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Let the homeless get soaked. It can be what it takes to start their journey off the streets
Correct Dennis Wyatt mug 2022
Dennis Wyatt

It was 4 a.m. Tuesday.

I was snuggled in bed with the warmth afforded by a pair of comforters.

Thanks to a home that has a classic rooftop with a slight pitch, I was being serenaded with the pitter patter of raindrops pelting the roof.

Some 2½ hours earlier on the way home from work, I passed communal homeless night spot — the wide expanse of sidewalk outside of the wrought iron fence securing a plaza.

There wasn’t quite a dozen tents pitched. The aftermath of raindrops on the tent material reflected what little light there was coming from a nearby street light.

Normally on a dry night, there are upwards of two dozen homeless bedded down in front of the library. But those with just sleeping bags — or blankets — on a night like Tuesday seek the shelter of recessed doorways for a degree of protection from the rain and wind.

Downtown — for better or worse — serves as an open air bedroom for nomad homeless population  

The non-nomads are those that channel birds building nests by gathering anything they can — campaign signs, boxes, plywood and such — to create makeshift adobes.

They’re the ones that seek out places along freeway rights-of-way, in fields, and any nook or cranny where they can create shelter.

Granted, their stays aren’t long as sooner or later they will be forced to move on.

It is times like the wee hours of the morning on a rainy night in November where you realize one must ultimately be cold in order to create a situation where the homeless will gravitate toward help needed to get off the streets.

I felt no guilt as I drifted off. Nor should I, for that matter.

Given the resources that are offered up, this is not a have versus have not situation. It is — and always has been — more complicated than that.

Those truly down on their luck who more often than not have children that they are responsible for — and make that responsibility their priority — seek out help.

It is those homeless that shelters have been there for during the past 25 years. And in that time thanks to financial support from the community with their primary source being churches, they have provided a helping hand up.

Could there be more room, so to speak, at the inn? Yes.

But the point is we have been — to a large degree — effectively addressing the needs of homeless families for decades.

It goes without saying the plight of homeless families are still with us but there is an effective way forward for them that gets them off the street.

Those who huddle in front of a library and are gone before the daily routine starts in downtown are another story. They are predominately single and overwhelming adult males. Many, but not all, are dealing with addiction and mental health issues.

Some argue that stay homeless for a month or so and you are likely to develop a degree of mental illness.

It is a broad brush that harbors truth.

Mainly that’s the case because the streets become their new comfort zone.

The word “comfort” is key to how we address those who are single and seem content to use the streets as their bedroom, dining room, living room and bathroom.

In one local jurisdiction, the city’s shelter is temporarily closed while it is being replaced with rehabbed portable classroom for the cold winter nights ahead.

Perhaps 30 people or so that would have sought refuge in the big tent that was in place more than two years as an emergency shelter would be off the streets today if it was still up to day.

The hope is the more hospitable quarters with a larger degree of privacy the portables will offer will increase those numbers a bit once they are ready for occupancy.

The next step, of course, is the homeless navigation center.

It is the crucial component needed to make sure as many homeless as possible are able to reach the “end game,” which is getting off the streets.

To get the homeless to the point they will voluntarily take the step toward getting help and following rules needed to be able to shelter themselves, the last thing they need to be is comfortable on the streets.

A few years back, a police officer tasked with the “homeless beat” was dismayed to see Good Samaritans had distributed umbrellas and tents in large numbers to the homeless during a stormy spell of weather.

It is not that Kelley wants to see the homeless suffer. Far from it.

He had more than a few of the homeless at the time that were able to look beyond their afflictions,  comfortableness with being on the street, and other issues to move closer to committing to a path off the streets.

Being drenched with rain for a week can be a powerful game changer. Misery, in such cases, is a powerful antidote to drugs, the bottle and pure old-fashioned stubbornness.

It seems counterintuitive to people not on the street, but a number of former homeless people have indicated that living on the street becomes their comfort zone. As such taking steps needed to get off the streets, out of the elements and away from 24/7 uncertainty can be uncomfortable.

This doesn’t mean being cruel to the homeless. It means not enabling them to stay in their comfort zone.

The government and non-profits cannot do it alone.

The community is key.

And they must be part of a united front and not one where individuals believing they are being “humane” undermine efforts to get the homeless off the streets and on their way to living productive lives.


This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.