Proposal for the Homeless
June, 2003, updated February, 2016
To Whom It May Concern:
Homeless Memorandum Ramón Sender Barayón / Rev. Keenan C. Kelsey
I would like to submit the following proposal for your consideration:
(Submitted to various San Francisco mayors and supervisors over the past 22 years) Updated February 18, 2016
Note: Ruth Brinker, the founder of Project Open Hand in San Francisco that provides daily meals to thousands, wanted
to start a project she named 'Fresh Start Farms' that would move homeless families onto the land and teach them self-
sufficiency. She's long gone, but I think the Fresh Start Farm idea is one that would work by settling homeless
families on unused land that the State or the Bureau of Land Management manages or even purchased. And it would
provide a sense of community and self-worth for those who lived there for a MUCH CHEAPER amount to the taxpayer
(sample imaginary budget appended). If these farms grew produce for sale, they could become self-sufficient over time.
Here’s the proposal that I’ve sent more or less every other year to City Hall, co-signed by Presbyterian Rev. Keenan Kelsey (emeritus):
Proposal: to open self-sufficient, live-in cooperatives for the homeless on parcels of unused land in remote areas as
self-sufficient, live-in cooperatives for the homeless.
Problem: There always have existed individuals who are allergic to living in mainstream society. The goals and incentives
that society offers are insufficient inducement for them to participate. Their frustration tolerance levels are low,
and their need to “not be told what to do” greater than their fear of unemployment or homelessness.
History: In America’s past, the down-and-out always had the option of moving – or being moved – elsewhere, such as to the
frontier (unfortunately to the Native Americans’ grief). With the closing of the American frontier, the escape valve
of “the territories” ceased to exist, and the pressure of this problem has been building ever since with an ever-
increasing prison population and heavier burdens on the taxpayer. In fact, what allowed Europe to flourish in
previous centuries was because they could ship their ‘undesirables’ or convicts elsewhere. Some years ago, a life of
Voluntary Simplicity was described on Public Television as a way to cure the dis-ease of ‘Affluenza,’ the high-
consuming lifestyle that afflicts Middle America. The homeless, in an idealized sense, can be viewed as a group of
people who have been inoculated or are immune to ‘Affluenza,’ whatever other ailments they may incurred. Although
they may befoul and litter our sidewalks, they consume less of our planetary resources than the rest of us and set an
admittedly eccentric example of a ‘Living Light’ lifestyle. Why not emphasize this positive aspect? Here is a
compassionate and workable solution:
Solution: A pilot program would select a group of homeless who would be willing to relocate to a rural setting under
minimum supervision. This group would move to a parcel of land donated for this purpose either by the federal
government on the sixteen million acres in California controlled by The Bureau of Land Management or by the State of
California itself. Alternatively, a parcel could be purchased by San Francisco. The site selected would not be
adjacent to privately held land. Lumber, livestock, water, gardening equipment and modest individual start-up cash
grants would be provided, and basic instruction provided in intensive organic gardening along the lines of Ruth
Brinker's ‘Fresh Start Farms’concept (See proposed budge appended). The program could be run under the auspices of a
group such as Glide Church, and individuals of course would be free to come and go as they pleased. A community
vehicle would truck produce to the city as well as connect participants to city services.
Participants would be encouraged to build their own cabins utilizing alternative techniques or making up their own –-
in the 1960s we found this to be a very important aspect of a hippie burn-out rehabilitation program – as well as
creating a self-sufficient homestead. The basic model somewhat parallels The Civilian Conservation Corps camps of the
1930’s. ‘Fresh Starts,’ scattered throughout isolated areas of the state, also would provide on-site volunteer fire
fighting teams during fire season.
Anticipated difficulties: Rural individual and county NIMBY complaints would have to be overcome. State or federal
governments would have to be convinced (but why should ‘gentle climate’ cities continue to shoulder what is really a
national burden?). The ‘internment camp’ label would have to be carefully avoided by emphasizing freedom of movement
in and out. Also, supervision should be kept to a minimum so that the ranchers feel free to create their own
community, although access to health and counseling services should remain available on site, at least until the
community spontaneously forms its own government.
