Recently, Doug and I were at the intersection of 205 South and Mill Plain Blvd. As if often the case, a man stood by the side of the road holding a sign. In this case it said, “I’m $20 from shelter.” It was about 8:00 PM.
I notice that as he stood there, his eyes closed and he swayed. When a car revved its engine, he startled. It looked like he was falling asleep (or passing out?) on his feet.
We happened to be in the far right lane so there was another lane of traffic between us and the man. It was not safe to offer him a bag of grace with a bottle of water and some snacks. Then the light changed and we turned.
I don’t know his story. Was he high on drugs? Was he dehydrated or experiencing a low blood sugar? Or had he stood in the sun for so long, hoping for enough money to afford a motel room and a bed for the night that he was tired enough to fall asleep on his feet, standing at an intersection with cars buzzing past him.
It is easy to assume the worst. I’m not naïve. I know that addiction and mental illness are significant factors leading to homelessness. I also know that being homeless is hard work. It takes a great deal of energy to figure out, each day, how to get enough food and water to survive, not to mention staying safe on the streets (or intersections.) Without an address, access to a shower and laundry, it is nearly impossible to find a job.
I don’t have the answer to homelessness. There isn’t one answer, of course. I am glad that Mill Plain UMC participates in a variety of responses, from the Winter Hospitality Overflow Shelter program to Family Promise and even our Bags of Grace. And I know those address the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. I’m proud of the City of Vancouver’s launch of the Stay Safe Supported Communities. While these tiny homes with a supportive community reach only a fraction of those experiencing homelessness, they have a chance to really helping people to find permanent safe shelter.
I do hope, that somehow, the man I saw that night, found a safe place to sleep and got a good night’s sleep.