Allow the homeless to say what is needed

Residents of the ‘First they came for the homeless’ Poor Tour tent community at Berkeley CA, City Hall gather at their food and literature tables.
PHOTO/SARAH MENEFEE

 

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from a Daily Cal interview with Mike Zint.

BERKELEY, CA — The thing I hated most during winter was going inside. I knew I would have to go back outside, into the weather. Rain and cold, combined with wind is miserable. You want to be in the sun, basking in the warmth, but again, the wind takes the heat away. Staying wet for a few days happens. Having soaked feet is constant. Replacing socks is needed. You also truly appreciate a cup of hot soup. It warms the hands and the belly. Unfortunately, that relief lasts about five minutes.

Add cops, disastrous services, and no real desire to put in affordable housing, and you have a sense of constant despair. The knowledge that every city wants you gone, and will chase you around, gives you a sense of hopelessness.

Drugs, alcohol, or insanity? Take your pick. Those are the only real escapes.

Right now, it’s pouring out. The homeless are struggling to stay dry. Many will fail. Their bedding will be wet. It will stay that way until the sun comes back out. The longer that takes, the worse the sleeping becomes.

The next six months are the hardest. I made it through by remembering the summer months. I knew they would be back.

In the winter, some will go to the shelters. Once they are full, those that are left will try to stay as dry as they can in doorways or under overhangs. There are also those who will stay where they sleep, if a shelter is built. I would stay in my tent as long as possible.

What is needed? Affordable housing. But since housing is a commodity, affordable housing will be seen to have a negative impact on what the property owners can charge. So that’s not a reality. Navigation centers? Without affordable housing, there is no exit strategy for navigation centers. Except to shuffle them away. Adding shelters could help, if done with the needs of the homeless in mind. No hours, storage, handicap ready, etc. Privacy is possible by erecting tents inside. We have done that before. Cameras for security.

Tents on city land work, as we have shown. Tents are quick, cheap, and will provide shelter, stability, security, privacy, and a personal space. Rules minimize problems.

The homeless always need dry socks. Dry bedding is needed at times like this. Hot coffee. A cup of coffee can change a homeless person’s day during winter. Warm food. They also need the public to treat them the same as they would their neighbor, or co-worker.

The homeless hear “get a job” several times every day. They get nasty looks. They have people walk out of their way to avoid being too close. They have people purposefully look away. That is a good day. On a bad day, they get stuff thrown at them. They get chased away. They get attacked. They get pissed on or set on fire when asleep.

The only difference is how cold you are while enduring it. The holidays bring out more compassion, but that ends on January 2nd.

There are winter shelters open. There are warming centers. These have hours of operation though. Yes, they do provide relief, but they are not the solution. Stability is the solution. No hours. Allow the homeless a say in what is needed. That is how you truly help them.

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