“Homeless in Paradise” ran in big letters on the front page a week ago as the Navarre Press took a deeper look at the suffering of those in our own county, and following the publication, we had one concerned citizen come into our office to look for deeper answers.
She wanted to know why these people were not sheltered in our area.
She wanted to know why the county had not funded any projects for homeless relief.
She wanted to know where the homeless students of Navarre could lay their heads at night when there were no emergency shelters and no hotels willing to partner with the school district.
She wanted to know why so many efforts that had sprung up following stories written in this paper or tragedies like the death of our Bike Lady had failed to go any further than talk.
Lisa Chia, we wish we had an answer.
The truth is despite the continued prevalence of this issue and the clear lack of resources not just in Navarre but throughout the county, there has been no movement forward.
Food programs abound and existing organizations do what they can, but there is just too little trying to spread too far.
And stigmas attached to the homeless further hinder these efforts.
“Why do they not just get up and get a job?”
“The homeless are lazy. They are where they are because they do not try.”
“They are addicted to drugs and any assistance will just go toward feeding their habit.”
This is short-sighted and under informed.
There are homeless people who are working full time, but through natural disaster or unexpected circumstance they lost everything.
There are homeless people who have never touched illegal substances in their lives or who stumbled into addiction as a result of their homelessness.
Imagine if your home burnt to the ground tomorrow with all your belongings inside. Imagine if you unexpectedly lost your job and only had your savings to depend on. Imagine if the sole bread winner for your family walked out on you and your children.
For many, homelessness is just a missed paycheck away.
Health problems are a huge factor in homelessness. Medical bills can be expensive.
Mental health can prohibit people from employment opportunities, and services for this population are lacking as well.
While working on this article, our reporter met Andy. Andy lives in a homeless encampment in Navarre and gets around by using a bicycle. A conversation with Andy reveals obvious mental health problems. He seems unaware of his surroundings at times and will switch topics of conversation without a clear line of thought. Andy would likely not be able to simply “get up and go get a job.”
Instead he sleeps outside and occasionally gets a free meal from the local Burger King.
And Andy is not alone. To say that there are only five homeless people in Navarre is untrue. We have seen the numbers. We have seen the encampments. We recognize the regular faces.
It is easy to point the finger and say, “There is the problem. Why is this not fixed?” But it is far more difficult to take the lengthy and expensive process to actually fix it.
Many movements have started and fizzled out. We have still yet to discover where the more than $700 raised for a Navarre shelter disappeared to.
As reporters we are often put in the comfortable position of merely pointing out the flaws that exist. We may bring attention to a cause, but very rarely are we truly the architects of the solution.
To bring Navarre’s homeless out of the cold will take more than an editorial or a committee meeting in the park. It will take hundreds of man hours. It will take hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, donations and ponying up. It will take a group of people ready to face all the challenges, naysayers and bureaucracy for years.
To feel outraged is easy. To fix it is not.
To walk through a homeless encampment is a haunting experience.
It’s silent but for passing cars. It’s private, yet open to all who want to intrude.
What you and I might consider a pile of garbage is someone’s bed, their kitchen, their living space.
Sleeping on rain soaked cardboard is someone’s reality.
One question we can answer for you, Chia. If you wish to fix the problem, these are good places to start:
EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless
Office 439-3009 ext. 108
School District Homeless Student Resources
County Commission Chairman Rob Williamson
6796 Alice Street in Milton
To the next group of citizens to pull together for change, we wish you luck, discernment and persistence. Our homeless need it.