IMG_0227Among the homeless, Norman is luckier than most. Here we are, his siblings who made him welcome for a week after Christmas for several years.  Left to right, Norman, my sister who died at age 80, Will and Clark, who both live near me. After Dawn died, Norman has declined  visits over the holidays. Growing up, she was more like a mother to him. He’d say, “Why not me?” He said the same when Brother Mark, died at age 45 and Brother Dan died at age 59. “Why not me?”

Worse than feeling worthless, Norman got involved with a Baptist church where he and the pastor developed a friendship. The whole congregation befriended Norman. He was accepted; he had friends. He attended services regularly.

The church had movie nights in their hall with free popcorn. He was happy. Norman suggested Fiddler On The Roof? No one had seen it. Feeling some reluctance from the members, he drummed up support for it. Then offered to pay for the movie from his own funds. He knew they’d love this movie. A scant number of non-parishioners attended. He couldn’t understand it? I said maybe because  Fiddler On The roof is about Jewish families. “So what? Jesus was a Jew. That can’t be it.”

He survived that fiasco and sometime later when talking with the Pastor, he mentioned a passage in his bible that he thought could be interpreted that God might be a woman. The Pastor was visibly upset and told him that was heresy. He wanted the Pastor to read it and talk about it. He would not. From then on, the congregation ostracized Norman. No one would look at him, or speak to him. Deeply hurt, he left with bitter tears in his voice. I didn’t hear from him for months. I say, Oh yea good Christians, how shallow thou art.

It saddens me, that Norman didn’t get treatment for alcohol addiction when he first stepped into the arrest and re-arrest cycle. Right now, Norman is doing well. But, looking at the numbers of homeless, most are not.

Cleveland, Ohio, learned several years ago, that providing housing was cheaper (though not by much), than emergency room medical treatment and the revolving doors of the courts and jail. Low cost housing makes a huge difference in the community and its sense of humanity.

Doing nothing complicates the consequences of angry, helpless, hopeless people, left to fend for themselves in a jungle atmosphere. The strong pick on the weak. Addiction increases. Hunger is constant as is dirt and filth. When you see homeless encampments, they are always loaded with dirty bedding. There is no garbage service, so garbage is everywhere. Vermin follow.  People have to answer natures call, whether there is a toilet or not.

Communities want them out of their site. In  Tuolumne County, one Supervisor suggested that the churches should quit feeding them because they hang around town and businesses don’t want them on the sidewalks.  Passing ordinances doesn’t make them invisible, less hungry or less likely to steal food.

Low cost housing works. People need stability. Children require healthy meals and decent clothing with regular attendance in school. Some parents, single or dual, will find work enough to move on. It is a chance for a better life.

Living on the streets can drive you crazy. Having a pet can help. It is healing to have responsibility for someone or something other than one’s self.  Cleveland recognized that and allows residents to keep a pet.

Not every community will find enough money for housing.  What I learned from the Butte Fire is that  gated parks with mobile washers, dryers, toilets, showers and storage lockers can make a big impact on the homeless.  The long-term homeless have different needs than fire victims, of course. And they may prefer to sleep in individual tents, or cots on the grass, or out in the open. Most shelters are plagued with smelly bedding and bed bugs, in a closed space where someone else’s snoring or farting keeps you awake. The park should have a covered picnic area with tables and benches.  A barbecue area with electricity for people to cook their food with nearby garbage cans and a wash up area.

Separating and treating drug addicts and drunks and getting the mentally ill treatment is necessary. Money for facilities for the mentally impaired is money well spent. It may be as simple as providing medication for bi-polar people. Isn’t it a civil responsibility to assist those who cannot help themselves no matter what caused their dilemma?  As citizens, don’t we have the right to demand solutions that work even if it is mandatory treatment.

For long-term homeless, the park must have a guard and rules. The gate guard allows those inside who have agreed to be responsible for the privilege of using the park.  A safe haven for good behavior. But, who wants to be in a park where a drunken or drugged up person wants in when his behavior hasn’t been so good? He creates a fuss and keeps everyone else awake and the dogs bark.

Is he turned away?  No. Cooperation with the police provides him a quick trip to the drunk tank to sober up or come down from his high.  From there a hearing  before a civil magistrate must be endured before a person can get a trial or his legal day in court. It requires a change in the law or perhaps, just procedure.  A sentence to treatment means he gets his place in the safe haven secured and his belongings and a pet, if he has one, cared for.  Communication between law enforcement and the city or county run park is paramount.

AA meetings and medical treatment for addiction is first, under lock down in a dormitory style building.  Sentences are long enough to give the person counseling along with treatment.  Staff tries to find him a job on the outside while he is under treatment.  The job is probationary. From the job, he returns to lock down until he is considered stable enough to turn his life around. If he fails, he has three chances to make it work.

Every human being is entitled to be treated as well as animals. As my brother indicated in his letter,  “the son of man has no place to lay his head.”  That has to change.






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  1. It may not be a total solution, but Cleveland has the right idea. Nothing is guaranteed 100%, but it surely helps some of these unfortunates who somehow have the will power to get through even prolonged rough patches. Clearly when your brother has had the opportunity to live well, he has done well, and those opportunities should be everywhere for those who can benefit.

    Virtual hugs,


    • 2gadabout

      It takes some understanding to figure it out. For me, it was my brother. Before that, I remember meeting a beggar in San Francisco and feeling very disdainful, especially when the newspapers were saying don’t give handouts. They have services. That was before the twice depressed economy and the current low paying jobs with college grads working at McDonalds, union busting and one percent-ers bragging about their multi-million dollar salaries, while many working people have to hold two jobs just to make ends meet. I believe the revolution is coming to change all of that. Thanks again for your empathy. M

  2. Cindy

    Mary……I have followed your posts for years and have especially enjoyed your insights on homelessness and your personal connection via your brother. Please continue sharing your thoughts and experience on this most difficult subject, we need solutions and our conversation will lead us to the answers.

    As the mother of an addicted, homeless adult child I am a firm supporter of mandatory treatment for a person unable to make reasonable choices for themselves. There will never be a day that I do not assume responsibility for the welfare of my family members if they are not able to provide for themselves, and with the assumption of responsibility we need to have rights to override poor choices and decisions.

    Yes, it is a fine line to walk when making choices for another but the alternative is what we are all living with today. Cities full of the walking wounded who are unwanted and abused.

    I too believe we are near a revolution to resolve what has become an extremely off kilter society…….too many need too much with too few resources available.

    • 2gadabout

      Hi Cindy, It’s interesting how differently we see the problem when it is personal. Like you, I believe it is long overdue to have mandatory treatment for people who abuse others OR themselves. And, the evidence as you point out is the degraded homeless walking the streets. It is mind boggling the number of homeless people without resources. Thousands in big cities, Los Angeles counts 27,000, but the numbers can be much higher because some, like Norman, are hidden. In small cities, they add up to huge numbers nationwide. It may take changes to the law to treat people without their express permission. Let us all be aware that literally millions of homeless is a national shame. Thank you.

  3. Surely, we can do better.

    Agent X
    Fat Beggars School of Prophets
    Lubbock, Texas (USA)

    • 2gadabout

      Yes, we can do better and we surely should. No one asks the candidates about the rising number of homeless people in this country of great wealth. When the League of Women Voters handled the debates, any question was open. Thanks for stopping by. Mary

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