I was excited to read your piece about Yolanda Irby ("A human tragedy in plain sight," May 12), as I thought it would provide insight into the life of a member of our community experiencing homelessness. I was glad to learn that local organizations such as UpValley Family Centers are aware of her presence in the community.
However, my excitement quickly turned to frustration at the portrayal of Irby, one of the many people living without shelter in our community. Several things stood out to me from your article, and I was left with the feeling that the article was written with the intent to entertain, rather than educate; a complete missed opportunity, in my opinion.
Your statement that there are “only partial truths” from Irby may be accurate; however, think about the many times you’ve perhaps reported on stories of local crime, legal battles, fights between wineries and the county – many people have reason to give “only partial truths.”
Irby was singled out in this article because her “partial truths” are less believable, and play into our beliefs that most homeless people suffer from mental health illness without providing any facts. Additionally, her “partial truths” were then quoted and pointed out individually for what I can only presume to be the readers’ entertainment.
That Irby might have been “almost raped” in a shelter is a very real possibility, according to information from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (ii) – and yet, based on the other statements she made, will likely be disregarded by many as another “partial truth.” Perhaps it would be more beneficial to include statistics in a story such as this, so that rather than contributing to our assumptions about homelessness, the piece educates readers with local statistics, and volunteer opportunities available in our community.
For example, Homeless of Napa, Napa County resources information about our local Point in Time count of the homeless for the Continuum of Care, or the homeless outreach done by Napa PD.
After personally working with at-risk populations in the community for 10 years, I know there are fewer services available to people Upvalley; this article would have been a great opportunity to describe the lack of resources, and implore people to contribute what is needed.
Finally, while I’m glad that someone gave her a $100 bill as you described, this is not enough. I agree that it will be helpful in the short term. However, I don’t think the commentary was a useful addition to the story as it was written. Again, readers are left with the impression that people experiencing homelessness only need money, and your exclamation of “What a gift!” adds value to the notion of people contributing only in that way, rather than donating their time to local resources.
A story about Irby that focused on the rising cost of housing, the discrepancy between the poverty line and the local cost of living, or landlords’ and employers’ hesitations to offer housing or employment to people with a history of homelessness and/or lack of work history would have been more significant to readers. Lack of housing is a systemic issue that is addressed through Rapid Re-Housing, and Housing First initiatives in many areas, including Napa County.
I hope that we will read for better understanding, and editors will write with intent.