Among 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.