Over the past few years, our area, along with so many others, has seen a rise in homelessness. Those living on the streets used to find hidden places to camp. Now, they build tarp villages on downtown streets, in city parks and along public nature trails. There is a banner in the largest local encampment, one commuters drive by every day that says F— YOU in large red letters.
A state of emergency was declared five years ago in our town. Task forces were formed, money flowed trying to stem the tide of the homelessness. Proposed long-term solutions included turning vacant lots into FEMA mobile home parks, giving existing charities additional funds to increase housing facilities, building blocks of low cost, government funded housing, turning armories into shelters, and more recently giving free housing, services, and cash to those on the street. Millions have been spent and the homeless population continues to grow.
People become homeless for a reason. Catastrophic events (fire, flood, earthquake), sudden job loss, family disintegration, substance abuse, mental health issues and — choice. A few lost souls simply don’t want to answer to anyone.
Like so many others, I’m troubled by the situation and would love to know a solution. It bothers me to see a quarter mile stretch of shelters, trash piling up and over-flowing, neighbors complaining of rat infestations and rising thefts. It bothers me that we’re warned not to walk a public trail maintained by our tax dollars because it is no longer safe.
Is there a single solution solving the variety of problems that put people on the street? I asked some who suffered from substance abuse and family disintegration, and successfully left that street life behind and are now “in the mainstream”. What can we do to help the homeless?
Their answers surprised me.
“Stop giving them everything they need. They won’t have to make life changes.”
“Some people have jobs and choose to live in their cars so they can spend their money on something other than housing.”
I was surprised to learn many homeless have smartphones as well as government paychecks. One ministry rep said, “They come into our stores all the time and buy whatever they want.”
“Why change when you can get three square meals a day, shelter and make tax-free money panhandling?”
“_________ is still living on the street right outside the shelter where I went through rehab. He gets his meals every day and a bed when it rains. He doesn’t want to answer to anybody.”
Giving clean needles to drug addicts in San Francisco has exacerbated the problem. Now dirty needles are littering the streets, along with urine and feces.
And all that made me wonder: Are we, in some cases, killing the homeless with kindness?