top of page

Housing Lane: Unveiling One Woman’s Mental Health Struggles in Colusa County, CA

By S.M. Wagenaar

March 28, 2024

(Colusa, CA) - The Sacramento River mirrors the relentless conditions of the weather, its damp chill often seeping into everything along its muddy banks.

Citzen Journalism Article by Colusa County Recovery
Citzen Journalism | A Colusa County Recovery Article

It's here, under a tattered tarp meant to be a shelter, that Lane huddles. Her dog lays beside her, his fur matted and dull, an echo of her own weary spirit.

With no access to electricity, cooking is nearly impossible, Lane often settles for chips and other unhealthy snacks, a constant reminder of her limited choices. She will go without food, but her beloved dog never misses a meal. He is the closest thing she has to family, and she loves him.

The Stark Reality

Lane is in her thirties, and has been unhoused for over three years in the greater Sacramento basin in the small community of Colusa County. She is another hurting soul that has fallen between the gaps of an over burdened rural mental health system, and a county wide housing shortage.

Housing Opportunity

On a brighter note, there is a 49-unit apartment complex that is under construction in the city of Colusa that will be offering 1, 2 and 3-bedroom apartments, in the near future. The question that looms darkly is: Will Lane, finally have a place to call home?

Rock Bottom Hurts

Like most unhoused people, Lane once had the basics - place to live, a peer based job, friends, saw a therapist weekly, was enrolled in a program called Full Service Partnership, which is funded through the Mental Health Services Act, and assists consumers of Behavioral Health Services (BHS) with housing, employment and education in addition to providing mental health services and integrated treatment, but sadly meth stripped that all away, leaving Lane disconnected from BHS and trapped in a desolate riverside existence, where bugs are a constant nuisance, and feelings of loss and hopelessness add to the stark reality of her mental health challenges.

The Dope Calls

Daily, the temptation of the meth pipe beckons, the promise of chemically-induced escape, and whispers of fleeting relief are often too powerful for Lane to overcome.

Sometimes, a flicker of desperation sends her towards the town's daytime drop-in center, a safe-haven, where other unhoused people in her small rural community are often present. A change of clothes, a breakfast muffin, and access to a computer are a fleeting reminder of what's been lost, but shame gnaws at her. Shame, and the mental obsession that one more hit will make her pain go away.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Lane's story is one repeated countless times across California, in big cities and small communities. It's a story of human promise dimmed by the cruelty of addiction and untreated mental illness, and of the grim determination needed to survive ‘unhoused’ another day on the outskirts of society.

Like Lane, Heather Smiley can often be seen hugging her dog at an encampment on a levee along the American River not far from Colusa | Photo by Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Statistically, Lane may be unable to find her way out of the cycle of addiction, mental health challenges, and homelessness without professional help and housing supportive services.

Involuntary Care Offers Hope

For some, the Golden State's new involuntary treatment law, Senate Bill 43 could be a life enhancing experience. It allows for the treatment of mental illness and substance use challenges in structured long-term care facilities, where severe at-risk individuals can get the care, treatment, and support they need.

Pathway to Dignity

Let Lane's story serve as a poignant reminder of the pressing need for collective improvement. Together, let's foster compassion, champion increased funding for mental health initiatives, bolster housing and support services, and strive for solutions that guarantee every Californian, who faces similar struggles to Lane, a pathway to dignity and the promise of renewal.


Spoke with Lane. She hugged me and thanked me for trying to help her. She shared with me that she was informed that she does not qualify for housing assistance in Colusa County. She attributes this to having no income. Lane also reported that others living rough in her riverside encampment, had been denied housing as well, including a man with a serious diabetes health condition.

It hurt my spirit watching her walk away in the direction of the river. . .

# # #

The author wrote this article to raise awareness of Lane's heartbreaking journey of homelessness and addiction in Colusa County. Join her in advocating for mental health support and housing for Lane.


bottom of page