Different views on homelessness

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer September 26, 2009 06:00 am

My recent columns about homelessness have generate a variety of responses. I’d like to share some of them with you.

Harbor resident Sharon Smith wrote: “You should change your ‘Myths vs Facts,’ from which you got your information, and get the facts for Curry County. The following information was received from law enforcement in our area

“This applies to the majority (of homeless) in our area: They want a hand out, not a hand up. They will steal from cars and homes to get items to trade for illegal drugs and/or booze. They want money from people, not food. Several officers have seen them toss food when it is given to them when the ‘kind’ person is out of sight; this includes an officer who was kind enough to buy a hamburger for one and watched him in his rearview mirror and saw him toss it in the bushes.

“They like their ‘lifestyle’ and choose it because they find it easier to beg for money rather than earn it. If they really wanted help ... there is help in Curry County, they just choose not to get it. They can be violent if they don’t get what they want.

“The transient that broke into our home at 5 a.m. when were were asleep was caught later that morning. He had an extensive list of priors (arrests), including assault.”

Smith is referring to Shawn Philips, who was sentenced Friday to nearly seven month in jail for the burglary. (See story on Page 1A).

Reader Debra Chegus wrote: “We are not uncompassionate people for the poor or those who have lost their homes due to lack of jobs. However, we do have a problem that needs to addressed with the transients who have been moving into Brookings for the past couple of years.”

Debra and her husband John live on Mill Beach Road and have seen many transients walking to and from Mill Beach, where some have establish camp sites in the vegetation line. They were most concerned with makeshifts weapons seen at one campsite.

“I’ve never felt afraid to go to the beach alone, but now I’m afraid to walk to Fred Meyer alone, much less the beach, since I was stalked and followed by a transient thee weeks ago,” Debra said.

The transients, she added, have set illegal campfires on the beach, often leaving them unattended, and left garbage on the beach.

“Our recommendation is to let the new ‘Curry County Homeless Coalition’ furnish a big bus and the gas to ship these homeless, jobless, shopping mall beggers, and the mentally ill transients, to a bigger city such as Portland or anywhere except our small coastal towns (where jobs and housing are not plentiful).

In a big city, she explained, they homeless could be houses in “tent cities” and have more job opportunities and access to medical and psychiatric services.

As for “dangerous” transients, Debra said they should be housed in jails and prisons.

“Crescent City ran them out for good reasons, and our small town used by a safe one to live in and our children were safe. So let’s keep it this way.  Or are we going to wait until someone really gets hurt, raped or robbed before something is done ...”

Brookings resident J. Johnson focused his comments on the availability of alcohol.

“Beer and liquor companies consciously target the homeless ... specifically the alcohol addicted and methally impaired. They produce beers that have “boosted” alcohol content laced with additives. They have names like “Snake” and “Voltage” and are priced at $1.09 and $1.98 per 20-ounce cans. They are highly debilitating. One has only to panhandle $1.09 to be able to anesthetize themselves completely for hours at a time.”

He added, “We all recognize that these victims don’t want to be in a structured environment. Shelters don’t serve drinks, or drugs, so they stay out. When illness or injury occurs, they get into the system – hospital or jail. And guess who pays? If they survive, they return to the same life.

“Giving panhandlers money? Buy them an easy open can of food, and candy to help with addiction. Oh, and a can or two of dog food for that dog who is often present in the homeless lifestyle.”

Brookings resident Karen Holmes, who operates a non-profit organization online at www.oneworldgov.org, sheds some light on the homeless, because she was homeless for many years.

“Anyone can become homeless. I have five years of college education, a degree and had a respectable job in Brookings for 17 years. In 1999 I wrote a book called “A Manual for Peace.” Letting go of a good job and choosing to become an activist threatened the financial support of my family. I ended up on the streets with my young daughter, two suitcases and a rusty, old car.”

The root cause of homelessness, Karen said, is that “the individual believes he or she has no home ... you are kicked off course by traumatic events and, eventually, you are 180 degree from where you think you are. Eventually you turn your life over to someone or something that does not have the capacity to help you get your life back on track, and that is when people die.”

She said rousting people from their transient camps is counter productive. “It makes no sense to run them out of town because the next town over is sending others our way.”

Helping people overcome homelessness, she said, takes someone they trust, who has successfully overcome the crisis, to teach them how to do it, leading by example.”

Karen also believes that religious-based programs for homeless people are counter productive.

“Homeless people know how to ‘play the game’ to gain compassion and handouts. The programs are terrific for providing temporary needs, but are not a long-term solution.”

“I believe that any plan to solve a problem must address the root cause or it makes the situation worse. The plan must enable homeless people to feel they have a home, address the issues that made the person homeless (such as a family dispute), and enable the person to start using his or her God-given talents and fits to start win-win agreements. Being homeless is not the real problem, It is the family dispute they are worried about, and don’t know how to end it.”

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As you can see, each reader has a different take on homelessness, it’s causes and the solutions. I’m not sure I agree with everything they said, but it’s always good to hear different points of view. I appreciate those who shared the thoughts with me.

At this point, I don’t think the issue of homelessness will be solved any time soon. And those advocating for the homeless – locally and elsewhere – face many hurdles: a challenging economy, rising unemployment and a derth of affordable housing.

Even so, there are people who are willing to help – and that says something about the human race.