The issue of homelessness has risen to an insane level in the Seattle area. Seriously, since the time I arrived here back in the 1970s, it’s gone from those small groups gathered down at Pioneer Square, to countless numbers squatting on any piece of land they can find to call home. We’re number 4 nationally, with only Los Angeles, New York and Las Vegas having more people living in the streets than we do.
The homeless have always existed. Whether it’s from a streak of bad decisions, an unfortunate series of events, a downward spiral in the economy, alcohol or drug abuse or mental illness, you can go back over time and they’ve always been there. They were bums, freeloaders or hoboes and they were an accepted part of our society, those not very visible. They were a footnote, not a force. I even came across this picture of my cousin wearing her Halloween costume years ago, dressed up like “a hobo.”
So, what’s the deal with the increasing numbers of homeless people? There are no blanket answers, or quick fixes. In my on-going pursuit of finding out what’s working and what isn’t, I discovered Hopelink. Yes, it provides food and essentials to those in need, but does it in a nurturing environment, helping thousands of homeless people and families get back on their feet. They aren’t a spigot that turns on to give out the goods and then says, “See you next time!” They help, train, feed and inspire those down on their luck to get back up and rejoin society.
But again, how did we get here? Where driving down I-5 looks like a Boy Scout jamboree, with tents pitched everywhere. Where so many people just give up or assume that it’s their lot in life to spend their days outdoors, begging for money. I have this theory.
I’m old enough to remember a time when there was authority. Where there were rules. Not all of them fair, not all of them in our greater interest, but they maintained order. As students of the 1960s know, the rules began to break down. We stopped taking government’s word for it. We questioned wars. We saw society rules and started asking “Why?” All good.
But then, it became a passion. Nothing was right, rules were meant to be broken. It was the evolution of society, but also a beginning of a break down. Because one of the underlying themes became fairness. Yes, that’s a law, but that’s not fair. Everyone needs to be treated fairly. Harshness is bad, generic all-acceptance is good. A lofty goal, in principal. but not always practical.
All that being said, here’s my theory–the current abundance of homelessness is our own fault. We’ve bent over backwards to coddle and protect and keep everything fair so much, that in the end, these people head out into the adult world (which isn’t always fair) and get knocked down the first time mom and dad aren’t there to take care of a problem for them.
There are as many styles of parenting as there are parents, but my way was to be as close to my kids as possible during those formative years, and then, when it’s time to let go, let ’em fly away from the nest. I’m very proud and at peace knowing that, if I dropped dead tomorrow, both my kids (hopefully after some extended periods of grieving) would easily be able to carry on with their lives. They’re both independent adults that can stand up for themselves. It’s exciting to watch their lives evolve, as they carve their own path through this life.
There was no single defining moment where homelessness became OK, but there’s a belief that we need to accept it. I refuse. To me, it’s not an acceptable lifestyle. At one point, they all had dreams and aspirations and goals. They’re fellow human beings that deserve our compassion, help and guidance on how to become citizens again. Pity doesn’t solve anything and standing next to a freeway exit with a cardboard sign is not a career.
Seattle, which just asked the federal government for additional help in dealing with the homeless, already spends $25-million a year on them. As of last January, we had 3,772 people living on the streets in Seattle. Divide that money up and that’s almost $7,000 per person in spending. Are you saying that we can’t help someone improve their lives with $7,000?
King County actually began a program to help the homeless and reduce the numbers 10 years ago…and instead, the numbers have increased.
There is a solution, somewhere out there. Perhaps it’s all of the private entities working on the problem partnering with government to combine resources and efforts. Maybe it’s a commission led by a Homeless Czar that oversees it, constantly checking to see that whatever direction we go, it’s working.
These people need our help and this is a serious problem that’s worsening and just won’t go away. Not even if you give each of them a trophy.
I’m pretty sure Red Skelton would be labeled
“insensitive” for this today