[Hpn] Advocates for homeless take cue from Central Asia

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 13 Jul 2002 09:40:17 -0400

Sat, Jul. 13, 2002
An East Contra Costa County group proposes putting yurts on open lots
By Carolyn Lucas
PITTSBURG - By foot, the homeless trek through the city one block at a time.
They carry their memories and possessions in their shopping carts, backpacks
and garbage bags. With no particular place to go, their journey is an
endless search for shelter.
That shelter could be a yurt, a lightweight home used by nomadic people in
Central Asia.
The East County Focus Group on Homelessness wants to install a community of
yurts for single homeless adults on a lot somewhere in East Contra Costa
"It's not the best solution to solving our emergency shelter problem, but
it's an inexpensive way to get something over people's heads," said Merlin
Wedepohl, executive director of Shelter Inc.
Yurts are circular, portable structures composed of weather-tight covers,
radial rafters, wood frames, tension bands and framed doors. Because of the
lightweight parts, yurts can be easily taken apart and transported by
trucks, minivans or horses.
The advocates for the homeless are modeling their idea after a program in
Napa County for farm workers.
"There's been a need for an emergency shelter since the last one closed (two
years ago)," Wedepohl said at a July 11 meeting of the focus group. "By
using the yurts as movable structures on temporary locations, we felt we
could fulfill this pressing need."
But the yurts might not come if the group can't locate an appropriate site,
something members hope the public will help find.
"Our goal was to set up the shelter before this winter, but it doesn't look
possible without a location to base the yurts on," Wedepohl said. "We're
definitely counting on the public."
Although there are emergency shelters for families and drug abusers in East
Contra Costa County, there are no similar facilities for individuals.
Contra Costa Health Services operates two emergency shelter programs in
Concord and Richmond, which serve 175 single men and women.
Yet, 419 homeless people from East County have called the homeless hotline
at 800-808-6444, said Minerva Blaine, homeless service manager.
"Nowhere is there no homeless," said Don Brown, director of Phoenix Homeless
Services and a director of Project Hope. "They can't be ignored."
Agencies that serve them estimate 65,000 people are homeless in the Bay
Members of the focus group asked Brown and his Project Hope crews whether
the yurts would be accepted by the homeless.
"Absolutely," Brown said. "I'm in favor of anything that gets people off the
streets and gives them a roof over their head."
The county's health services department runs Project Hope. Its two outreach
teams go into camps and hook up the residents to centers that offer services
such as shelter referrals, laundry, food and counseling.
"It's a great idea because a shelter is better than no shelter," Brown said.
Cindy Cusic Micco, director of People Helping People, warned the group of a
possible backlash.
"If we put the yurts in a central location, the community is bound to say
you're bringing alcoholics and drug addicts here," she said.
"Excuse me. They're already here," Brown replied.

Reach Carolyn Lucas at 925-779-7174 or clucas@cctimes.com.