Connecting the dots on homelessness


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    Coming to congested traffic intersections can be frustrating enough but for me it is also becoming emotionally disturbing.

    Standing or sitting on the curb at a busy Medford intersection will be an apparently homeless man or woman and sometimes with them a child holding a “HELP” sign. Lying close by on a leash may be a dog.

    Feeling embarrassed and somewhat guilty, I may either look away or I may smile, wave and give the peace sign. If I’m walking by I usually dig out my loose change and say “Hello.” I have friends who carry bottles of water and small items of food like peanut butter crackers to hand out, not wanting to give money which could be used for alcohol and drugs.

    Right now in Jackson County on a given night there are about 1,000 homeless people. About one-third of them are kids. Some are chronically homeless and and some are episodically homeless. Some are sheltered and some are not. Some are seen and some are “the hidden homeless.”

    A couple of days ago my husband and I had the Grand Slam Breakfast in a warm, clean, cozy cafe with two other couples. With no exceptions we all said we wished we could “help the homeless.” Not one of us said we needed more affordable housing.

    This may be because in people’s minds the link seems obtuse between homelessness and not enough affordable housing. For the average person it’s hard to connect the dots between homelessness and an affordable rent or mortgage.

    It’s a bit easier to connect the dots if we look at the people needing our help. There are chronically homeless and episodically homeless folks. I like to say the chronically homeless and episodically homeless are siblings living within an economically dysfunctional family. The siblings resemble each other but look distinctive.

    For instance, a chronically homeless person often suffers from intractable mental, emotional, physical and addictive disabilities, is socially isolated and lacks health care and benefits from progressive welfare programs. For an episodically homeless person, some of these concerns are present, but the main circumstances are loss of a job, low wages, unexpected expenses for a car repair or emergency health care, a rise in rent payments, discrimination and bias barriers or a natural disaster.

    The solutions are different because the causes are different. At the risk of oversimplification, the essential solutions for a chronically homeless person are broad-based health care, protective public welfare services and a secure shelter with oversight.

    On the other hand, solutions for the episodically homeless person may include an inventory of available affordable housing, rental subsidies, affordable health care and child care, a livable wage and job training and access to cultural, social and financial support services.

    An inventory of available affordable housing is a critical aspect in the prevention and solution for episodically homeless people. Secure affordable, if not free, housing is a partial solution for ending the struggles of most chronically homeless people.

    One could say that providing an inventory of available affordable housing offers some solution to chronic and episodic homelessness. And we could also say that an inventory of available affordable housing, universal health care, progressive social welfare and living wages are co-occurring issues that are embedded within economic policies that could be turned in a direction more helpful for homeless people. So, by connecting all the dots, we could put some of our efforts into influencing economic policies to evolve in more helpful directions on behalf of homeless people.

    I can hope and work for the days ahead when I might be able to turn a corner at a traffic intersection without the twinges of pity and helpless I now feel from the sight of a homeless person begging for my help.

    Pamela J. Allister lives in Central Point.

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