The response to the homeless “problem” in Coos County is another classic example of what I call government theatre: the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing.
Meetings are held. Committees and task forces are formed. Studies are conducted. But nothing is getting done!
During my short tenure as executive director of T.H.E. House, I learned a lot about the homeless. When I got there the place was a mess. I cleaned it up and organized the office and pantry. I fixed things that needed fixing. I reached out to local, state and national organizations that deal with homeless people to learn what worked and what didn't. In other words, I took action rather than sit around talking. Here's one example. The doors open for dinner at 5 p.m. Every day, I was cleaning up trash in the yard. I decided to solve the problem. I explained to the homeless people that I was tired of picking up their trash. So if they wanted to eat, the yard has to be clean. After some grumbling, a few of them cleaned up the yard. Problem solved. I never had to clean the yard again.
I was offered the position of executive director at the Devereux Center but turned it down. These centers are the way they are because the people on the board of directors want them that way. Many of the directors never set foot on the premises yet they want to judge and dictate how these centers are run. That is a recipe for disaster. Because of the rules issued by the board of directors at T.H.E. House, a veteran in a wheelchair was made to sit outside in the rain and an elderly woman was kicked out because she forgot to sign the late board. Does it surprise you why T.H.E. House has gone through so many executive directors?
In my 20s, as I walked to lunch in downtown Washington, D.C. wearing a 3 piece suit, whenever a homeless person begged for money, my response was, “get a job." But after 50 laps around the sun, I realized some people can't handle a job.
To understand homeless, you first must realize homeless is not a problem, it is a symptom of other problems. All homeless people are not alike. Some “game” the system. Others just have had a bad break. And some do not have the brain and/or body chemistry to allow them to function “normally," almost like dementia.
What's the solution? First, identify the problem. Don't want litter? Provide trash cans! Don't want public urination? Provide bathrooms! Don't want people sleeping in one place? Provide a place where they can! You don't need a meeting, study or a committee to figure this out.
Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT a bleeding heart liberal. Far from it. But we are talking about fellow human beings and it would behoove us to show some compassion.
Avery T. Horton, Jr.