Saturday, January 14, 2012

Homeless in Central Oregon

January 14, 2012
I was invited to a town hall meeting on Thursday evening at the community center.  It was to be a televised meeting led by two friends, Jamie and Dave, who work for the production side of Bend Cable.
The reason that I went was because the topic was one that I have involved myself in for many years, the homeless.  I went with a desire to listen and learn to other resources that are out there and others ideas on how to cope with this needy problem.
I arrived and found many friends and kindred spirits filling up the room.  I looked for my good friend, Chuck, from COVO and found that he was to be a part of the panel.  So, I sat down next to another friend, Rob and we chatted while we waited for the event to unfold.
Soon, Dave and Jamie were addressing us and telling us how the televised part of the night would work and how we were to hold the microphone if we decided to speak.  Dave told us how even though the show was an hour long, that it would go by fast.  I remember thinking to myself, 'Good, cause I am tired and want to go home.'.  After sitting in the chair, I began to unwind from the long day that had started before 6 AM.  Fatigue began to wear at me and I wondered if coming was all that good an idea.
And then it started and true to his word, each segment seemed to fly by.  It did so because it was interesting and most of the people who spoke had something to say.  I knew most of the people or their organizations on the panel who was well represented by COVO, the Community Center, Shepherds House, Bethlehem Inn, the Family Access Network, and ICON City.
Many inspiring and interesting things were spoken of by the various members who had their various ideas of how to tackle the problem but the most interesting for me came from the ICON City crew.  First off, I was taken by his humbleness when he spoke of how he was not really an agency like the rest of them and did not feel worthy of sitting in a panel with them.  But, more so, it was their ideas that seemed fresh and true.  They were the ones who seemed to be getting outside of the box on the issue.
One thing in particular interested me the most.  They have set up a program called BeRemedy (be a part of the remedy).  The program works by texting ICON to 80565.  Once you are in the network, a text will go out every week stating a specific need that needs to be addressed.  I thought the idea was outstanding.
The hour flew by as segment after segment finished and we listened to the panel and various people in the audience interact.  We also heard from some homeless people and others who had survived homelessness from help within the room.
The last segment began and up until then, I had no desire to speak.  Then a representative from Goodwill got up and bragged of their programs.  The hairs on the back of my neck began to raise as I desired to stand and challenge their name as I have often made the statement that Goodwill has no goodwill.  I even wrote about this once in a story of an encounter back in the old Jakes where I had sent a couple over to Goodwill to get some clothes before I gave them a shower and took them to the Bethlehem Inn.  Goodwill refused them clothes and I had to drive them to another agency.
Then another lady got up and stated that we should put pressure on the banks to have them give up their vacant houses that are just sitting around.  I realize her heart was in the right place but the idea was not a workable one.
But it was the Bethlehem Inn guy in the panel that made me want to raise my hand as he made the statement that we needed more government help with more government grants.  I was actually forming a response when the town hall meeting suddenly was over.
My response would have been this, however.  We had all the resources that we would need right there in that room.  People motivated with a desire to help and access to material, labor, and the ability to raise funds.  The problem is not that we need more government help but less.  We need them to get out of the way and let us do the job that is needed.  It is governmental red tape and restrictions that hamper us and keep us from being able to help these needy people.
For instance, ICON city gained access to prefabricated shelters but could not gain permission to use them.  So, people who could have been helped and placed in these dry shelters are now living in tents in the woods.
Or when Sheppard's House first got started.  They were not allowed to put up all the beds that they wanted because of local codes that restricted them due to inadequate bathroom facilities.  I remember as a youth that our house had only one bathroom.  Some of us had to wait at times to use it or to take a bath.   Because of these local codes, some men have had to fight frostbite out in the cold.
If the government wants to help, maybe they could pass some law protecting us from frivolous lawsuits that are the catalyst for many of these codes and red tape.
I left the meeting with mixed emotions.  My desire to help had been enhanced but my thoughts of the idea of more government involvement had actually left me with a bit of dread.
I shared my thoughts with some crew members the next day who knew that I was going.  One of them asked of the homeless man who was living behind the building when we first opened up.  We laughed as we shared stories of his antics at the time.  One of them asked if I had heard from Jerry lately.  I said that I had not heard from him since the time that he came in with a group of guys telling them that he was buying them a meal.  He had already rang up quite a tab and had bounced a couple of checks.  I told him that I wanted to help but could not continue to run up a tab for him.  He left rather angrily stating that I had embarrassed him in front of his friends.  I had often wondered what had happened to this creative homeless man.
I went out to my office and sat there just thinking back of Jerry.  I had forgotten all about him until he was brought up in our conversation.  The diner phone began to ring and was picked up by the front desk.  Then the chirp telling me that the call was for me sounded out and I picked up the phone.
Amazingly, it was Jerry.  He had moved over to the valley but was now living in Redmond.  He told me that he was no longer homeless and that he was now receiving social security.  He needed to get access to the van to take him to the VA hospital in Portland and one of the Band of Brothers that he had bumped into had told him to call me for info.  I directed him to call the local VFW hall and I was sure they would have the info that he needed.  Before he closed off the call, he asked me a question, "Hey Lyle, do I owe you any money?".  "No", came the answer, "We are square.".  "Thanks", he said, "Can I see you sometime.".  "I would like that.", I answered and we both said goodbye.
I dropped my head and said a little prayer, knowing that the conversation was as much meant for me as it was a need for Jerry.
What are my thoughts of all of this.  Well, as we all go home tonight to our warm houses and snuggle in our soft beds that we dedicate ourselves to help out some way.  Not out a sense of guilt but out of for our fellow man.
BTW, the Middle of Winter food and clothing drive is up and running.  Actually, it never stopped from last year but it is officially on.  After we took up the bins last spring, people kept bringing in stuff and we kept taking it down to COVO for distribution.  So, if you have anything that you don't need that might help out someone who is in need, feel free to bring it in and drop it off in our entryway.

No comments: