra Wave for bringing this issue to light. Benett would be proud!


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