In San Francisco, with a homeless population numbering in the thousands and the issue of how to effectively care for them solidly politicized, the sight of shopping carts on city streets and gently heaving sleeping bags out in the open is sad normality.
In Walnut Creek, where the homeless are still decidedly fewer in number but no less worrisome in the face of plummeting temperatures and lack of shelter available to them, old arguments resurface and the irresolvable stalemate scenario faced by larger cities has made an appearance here after two recent deaths.
How to help people who do not want to be helped?
As you might expect, the question is not as simple as some might have us believe. People living on the streets often resist sheltering in armories or other facilities, claiming problems with security and personality clashes with others – often living just feet away.
Many of these people, it has to be said, have drug and alcohol habits – many have mental issues. In San Francisco, people who initially were thought to have died from exposure due solely to the elements were also found to be intoxicated on drugs or alcohol at the time, factors contributing to their demise. But the death was chalked up to exposure…
Two men died of apparent exposure to freezing temperatures within a rock’s toss of window displays featuring expensive winter wear and women’s purses this week, and there’s some finger pointing going on as a result.
Both appear to have perished as a result of exposure to the elements – it is not immediately known if other factors played a part. People asked why nothing more was done to bring the men in, pointing fingers at police and city officials.
We think that may be popular passtime, but we also don’t think it’s entirely fair.
Truth is that both men were contacted several times by officers who know full well what exposure to the elements can do and what it means. Shelter was offered to them. Police say those offers were refused by both men.
So Todd Cambra and John Dulik, people we’ve probably passed on the street on our way to buy groceries or Christmas presents, died in a local hospital and on a city street in Walnut Creek, California – USA.
That sounds really bad, a statement more in line with conditions in the Third World than a prosperous, affluent community in Contra Costa County.
It is not a pleasant thought to consider and, frankly, many are not. Life is not easy and people have issues of their own. We can’t take care of everyone, right? Or can we? We can’t help but think there are better ways to deal with men and women sleeping in the open on city streets or in our parks than opening a National Guard Armory during the winter months.
But, as we said, you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do – even if what they are doing may eventually contribute to their own death. At the very least, we think, we might be able to offer temporary, individualized and mobile shelter during the harsh winter months in exchange for service – cleanup, picking up litter.
These shelters can be dispersed, placed anywhere you want them, and afford a person privacy, a place to store belongings, and the warmth they need to get through the night. In the morning they can be folded up, moved to a new location or left in place by city staff, who may consider storing the shelters – not the people – in a local armory.
It’s something, at least, a better option than spending the night in the open… in Walnut Creek, California… USA.