More hungry and homeless in Greensboro?

Homeless people often have everything they own in their backpacks. These backpacks were stashed near where some of my homeless friends were reading or using computers at the library yesterday afternoon.

From my on-the-street perspective, it certainly appears that hunger and homelessness are increasing in Greensboro.  There are more and newer faces at free meal sites, homeless shelters and the downtown library, one of our de facto day centers.  I went to Weaver House the other day looking for a homeless friend, and for the first time in years, I didn’t recognize a single face among the crowd of homeless people hanging out around the doorway and in the parking lot.

I’m hearing from homeless service providers that their numbers are up.  There were problems with our county homeless count last year, resulting in an undercount, and I’m not depending on the next count for an accurate number, either.  But my eyes tell me that there are more homeless and hungry people in town.  And it’s apparently going to get worse before it gets better.  :(

One way to respond to a panhandler

One morning this week, I was driving to a meeting, late as usual, and I came up to an intersection and saw a man flying a sign that said, “Homeless and hungry.” I didn’t have time to stop and talk to him, or tell him about the free meal places in town, but I remembered that just the day before, Audrie, my StreetWatch partner, had put a box of food behind the seat in my truck.

So while the light was red, I reached back and grabbed a can of vienna sausages and a package of tuna and crackers, and when the light turned green and I could get up closer to him, I handed him the food out the window and said, “God bless you.” He gave me a big smile and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much!” And then I had to drive on, because there was a line of cars behind me.  But it was something.  And I thought, “This would be such an easy way for people to help.  I should blog this…”

If you want to keep food in your car to give to a panhandler or homeless person, be sure that it doesn’t have to be cooked and that it’s easy to open (pop-top cans, easy-open plastic packaging, etc.)  Make sure that it’s non-perishable.  And bottled water and sports drinks are good, too.

P.S. Be prepared: Some people may refuse the food. If you offer, you’ve done what you can. Some people who fly signs are feeding their addictions, not their stomachs. Don’t judge. Addiction is an illness.  And if an addict is on the street flying a sign to get money to get high, you can be sure that more judgment is just about the last thing they need. Be kind. If you pray, say a prayer as you go…

Homeless: Discharged to the street in Greensboro

On Thursday afternoon, I went by to see friends on the block, at Lee and Eugene, and to let them know about dinner at the HIVE. One of my friends asked for help for his friend, who had just gotten out of the hospital. He’d had major surgery, and then been discharged back to the street, to the bridge where he’s lived for years. He has no job and no income, and was trying to find a way to get his medication, including the antibiotic to keep him from getting a post-surgical infection.

I called the church, but our congregational nurse is on vacation. I emailed a contact at HealthServe, hoping he’d been there, but haven’t heard back yet. I’m not even sure if they can tell me, because of privacy laws. I’m hoping they were able to help him get his meds. I can’t imagine sleeping under a bridge after having major surgery.

Later, I went on over to the HIVE and cooked dinner with the Food Not Bombs folks. As I was leaving to go meet friends at Ganache, I got a call from one of the downtown cops, who wanted to know if we had any food left. He was with a hungry homeless man who’d just been released from jail, and he wanted to know if I could bring him something to eat. So Tim filled a grocery bag with containers of rice, gumbo, bread and fruit, and added utensils, napkins and bottled water. I went downtown and met them, and gave the man the bag of food. He was so thankful to receive it. I talked to him about where to go to get some other things that he needed, and then I went on to meet my friends.

Later in the evening, the downtown cops encountered another homeless man, who’d just been discharged from the hospital. He was from out of town and had no money and nowhere to go. So I tried to help them find a place for him to sleep. First, I called Greensboro Urban Ministry and explained the situation. But all their beds were full. Then I called the Salvation Army. No bed for him there, either. There are no other emergency shelter options for homeless men in Greensboro.

I talked to him for a little while and found out that he’d come to Greensboro from out of state, looking for work. And I told him, quite honestly, that he’d probably picked the wrong place to look. The lack of work has been a central topic of discussion for a while lately among my homeless friends, and we’d been talking about it earlier in the day, on the block and at the HIVE. Jobs — even temp work — are few and far between. The man said he’d probably try to go back where he came from.

I told him that there were no shelter beds available and that I didn’t have any other options for him to sleep inside, but I knew of a place he could sleep outside that would be comparatively safe. It was a ways away from where we were, so a patrol officer came by to give him a ride, and we asked him to drive by the places that serve breakfast and lunch, which were on the way, so that the man would know where he could eat in the morning. He asked for a blanket, and I didn’t have one. I carry them in my truck once it starts getting cold at night, and I hadn’t realized that the chilly nights are already here. I told him I could get him one tomorrow, knowing as I said it, how inadequate that was. He said he hoped to be gone by tomorrow. And then he got in the police car and they pulled away.

One of the remaining officers looked at me and said, “I feel like we just failed him. As a city, that we failed him.” Yeah, me too.

Hospitals discharge people to the street. Jails discharge people to the street. Part of our ten year plan to end homelessness is supposed to include discharge planning to prevent people from being sent from a hospital or jail to the street. But if the shelters are full and there’s no other housing, then what do you do? Hospitals and jails are not housing providers. Shelters only have so many beds. Cops shouldn’t have to be social workers. I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that I agree with my cop friend. I feel like we failed that guy. And we failed the guy who had surgery and got sent back under a bridge without his medicine. And there are so many more like them…