Party Crashers…Squid loves a good party, especially if Squid only has to show up, commandeer the shrimp platter and sit on the couch with a cold one. Squid prefers to watch the other party guests interact rather than engage in small talk with anyone about whatever latest thing people are watching on Netflix. (Squid isn’t interested in how you folded all your T-shirts like Marie Kondo on Tidying Up, thank you very much—though Squid admits, journalists are not known for their well-ironed tops.)
There was quite the party masquerading as a town hall meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17, over at the Monterey office of nonprofit Community Foundation for Monterey County. There were decent snacks in the back of the room—cheese and crackers and other goodies. (No shrimp, so Squid passed.) The room was packed for the two-hour meeting, with about 60 people sitting in chairs or standing in the back and down the aisles.
The purpose of this bash, organized by Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker, was to update interested people about the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, funds authorized by former Gov. Jerry Brown last June as a one-time infusion of cash to help nonprofits and municipalities push themselves toward possible homeless solutions, or at least short-term help to alleviate suffering.
It was also for Monterey Peninsula homeless nonprofits—like the Veterans Transition Center, Gathering for Women and Community Human Services, among others—to share what they specifically want do with the funds, which could be as much as $12.5 million for Monterey and San Benito counties combined.
Uppermost on everyone’s minds was the fact that the Monterey Peninsula has no homeless shelter and needs one, stat. Most of the people in the room were pro-doing-something-in-theory; at times the whole event had the feeling of a kumbaya moment. People were encouraged to write questions on index cards, and most of their questions were focused on forward movement toward a Peninsula shelter and various ways to help the homeless.
Everyone seemed to be on the same page—everyone except a few residents of the Creekbridge neighborhood of Salinas. Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter was at the gathering to give an update on how Salinas is answering the homeless crisis (regional solutions!), including with a planned shelter on the north end of town, near Creekbridge.
Margaret Serna Bonetti, a former mayoral candidate, seemed intent on heckling Gunter. She stood off to one side during the meeting, jeering the mayor as he spoke. When Gunter said he has a big heart toward the homeless, Serna Bonetti mocked him. At one point he spoke directly to her, to ask if he could finish his remarks. So much for the kumbaya vibes.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams got up to close the meeting with an impassioned call to action and a reminder that the faces of homeless people look just like many of us.
“One of the things we get accused of on the Monterey Peninsula is that we are great big NIMBYs, not in my backyard, and I think each one of us needs to walk out of this room with a real commitment to be a YIMBY—yes in my backyard,” she said with great emphasis—a rallying cry of sorts.
As the audience gave a rousing round of applause, someone called out from the back of the room.
“I would like to say something! I would like to say something!” It was Yolanda Hayes, one of the Salinas women, and a former member of the Salinas Traffic and Transportation Committee—having been kicked off by Mayor Gunter in November after she sent a series of angry emails to Salinas councilmembers about the proposed location of the homeless shelter. She and some of her neighbors formed the group Creekbridge United! and they’ve threatened possible legal action.
After pushing her way to the front of the room, before Adams could finish her farewell remarks, Hayes pressed her point.
“I really appreciate the YIMBY, however I don’t think you know what the YIMBY is. We used to live in a safe neighborhood, and we have a lot of homeless that’s not being addressed,” Hayes said.
Hayes asserted that the homeless people who would be coming to the shelter are mentally ill and unregistered sex offenders. “That’s not being addressed that I can tell,” she said.
The interruption was a jarring reminder that not everyone wants to join hands and sing kumbaya. Some will keep crashing the pro-homeless shelter party over and over again.
Pass the shrimp platter.