Problem with helping the homeless

February 3, 2018

If you travel over the bridge on Gateway Drive that crosses the Fresno River, and look down on either side, you will see messes that resemble garbage dumps more than anything else.

They are the quickly growing remains of homeless-citizen camps, cobbled together by people who populate that part of the river who are trying to keep warm, or dry, or safe, or have places to congregate.

They aren’t necessarily bums.

You will see some of them out early, pushing old grocery carts, scavenging aluminum cans, plastic bottles and other recyclables, to sell or use.

The other morning on West Yosemite Avenue, I saw a guy running and pushing a full cart toward downtown. The early bird in this case got the worm.

Madera has an anti-camping ordinance that prohibits makeshift villages such as we see in the riverbed and under the bridges, and sometimes a sweep is made to clean them out. But before you know it, they are back.

Here is a secret about the homeless:

You can try to help them, but it doesn’t always work. Their view of the world isn’t always the same as that of the rest of us. You can chase them off, but many will return.

For two years in Prescott, Arizona, I was on a board made up of people from local churches who operated a shelter for homeless men.

We tried to provide a safe and clean place for them to spend the night, and some of them would come back and thank us, and tell us they had found jobs, and were getting their lives back together.

But others wouldn’t stay with us because we had certain requirements. First, there could be no alcohol or drugs on the premises. Many resented that, and left, never to return. Others resented the fact that during the meal periods we would offer vesper services. They would turn and stalk out, never to return.

Another requirement was for each to take a shower before going to bed. We provided clean bedding and wanted those who slept on it to be clean, too. It was surprising how many refused to take a shower, and would turn and walk out.

They made helping the homeless a difficult task sometimes.


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