In the land of heaven or the gene pool or the maternity ward, my family at each birth gets to flip a coin. The child will be raised with love and care in a place of warmth and good schools. He will be taught by example that hard work pays, and he has the potential to cash in that work for far more benefits than most are allowed.
And as he works hard, if he is lucky too, if the coin landed right, school will be easy and all doors will open, he’ll grow strong and have the lungs of a marathon runner; he’ll captain the wrestling team, earn academic scholarships and women will love him.
He’ll drink socially and avoid drugs and addiction, and in my dad’s case, never go to a hospital or take a medication until he is nearly 80 years old. My dad and I got that side of the coin.
My son scored “gifted” on all the tests but failed school because he couldn’t concentrate. He set freshman records for track events but wasn’t on the team as a senior because he fished after school to calm down or played basketball in the park until after dark because he was only comfortable outside. He was often depressed or enraged.
When you are 30 and you finally have to admit your mother has bipolar disease, you quit telling her to pull it together and get a job. You quit expecting the next pill to fix everything, and you love her the best you can; you thank the people who come to love her and live with her and care for her. And you thank the pills that work as long as they work.
There is no way to describe the pain you feel when you realize your son will have to fight the same battle.
Last week, I talked to a few of the homeless people in Brookings, and every one of them thanked the police for their restraint and care. They said they felt as if the police and deputies here keep everyone safe.
I would like to add a layer of thanks to them and to those who do what they can for the hurt and homeless or at least do no harm. No human has been helped along or taught a lesson by being harassed or beaten. No human problem has been solved through pain, fear and intimidation.
Transients who have been beaten or scared and thrown into the next town or state arrive more damaged, more afraid and more dangerous.
Somebody repeated a phrase the other day that I have heard in Brookings a lot lately: “So many of us are only one missed paycheck away from homelessness.”
I saw people in Florida after the housing crash move from a five-bedroom, four-bath house into their neighbor’s guest house –– and then a car.
Friends who had their own companies watched them fold and then lost their health insurance. They started over, bankrupt and poor at 50 with two kids and health issues.
Inexcusable behavior occurred at the library in Brookings, and a homeless camp had no place there. But what now?
We are all one flip of the coin, one missed paycheck or the next crash away from unemployment and possibly homelessness.
The answer is not to task the police with curing the crime related to mental illness and addiction without moving to treat the illness and addiction, nor is it to ignore the ill and addicted and hope they’ll move away. The answer is certainly not to attack and intimidate.
Speakers at meetings about the homeless have said this is a community issue in need of a community solution. I’m not sure what the solutions are for this community, but I know violence, the police or homeless camps where citizens are intimidated or forced to witness criminal behavior are not.
Let’s start there.
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org .