By Tommy Acosta —
Sedona is known throughout the world as a spiritual destination point where the land and those who live upon it march to the beat of a different drummer.
Compassion. Love. Inclusivity and enlightenment are pillars upon which this community is sustained.
Yet, something happened a few days ago that made me question if this is really true.
I was at dinner at a local restaurant with a fellow community resident, whom I had thought to be a compassionate person.
Quite off-handedly he asked me how I felt about a city plan to provide safe parking for people who work in Sedona but have to live in their vehicles because they cannot afford the rent to live here, or even in Cottonwood.
I said I thought it was a great idea and my friend’s expression went from calmness to shock.
“I can’t believe you are telling me that with a straight face,” he gasped, dropping his fork on the table. “Do you know what you are saying.”
I was taken aback for a few seconds, trying to understand what just occurred. He had transformed so suddenly before my eyes I was stunned and could only sputter, “What, uh what, do you mean?”
“Do you want criminals, drug addicts and drug dealers living in Sedona,”he exclaimed? “Do you know the kind of trouble this would bring to Sedona? Turning the Cultural Park parking lot into a camp for people living in their cars is the most stupid idea I have ever heard. If you can’t afford to live here, then they should leave and go work somewhere else!”
I tried to understand where he was coming from. To that point I had thought creating a safe place for people who work in Sedona and live in their cars was a great idea, a truly compassionate act by the City of Sedona.
They would be in a safe place. They would have access to facilities. They would have showers. We would know who they are. It would help alleviate Sedona’s labor shortage. The city could control who comes in and out. It seemed like a win-win.
But apparently, I was wrong because if my friend is right, then we would be creating a homeless encampment in Sedona, with the blessing and support of the city.
I had to wiggle my way out of risking my friendship with my friend and murmured “Oh, uh, I guess I had better take another look into this because it’s the last thing I want for Sedona.”
The rest of the dinner was chilled and a bit stiff, but we got by it and said our goodbyes, though I doubt we would be dining together any time soon in the near future.
Sure, the possibility exists the parking facility can draw undesirables into the community.
They could easily walk to nearby homes, knock on doors in the middle of the night and cause harm.
They could turn that parking lot into the biggest drug dealing center in Northern Arizona. Use their cars for prostitution. Play laud music and engage in other unsavory activities.
But that’s totally unlikely if the city regulates who goes in or out of the lot. Workers would need to present proof of employment before being allowed to use it.
And the type of individuals willing to live in their cars so they could work, would most likely be decent folk trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the face of adversity.
They would shop in town. Contribute tax-dollars. Put their kids in school (God knows we need students in a city of old people). Yes, there are families living in their cars in Sedona.
The alternative would be for them to not work and become truly homeless, joining the ranks of the homeless beggars proliferating throughout Sedona right now.
I am still a bit shaken by my friend’s reaction. To him it was like Sedona would become Los Angeles overnight if it happened. And I wondered if his reaction is how the majority of Sedonans would react; if there is enough compassion in our town to accommodate these people.
Obviously, there is a great amount of fear, here. And it’s warranted, to a degree.
In a perfect world it would be great if the city could build affordable workforce housing and the companies that employ these people would pay a fair wage that would allow them to rent and live here.
But that, is a long way off and nebulous.
Creating a temporary safe haven for the working homeless my not be the perfect solution but at least we can create a semblance of stability for those who are hardy enough and dedicated enough to contribute to our workforce while living in their cars.
Maybe, these people should be applauded. Not feared.