Now that we’ve reached last day of the year, my wish for 2017 is that we finally step up and provide the homeless what they need: Homes.
We have made strides in that direction in recent years. I am impressed with measures taken by state and local governments across this great nation of ours. But we still have a long way to go.
The state of Utah has pulled off the substantial feat of nearly eliminating homelessness. It accomplished this by means of the Housing First initiative, a program that acknowledges the fact that it is nearly impossible to deal with underlying problems such as mental illness and drug addiction while one’s life is constantly in peril on the streets. The success of the idea is predicated on jettisoning preconditions (such as testing clean of drugs) for obtaining housing.
Of course, Utah has never had a homelessness problem on the scale of, say, Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. The cost of housing in such urban locales, along with an insufficient stock of rent controlled apartments and long waiting lists, sends homeless people seeking help into temporary housing rather than permanent homes. But at least New York City law recognizes housing (of some kind) is a right. It may end up being a motel room out by Kennedy Airport, but that’s arguably better than risking hypothermia in the freezing cold.
Homeless Californians, including those right here in Sacramento, don’t enjoy the guarantee of housing. But at least we’ve opened warming centers on nights when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Previously, they’d only open when the temperature dropped below freezing on three consecutive nights. Small steps in the right direction, just as we all hope for when we make New Year resolutions.
So, in 2017, I hope we can do better for Roy, for the old guy who hangs out at the local supermarket and to whom we sometimes give our loose change.
I hope we can do better for the motley crew who hang out at McDonald’s on Richards Boulevard, at least until they’re chased away by security.
I hope we can do better for the homeless with their blankets, bed rolls and shopping carts who hang out downtown near where I work, sleeping on sidewalks and in the doorways of commercial buildings after hours.
I hope we can do better for the young man who walked into the Chinese restaurant where we were eating dinner, begging for a free meal and being thrown out emptyhanded.
And I hope we can do better for the lady whom I found lying on a blanket on the floor of our local post office, surrounded by her worldly belongings. I stepped over her on the way to our post office box. Later, we returned to bring her food, but she was gone, likely chased out. This happened several months ago, back when the post office lobby was open 24/7. Now the lobby closes at 7 pm during the week and at five on weekends.
A sign in the post office warns the homeless that sleeping in the lobby is not permitted.
The answer, pasted on the window by one of our neighbors, an unknown member of our community and a fellow human being, reads “Do not lock this door! This is my bedroom.”
I, for one, am ashamed.
With best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year to all.