Report IDs places in Tuolumne County for possible outdoor homeless shelter | News
A new report analyzes and ranks potential sites in Tuolumne County for an outdoor homeless shelter, but there’s currently no place for people like Kenneth Deome and his 74-year-old physically disabled sister to go.
Deome, 61, originally from Salinas, and his sister, Sandi, are examples of how someone can suddenly find themselves on the streets due to a series of unlucky events in life.
The pair have been living in their vehicles since about mid-March as they get booted from one parking lot to the next. Deome stays in a single-cab pickup, while his sister is in a compact SUV.
It’s the first time either of them have been homeless, Deome said in an interview on April 13.
“Someone should write a book called ‘How to be Homeless,” Deome said while standing outside his pickup in the latest parking lot where they’ve set up camp. “If you’ve never been in this situation, you have no idea what you’re doing, and you end up weeks and months behind.”
Deome’s path to homelessness begins with the death of his wife, Carol, in 2004 after battling cancer for 12 years.
Carol’s death left Deome “an absolute trainwreck,” he said, so he put a pause on life and moved back in with his parents for a time.
“I thought I would get back on my feet, but 18 years later, I’ve never really recovered,” he said.
Deome’s father died a year later, and his mother’s health began to decline. His sister, a retired nurse, moved in with them to help out.
The family rented a place in Cottonwood near Redding for several years until they were evicted after the owner decided to sell the property in the wake of the November 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed 86 people, destroyed the entire town of Paradise and burned down thousands of homes.
“We couldn’t find a place, because there were thousands of people in the area who were suddenly homeless,” Deome said.
They finally found a place in Copperopolis that they could rent and moved into it in April 2019.
Deome’s mother died before they had to leave the place they were renting in Copperopolis at the end of January, when their landlord got an offer to purchase the property from a prospective buyer who didn’t want the liability of tenants.
“We were in motels looking for places to rent, but it was difficult to find anything, and everything we could find was way out of our price range,” he said. “We spent a lot of money trying to stay out of the streets and the situation we’re in now.”
When they ran out of money, Deome typed in “safe places to park if you’re homeless” on Google and found something online saying that Walmart allows people to stay in the parking lot for one night.
Deome and his sister ended up staying in the parking lot and moving around the shopping center for about two weeks until a business owner lodged a complaint with the Sonora police.
The officers they encountered were sympathetic to their plight, Deome said, citing how they tagged his pickup for having lapsed registration but didn’t tow it.
“They told us we should ask someone if we can park on their property for a while, but we don’t know anyone,” Deome said. “If we simply had, as the police here said repeatedly, a private property where we could park our vehicles, no one could do anything about it.”
Deome is now living in fear that he’ll encounter another law enforcement officer who won’t be as sympathetic and will have his only form of shelter towed.
When they first got out on the streets, Deome said he reached out to Calaveras County and the Amador-Tuolumne Community Services Agency for help.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” he said. “We started calling government agencies after running out of money, and people said we should have called earlier when we first knew we were at risk of becoming homeless, but we’ve never been in this situation.”
In the meantime, Deome said he had to find a new home for his beloved dog, Bela, whom he’s owned for five-plus years, with the help of the Friends of the Animal Community.
“I just said I can’t force her to stay in this situation,” he said. “She shouldn’t have to be punished for my situation. I’m just hoping she gets settled in and has a nice life.”
Deome and his sister were approved for housing a couple of weeks ago, though now they are just waiting for a place to open up. Deome said he was told by someone who works for the program that people have to exit before anyone new can get in because they are perpetually at capacity.
Deome said he’s never really been able to find a career that suited him and bounced around different jobs, from labor to even selling phones, which he attributed to being a lifelong “extreme introvert.”
“My wife spent years trying to get me out of my shell,” he said. “I just never clicked with the way the world runs.”
Since becoming homeless, Deome has checked with people he knew in Redding for potential job opportunities.
Deome said he was told that a job would likely be available to him if he could find housing, though he doesn’t know how he can find anyone who will rent to him without first having a job.
After being unable to find any shelters or places they could legally park “from Twain Harte to Oakdale,” Deome said someone told him about a faith-based place in Modesto where they could go and stay outside if there’s no room inside.
They plan to go as soon as possible, but they can’t leave yet because his sister is currently seeing an oncologist in town and has an appointment on Monday.
“I’ve always looked at homeless people and thought, ‘Why aren’t they getting help?’ “ he said. “It’s just crazy. We’ve all this money for sticking people in prison, but no money for getting people into housing.”
The county Commission on Homelessness was formed about a year ago and has been looking into the concept of managed, supervised outdoor shelter space for people like Deome who need somewhere to go while getting back on their feet.
A report released this week by one of the commission’s subcommittees identified three county-owned properties it recommended for such a shelter, which could house 30 to 50 people at a time temporarily until they could get into a more permanent situation.
Parcels were ranked in order of suitability based on a number of factors that were evaluated, including cost to the county, proximity to services, and security for both the residents living at the site and surrounding community.
The group found the most suitable location would be a 6-acre vacant parcel that’s property where the $150 million Law and Justice Center is currently located, followed by a 2-acre property near Table Mountain and 4-acre property near Pulpit Rock Road.
Dana Butow, of Sonora, is the vice-chair of the commission and led the study. She said the purpose was to provide a “very thorough and objective analysis” that would give the public the ability to participate, as opposed to being developed behind closed doors by county staff.
“We’re representing the public, various nonprofits, church groups and businesses that interact with and have been interacting with people experiencing homelessness for years,” she said. “It’s our way of trying to bring the public into the county’s process of putting this together.”
At a public meeting on April 12, the commission ultimately approved sending the report to county staff for further study on how something like what’s proposed could be run properly.
The county Board of Supervisors is represented on the commission by District 1 Supervisors David Goldemberg and District 4 Supervisor Kathleen Haff.
Butow said data was also presented at the meeting of the latest survey conducted in January of people who were homeless in the county at the time, which showed that people who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse issues were the minority of those who were unsheltered.
Deome and his sister would be ideal candidates for the outdoor shelter, Butow said, noting that the idea is “not an original concept” and has been effectively utilized in other places throughout the U.S.
“It’s meant to be something that people move through,” she said. “It’s a place where people can be warm for a while as they get other things in order.”