Aberdeen Mayor’s Message: The measure of a society

As we navigate the complex situation our city now faces regarding our homeless population and move towards finding solutions, I wanted to share some insights that could maybe shed a bit of light on the subject.

In 1986, I graduated from Grays Harbor College and was accepted into California State University Long Beach. I drove down to Long Beach in June and paid over $5,000 toward a deposit on a house.

When I arrived in September with my family and all my worldly possessions, I discovered the rental office was closed and there was a family living in my house. Now what?

I had to attend school because I already paid for it. I also had to pay a company to help get my refund back from the rental agency and help find me a place to live. This meant I had to give them all the remaining cash I had.

At this time in my life, I had worked for JC Penney for 13 years and had arranged to work at the Lakewood store once I arrived in California. Unfortunately, JC Penney required me to have an address before I could start work, and every house I tried to rent wanted me to have a job before they would rent to me. Catch 22.

So, I had to live on the streets. I did my homework at night on bus benches in gang-infested areas. I spent my days either in classes or looking for jobs or a home, and then after three months, I finally found a place to live. Those three months on the streets opened my eyes to the horrible side of human nature — not from other homeless people, but from housed people who hated me for being homeless in their community. The cruelty and hate was so hard to face each day that I almost gave up on life. Fortunately, I resolved to not give up and to keep trying, if not for me, then for my family.

My point in telling you this is that each homeless person has their own story of becoming homeless. It’s not all about drugs, mental illness or laziness. If we would be willing to look at each story and not blindly clump them all into one category, we might be able to find solutions to each person’s issues and maybe help guide some of them out of homelessness.

Sure, some folks want to live off the grid and some don’t want to follow rules — I am aware of that — but most folks just need some compassion and a helping hand.

Our city council and city staff are working on creating a place for people experiencing homelessness. This place will not only provide a safe place for people to sleep while they wait for permanent housing, it will also have resources to connect them to services and support to escape the horrors of being homeless. There are simple ways we can help like saying hello with a smile or exhibiting kindness and respect — something that many homeless people seldom see. It is very easy to cast judgment from the warmth and safety of our homes. It is also important to acknowledge that at any point in our lives each of us could find ourselves homeless and alone with nowhere to go.

Homeless people are students, single parents, veterans, elderly, teenage runaways, people who made mistakes, people who fell on hard times, people who escaped a bad situation and people who are trying to create a better life for themselves.

We have all had hard seasons in our lives. It was once stated that the measure of a society is how they treat their most vulnerable members. Not all of us will be able to help, and some of you may not want to help, but the least we can do to help people in this season of their lives is to show kindness and civility.