“Right now there about six homeless people here,” Karen Patterson, executive director of the Idyllwild HELP Center, told a group of about 35 residents gathered last week to hear about programs designed to help the needy.

“The purpose is to deepen our understanding and knowledge of a crisis that is both local and broader,” Mark Yardas explained as he began introducing the panelists.

Three officials from Hemet agencies — Jim Lineberger, executive director of the Community Pantry, Lt. Tony Poe, Hemet Salvation Army, and Carlos Navarro, director of state and federal categorical programs and compliance for the local school district — joined Patterson on the panel.

The panelists discussed their personal journey and why they are doing what they can to help ameliorate this problem. Then they began discussing the specifics of the local situation — the presence of poverty in Hemet and on the Hill. This included a description how their organizations assist this population component.

Several of the Hemet speakers agreed that homelessness exists in Hemet, despite official denial and that the level of poverty has grown in the past decade.

On the Hill, the problem has expanded for several years according to Patterson. Six years ago, when she assumed the executive directorship, the Idyllwild HELP Center had 147 people (not families) as clients. The population grew to more than 600; the past year it has receded to about 500 people.

But this is a false sense of improvement, Patterson stressed. The number of clients has fallen because people are moving off the Hill to family and support systems elsewhere.

“Within the past week, 10 new people have moved here and the numbers are starting to creep up,” she said. Further, Patterson stressed and her fellow panelists concurred, “It’s a misconception that the problem is lack of education. We have five with master’s degrees,” she stated. “They want to work but there are no jobs in Idyllwild and they don’t have money for gas to drive off the Hill.”

This week, Patterson said, she and the other panelists plan to convene after the holidays to continue their own discussion of the problem. “Their homeless are our homeless,” she said.

Before much discussion of what could be done on the Hill could begin, the evening was closing. The next session of “This is this” conversation will be Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Oma’s Bakery and will resume the conversation at this point.