Residents revolted over a 'tent city' in their neighborhood—until they saw how well it worked

Last May, when the Northern California city of Santa Rosa announced they were temporarily putting up 70 socially distanced tents for people experiencing homelessness in the parking lot of the Finley Community Center—a popular park and aquatic complex where families regularly gather for recreation—residents of the upscale neighborhood revolted.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some of the commentary from the hundreds of people who complained about the proposed 'tent city' included:

"Will there be a list of everybody who decided to do this to us and our park, in case we want to vote them out?"

"This is a family neighborhood."

"How can we feel safe using our park?"

Residents' concerns included the potential for crime, drug use, trash, and disease—all things that the city would directly address in the project. But notable in the exchange between leaders and residents is that the officials weren't asking residents for permission to create the camp; they were simply informing them they were doing it.


City Council Member Tom Schwedhelm, who served as mayor at the time, told the Times that his mindset at the time was, "Go ahead and vote me out. You want to shout at me and get angry? Go ahead. It's important for government to listen, but the reality is these are our neighbors, so let's help them."

County Supervisor James Gore concurred. "We know we're pissing off a lot of people — they're rising up and saying, 'Hell, no!'" he said. "But we can't just keep saying no. That's been the failed housing policy of the last 30 to 40 years. Everybody wants a solution, but they don't want to see that solution in their neighborhoods."

So, the city proceeded. They addressed resident concerns by deploying police officers and security guards on-site for 24/7 patrols. They brought in portable toilets, hand-washing stations, and showers for people sheltering in the tents. They partnered with Catholic Charities to provide meals and to engage camp residents in beautification projects around the neighborhood. (In exchange for picking up trash, camp residents would receive gift cards to stores like Target or Starbucks.)

The residents pretty quickly came around. Families continued to use the park's facilities and began to bring donations such as food, clothing, and hand sanitizer for their neighbors staying in the encampment. A mobile clinic served the camp a few times a week, bringing basic health care and medications as well as screening for COVID-19.

While struggling to deal with unruly, make-shift encampments that inevitably pop up in and around the city, officials decided to try a proactive, purposeful approach in providing safe tent shelters and helpful services for people experiencing homelessness. And the results speak for themselves.

Some who made use of the site found that having access to medical care, sanitation, and meaningful service enabled them to start turning their life around. Some found jobs or got to a place where they could look for a job. Of the 208 people served at the site during its run, 12 were moved into permanent housing and nearly five dozen were placed in shelters while they await housing openings. Homelessness is a complex issue without simple fixes, but having safe shelter and basic services is sometimes enough to restore a person's sense of hope and dignity.

And the Finley Park residents who were originally outraged at the idea? They changed their tune as their fears proved unfounded. There was no violent behavior at the site; all of the police calls during the seven months were in response to additional people trying to utilize the camp when it was already at capacity.

When the city closed the site as originally promised in November, they asked residents for their feedback. Only three or four people called in with commentary, and they only had positive things to say.

Boyd Edwards, who plays pickleball at the Finley Community Center, told the Times, "I was amazed I never saw anything negative at all."

"I thought they were going to be noisy and have crap all over the place," added his friend Joseph Gernhardt. "Now, they can have it all year-round for all I care."

Plans are indeed in the works for similar sites to be established year-round in several neighborhoods, but this time with hardened housing structures. With homelessness an ongoing reality everywhere—but an especially visible issue in high-priced Northern California—governments must explore ways to help people get what they need. Santa Rosa officials took a risk by moving forward with a project that was unpopular with constituents at first, but which proved to be a positive way to address the issue.

As Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg said, according to the Times, "The problem with our approach is that every time we seek to build a project, there is a neighborhood controversy. Our own constituents say, 'Solve it, but please don't solve it here,' and we end up experiencing death by a thousand cuts."

Everyone wants something done about homelessness, but few people want it done in their own backyards. In a bold move, Santa Rosa officials simply rejected that reality and pressed onward despite complaints, in a gamble that pretty clearly paid off for everyone.

via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

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via Sasssy Gran / TikTok

A 95-year-old-grandmother has become a sensation on TikTok, a platform that's most popular among the Gen Z set. Doris, also known as Sassy Gran, has become popular for her incredibly bold and refreshingly honest personality.

She's had a tough life which has given her a special edge that you don't find with most nonagenarians. There's also her elegant couture to show the young kids what real class looks like.

Doris was made famous by her grandson Gio who clearly loves going out to dinner with his grandmother and hearing her stories and advice.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."