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What’s the Answer to Homelessness?

I regularly work out by riding my bike along the canals in Phoenix. They’re well-maintained and there are often underpasses so we don’t have to worry about being hit by cars. A lot of bikers, walkers, and runners use them.

Last Day of Summer...is finally over... by Ms. Phoenix from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last Day of Summer…is finally over… by Ms. Phoenix from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

So there’s one section of a canal I regular ride that I call “the homeless section” because a large handful of homeless people make their camps near the canal. They rarely camp along the canal itself, but I see them when I ride by. I generally don’t have a problem with the homeless people along the canal. They keep to themselves and don’t cause any problems for people who ride, walk, and run along the canal. The one homeless man who sleeps in the underpass near my house packs up his camp at first light and rarely leaves any trash behind. I only time I have a problem is when there’s a safety issue.

The recent rains have led some of them to seek shelter in the underpass and I understand why they do that. When they do this, they can create a safety problem because the underpasses are barely wide enough to allow a service vehicle to drive through it. When 4-5 homeless people set up their camp in there, the remaining area is so narrow that two cyclists can’t pass each other without a high risk of colliding.

There were a number of remnants of homeless camps in the tunnels. No idea why these clothes were abandoned by Matt Mechtley from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There were a number of remnants of homeless camps in the tunnels. No idea why these clothes were abandoned by Matt Mechtley from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As I was on my way home on a ride last week, I saw some of the homeless people who had camped overnight in the underpass rolling their carts out of the tunnel. I thought they were just packing up to get on with their day, but when I got into the tunnel, I came face-to-face with a police SUV that was making all the homeless people clear out. I thanked the officers because, unlike the homeless man who is up at the break of dawn, this group of people were sleeping and hanging out in the underpass during the height of the morning workout crowd which was putting the homeless at risk of being hit by cyclists or other people crashing into each other.

But this situation made me think, “What’s the answer?” How should we address homelessness in the community? There are homeless shelters but they may be full or individuals may have mental health or addiction problems that prevent them from adhering to the shelters’ rules. And there may be people who want to live on the streets when they consider their options. The answers aren’t easy or obvious.

It makes me very sad when I hear about homeless veterans. They have put their lives on the line for us and I hope we have programs in place to take care of those who want to help themselves. One of the veterans’ shelters is at risk of closing unless they raise $56,310. Serah Blain has dedicated her life to achieving this goal. She is voluntarily living on the streets of Phoenix to raise awareness of this problem and she said will keep living on the streets until they raise enough to keep the shelter open.

What’s the answer to homelessness? I don’t know. But it’s a problem that’s not going away. And it’s a problem that needs to be addressed at a higher level to prevent people from being homeless to begin with instead of waiting for people to be in such dire straits before we decide it’s a problem.

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