Freezing Death Of Homeless Man in 29 Palms Prompts Call For Creating Winter Shelters

A nameless transient who was left at the mercy of the elements on the longest night of the year in subfreezing Twentynine Palms and was found dead the next morning has posthumously prompted calls for county officials to make efforts to keep that fate from befalling any others.
The Sentinel has been unable to determine the identity of the man whose last hours on earth coincided with the Winter Solstice 2017. His lifeless body lay near the base of the modern art sculpture at the center of Bucklin Park on the morning of December 21.
This week, four people speaking from Joshua Tree addressed the board of supervisors, meeting in downtown San Bernardino on January 9, via video conference, importuning the officials to use their authority to prevent others who are destitute from suffering the same fate.
Calvin Moss said, “This man did not have a happy Christmas or happy New Year. He passed away from hyperthermia or exposure. It was very cold that night. He had no access to any shelter. My concern is we have no shelter for this type of person in the High Desert.”
Moss contrasted the compassion shown to the dispossessed across the county line to what is available in San Bernardino County. “There are shelters in Indio and in the Low Desert, but for the 225 unhoused homeless people in this area – the county counted them I think two years ago – there is no place to seek shelter in inclement weather. So, I would ask in the new year that we look at this very closely. We don’t want to have people in this country, in this county, in Twentynine Palms passing away from hypothermia. If you could, please look into if we could possibly open a shelter in the High Desert so they can have a place to seek heat and cooling. It gets very hot here in the summer.”
Peggy Lee Kennedy told the three supervisors present, James Ramos, Janice Rutherford and Robert Lovingood, “One death is too many. We need to care for our people. If we had a shelter and transitional housing and established a housing first model where people can be placed immediately in housing, that is the success story. People need shelter, immediate shelter. Honestly, shelters don’t thrill me that much for multiple reasons, but this is an emergency. People need a place to be when it’s cold or when it’s too hot. They should not be dying on our streets.”
Kennedy called for a “county homeless meeting. In the Morongo Basin we don’t have a regular county [homeless issue] meeting. The other districts have these regular county meetings where service providers go and the county leads it.” She said it would be appropriate to “have a public forum that is governed by the Brown Act where we actually have direct input to the county. We don’t have that in the Morongo Basin. We have different groups that you could go talk to, but it’s not a homelessness meeting. We need that here. It’s really an important issue and it’s not getting better. If you don’t house people, it doesn’t get better. We have more people coming in. They’re buying up the houses. There’s less rentals. When they have the vacation rentals that people establish, these AIRBNBs [internet-based marketplaces at which people can lease or rent vacation units], rents go up, I know what happens, and then there’s less affordable housing. We really need solutions and we need to discuss it, and not just a few service providers that are hooked in with you already through whatever nonprofit or the MAC [municipal advisory committee]. We need the public’s input, all the people who are dealing with it. We provide a meal monthly and on the holidays and we have firsthand experience. Maybe we’re not a part of your continuum of care or qualified as that, but we know these people. We can tell you what’s going on.”
At that point Lovingood, the board chairman, cut Kennedy’s microphone off.
The next to speak was Alyce Herrera.
“I have been homeless with my children,” said Herrera. “I have had to live in a campground before and I know how hard it is to gain access to places to be safe, to be in from the weather, to be able to just simply take a shower, and to have a place where you feel safe and settled. It is a problem here. It is a big problem. This man should not have passed away from hypothermia. That’s just inexcusable. It’s a horrible thing. All life is valued. There should be a council to discuss these issues. There’s so much space here. I do not see why there shouldn’t be a viable place for a homeless shelter in this area. I live in Landers. I know between Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley there are many, many places that are empty and sitting there, with nobody using them, many places that could be acceptable to the community to house people.”
Ernesto Nevares, who is semi-retired, said he was engaged in efforts in Morongo Valley to save wild horses roaming in the desert.
“I was devastated right before Christmas when I read in the paper somebody died, and here I am with horses,” said Nevares. “And I found out there are shelters for homeless horses so far, but there’s no home, there’s no place safe for homeless people. We have such beautiful buildings, so many resources like this building we’re in right now. We have libraries, police stations, hospitals. We need somewhere where people can go in out of the cold or the heat, the elements. We can work on a long term solution, and change the economy. We can work on an interim solution. But we need something now. It’s going to start getting really cold next week, or tonight. We need to do something. If you could open up a place where somebody can go to the bathroom and not get diseases, somewhere where it won’t rain on them, somewhere where they’re safe and won’t get jacked up. Even if some of the community organizations could put tents up, if you can’t open up a building, just don’t get us arrested for feeding people, if we do what we have to do, you know, to make these people get some warmth in them. So please… I don’t know what the solution is. You know the county better. Please do something. I don’t know what the real answer is. At least open up a door at night.”
Tom O’Key said, “We as a social group somehow have to solve this problem. I don’t see the federal government coming in to help. They seem to be worried about the upper echelon people. I don’t see upper echelon people doing what’s needed. So, it’s going to be up to us.”
Mark Gutglueck

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