Conclusion: The program requires only a minimum of financing and oversight (keeping in mind that the residents are
people who have become oversensitive to operating under rules and strictures). Do not underestimate the healing
aspects of just living out in nature. In fact here is a February, 2016, article about a similar program for PTSD vets
in New York State:
"Healing From War Trauma Through Nature
How some veterans with war trauma are turning to farming and animals to recover and
reintegrate themselves into civilian life."
By Stephanie Westlund<
Recently I put together a sample budget for a “Fresh Start Farms” pilot project. The name was selected by Project
Open Hand’s founder Ruth Brinker, but unfortunately her age and poor health — and death — intervened before her
organizational abilities could come into play. I still think a pilot project of this sort is worth a try:
1: The city purchases or otherwise acquires undeveloped acreage (40 acres?) and
2. Installs a water supply (well or spring)
3. Installs solar and/or wind power off the grid.
4. Installs s a waste system capable of handling the estimated population.
5. Stocks 'basics' for building one’s own simple shelter and starting gardens.
6. Consider adding a milking goat and some laying hens.
7. Invite homeless to join the project and offer workshops in basic rural skills
including how to build your own 'tiny home,' but allow leeway for the
builders' imaginations to run wild. (part of 'nature therapy’ its o build your own home.)
8. Oversight and 'rules' should be kept to a minimum but should include
at least no alcohol, no drugs, no open fires, no littering — and the Golden Rule.
Fresh Start Farm Pilot Project Estimated Costs (just estimated!)
Estimated costs of numbered items above:
1. 40 undeveloped acres in a rural area : $600,000 (or a donation of land by BLM or state)
2. water supply (well or spring) $ 20,000
3. Solar/wind power installation off the grid $ 30,000
4. Waste system that creates compost $ 1,000
5. Stock 'basics' for building shelters /gardens $ 15,000
6. milking goat: $1,000 20 laying hens: $20 each $ 1,400
7. salary for support person and farm tutor 6 mos, $ 100,000
(finally to graduate as the farm become self-run)
Total Costs $767,4000
A cost comparison with S.F.'s budget of approximately $250 million for homeless programs, plus the additional costs
of arresting, incarcerating and cleaning up after the homeless would quickly prove the cost savings. What's the
problem with a pilot program exploring this idea?
I once asked a homeless group for a show of hands of those interested in relocating to a rural community. Out of the
30 or so sitting there, over half raised their hands. After all, why live in the city if you do not want to hold a
job, pay rent, taxes, and generally participate in a collaborative-competitive lifestyle that might be named ‘City
Preparations: The Department of Social Services would interview the homeless population and offer them an opportunity
to participate in one of the following three groups:
Group 1) Willing to be trained and employed, or already marginally employed.
This group would remain in the city and housed in supplemental housing. They would be offered training in various job
skills and prepared to enter the job market. (NOTE: this is already being accomplished – congratulatons, Gavin!)
Group 2) Physically or mentally disabled or drug-addicted.
This group would be placed in treatment centers, but many of the so-called mentally disabled actually would benefit
by being placed in Group 3, immediately or after treatment.
Group 3) Unwilling to be trained for city jobs but willing to relocate.
This group would move to a Fresh Start Farm in a rural setting under minimum supervision, following the Blow-Out
Center therapeutic concepts of R. D. Liang et al. It would be explained to them that unless a person is interested in
participating in the lifestyle of the city as a viable player, then it doesn’t make sense for them to continue in an
urban area. They would be invited to become pioneers in a Voluntary Simplicity lifestyle project, move onto a parcel
of land opened for this purpose. Lumber, livestock, water, gardening equipment and modest individual start-up cash
grants would be provided. Training in intensive gardening techniques would allow participants to raise organic
vegetables for the market (similar to the Fresh Start Farms pilot program that Ruth Brinker attempted in San
Francisco). A community bus would allow volunteers make runs for various necessities and truck produce to urban
Again, I would ask, what is the problem with this idea?
Ramón Sender, Admin. Dir., Noe Valley Ministry and Community Center
The Rev. Keenan C. Kelsey -- Pastor, Noe Valley Ministry (emeritus)