Take Back Our Town: The Transient Problem and One Group’s Solutions
However, divine origin or not, local residents are still feeling increasingly frustrated by the stress put on their community by the large numbers of people sitting on their sidewalks and camping nearby.
A popular new sign reads, “No work here keep moving.”
A number of locals from the Garberville/Redway area have formed a group to “Take Back Our Town.” Sisters Tara and Melissa Sutherland have been a driving force behind the movement.
“There has just been a lot of things going wrong,” she said in frustration. “In the middle of daylight, there was some guy masturbating, other people smoking pot right there on the sidewalks, blocking the sidewalks, [and] their dogs not being on leashes.”
Business owners have expressed concern that tourists would not want to stop in the small community if they saw the large numbers of folks wearing backpacks and the trash the travelers often leave behind.
Tara Sutherland said she wanted to “make ourselves and our friends safe in the town again” so she and her sister as well as others organized a meeting last week. At the meeting, several goals were decided on.
First, there would be a town patrol with an emphasis on walking the streets as students get off the school bus to make sure the children feel comfortable as they head home.
Melissa Sutherland explained, “What we’re trying to do right now is make our community safe again to walk to the bus.”
Another goal, Tara Sutherland said, was to get sheriff’s deputies to enforce the law that “all dogs must have leashes and proof of rabies shots.”
In addition, the hope is to get video surveillance on the front of more stores, possibly by holding fundraisers to help business owners purchase the needed equipment.
Further, the Sutherlands say, they “want a crew to go to encampments.” The group wants to evict those in the camps around town and clear away the trash. They say they have received permission from some of the landowners. “We’re willing to pay to get the trash off the property,” explained Melissa.
In addition, the Sutherlands say they want to warn trimmigrants that working in the hills with employers they don’t know could be unsafe. Melissa said that marijuana manicurists should “know what you are doing and who you working for.” She pointed to a pamphlet by a Southern Humboldt group called CHILL that encouraged trimmer safety saying, “I think it is a good start. We’re thinking about doing something similarly….We want people to know the risk they take.”
Homeless advocate Debra Carey is worried the Take Back Our Town group could escalate the tensions between the homed and the un-homed. She recognizes that adding large numbers of trimmigrants to the already large number of homeless is problematic. “I don’t think the front of Rays [grocery store] should be the employment office,” she explained. “That is where everyone goes and that is uncomfortable to the community.”
Nonetheless, she said, the rising tensions could lead to violence. Some homeless and trimmigrants have been shot with paintballs. In fact, she says, because she is a homeless advocate, her vehicle has been targeted. When the numbers of trimmigrants rise during harvest season, the community traditionally gets very frustrated. “At this time of year people get ready to be violent,” she said. In an apparent reference to a previous time of high tension between the residents and the transients when local youths killed a homeless man, she said, “It scares me that our youth will be the ones that will make the big mistakes.”
However, the Sutherland sisters say they don’t want violence. “We are trying to make changes peacefully,” said Melissa Sutherland. “We are not trying to enact vigilante justice. We don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”
Over the weekend the Take Our Town Back group discovered a photo of a crumpled flyer that was on the internet. It showed a pair clippers and asked for trimmers to show up at the Ray’s grocery store in Garberville where a “50 seat capacity bus” would be waiting to pick people up for a job.
In response, Tara Sutherland said about 25 members of her group met early in the morning in front of the store. “There was a bunch of transients,” Tara said. However, no bus showed up. “A couple of them had basically asked us about it,” she said. She thinks that a lookout car was scared away by her group.
There was a confrontation eventually. Tara Sutherland said that four or five transients were in the walkway. “Where they were sitting, there was a bunch of trash,” she said. Tara said her group asked them to “respect our town–our streets.” But, she said, “[o]ne pulled out a pipe getting ready to smoke. One of my friends asked him not to smoke pot on our streets.”
According to Tara Sutherland, “One of them began yelling and basically freaking out. The two cops that were on duty showed up. And basically told them that we were concerned citizens, that we had the right to demand respect for our town. They told the officer they didn’t want to be there anymore anyway. Basically, we picked up their garbage. There was a lot of people who were extremely respectful about it. I think it helped out.”
On Friday, the group plans to begin town patrol. “[We’ll start the walk through when the kids come off the bus. We’ll try to get people there around 2:30.”
“We’re not going out with pitchforks and guns and axes and knives,” Tara said. “We’re going to ask people to not block sidewalks, keep dog feces off the sidewalk, stop smoking where it goes into businesses and tell them doing drugs [on the streets] is not okay.”
She says the group will call the sheriff if people don’t comply with their requests. “We’ll walk away. Document it. We’re not trying to get in any altercation.”
“What we’re trying to do right now is make our community safe again to walk to the bus,” said Melissa. “It is not okay to have a festival-like atmosphere in our town.”
After Monday’s incident (and a clean-up by the ERCP on Sunday) local resident Andrea Boldt wrote on Facebook, “I went to town [Tuesday] and WOW!!! town was so different. It didn’t have that toxic energy and no loitering people!!! It reminded me like back in the 1980’s. Thank you for letting me have a wonderful experience today with your positive energy for the town we all Love.”
If anyone is interested in learning more about the Take Back Our Town group, there will be a meeting at Amelia’s tonight at 6 p.m.