Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Not the Post I'd Planned

As I drove to the depot this morning, I passed an older black lady wearing three hats and a trench coat. I recognized her as the homeless lady who used to camp out at an abandoned gas station on the main drag. (Apparently, police had finally discouraged her from staying there.) I wondered where she had managed to stay for the winter.

The bus station is down the street and within view of a mission that gives out food – serving it on-site – and clothing. (I’ve taken things there before and weeks later seen someone on the street wearing something that looked eerily familiar …)

Sometimes, the homeless hole up inside the bus station, waiting for the mission to open. Or, some ride the buses all day. (There’s one man that we call Cart Man, because he lugs around a folding cart of belongings, covered with a tarp. He has this long pole-like device that resembles a tree trimmer stuffed inside and sticking out. Many of the drivers will use that as an excuse to not pick him up, for fear that it could be used as a weapon.)

It sounds cruel and I used to think it was but many of these people, in addition to having nowhere to live, are mentally unstable. This problem is often exacerbated by alcohol. The problem is, you never know when one of them will snap and an otherwise routine bus ride will turn violent.

A driver was attacked a few months ago and luckily, more shaken up than seriously injured. She was only spared though because another driver arrived on the scene. The rule of thumb is that you don’t want to be on the bus station lot or near it, after dark. And you NEVER want to be there alone.

Joe, a guy who used to ride my bus, is often at the station when I arrive. He was there this morning and visibly disturbed. He seems like a really nice guy and unlike many of my fellow bus passengers, he regularly speaks to the homeless. He has even helped some out on occasion. I think this is because he works in a railyard where some of the homeless find at least temporary employment so he gets to know some of them on a personal level.

Today though, he was obviously avoiding them.

“I guess you can’t be nice to some people without worrying that they’ll end up on your doorstep,” he said, explaining that some of the men had been trying to follow him home. He fears that, because they know he is at work during the day, if they find out where he lives, they might break into his house.

It broke my heart to see him so fearful. I told him that if he is that concerned, he should at least notify the transit officials and let local law enforcement know there may be strange people around his house. I’m not sure what you can really do about it as long as there have been no laws broken but it seems like something that the proper authorities should be alerted to.

It further breaks my heart that, in the interest of our own safety, we have to be so cautions, so suspicious and appear to be callous to the plight of others. It breaks my heart even more that there are more than 3 million people in this country (estimated) who have no home. These statistics didn’t make me feel any better:

· 35% of people experiencing homelessness are families with children, the fastest growing homeless population.
· About one-fifth are U.S. military veterans
· 25% are children under the age of 18
· 30% have experienced domestic violence
· and 20-25% suffer from mental illness.

I'm a do-er, a solutions person --I hate situations where I don’t know what to do. Luckily, I found out that there are several ways I can help. The National Coalition for the Homeless offers these suggestions. I’ll be taking them to heart. If you’re able, I hope that you will, too.

It’s better than doing what many of us do every day to end homelessness: nothing.


Leah@Storybook Ranch said...

There was a girl I read about in 'runners world' a while back who used to run by the homeless every morning & one day decided to ask them to run with her; which eventually led to her establishing a city wide organization.

If you've ever run, you know that it is an empowering feeling and it was amazing what she accomplished from just getting them some running shoes.

As always-Safety First!

karen said...

I have always had a place in my heart for the homeless. I want to build a homeless shelter in or town. The Salvation Army in the next town over will let you stay there for the night. But I want a real shelter with counslers and teachers and pastors and three meals aday. Maybe someday I can do it.With all the money our nation spends on stupid stuff and high paying jobs for people in Washington there should not be one hungry homeless child in this country.

Why S? said...

Karen, you're right. There is so much more that can be done. However, there is still the problem of the mentally ill. Even if we provide services and shelter, many people will still choose to live independently and on the streets. It's a tough situation.

Chalit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chalit said...

It's hard to imagine a child being hungry in North America. Frightening to know the statistics and feel hopeless. http://www.militarymovesyou.com/

Vicki said...

We have packets of crackers in our car so that if we come up to a stop light and someone is asking for food/money we can at least give them some crackers. I heard a great suggestion on the radio yesterday. A woman keeps gallon-sized ziplocks filled with things like a small water bottle, crackers, socks, and things like that. I think that's a great idea. Another suggestion we've thought about is getting coupons to McDonalds or other restaurants to hand out. I don't condone giving money because of the drug/alcohol/cigarette problem.

When we lived in a very small town in New Mexico I was amazed at the amount of homeless people in the town. They were nomadic though, roaming. We knew the addresses of the local shelters and would tell them, but they already knew.

Anyway, we found out then that quite a few of homeless people choose to be that way. Beyond mental illness or leaving a bad situation where they feel there is nowhere else to go, a lot of people choose to live against the norms of society. I don't think those people usually end up in large cities sleeping continually on one park bench though. They tend to wander. At least, that's my assumption.

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