The homeless are a One Coast problem

Salt Lake Tribune

It is far too easy to forget about homeless people.

We see them on the street corner. Sometimes we stop and give them some cash or some food and continue on our way. Soon they are forgotten.

Or the homeless become a nuisance and our leaders act. Too often these actions are punitive, telling the homeless to just move on.

Some of us are outraged at such decisions as the one this week by Ocean Springs leaders who removed benches in hopes the homeless people would go elsewhere. (Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran ordered the benches returned Tuesday.) The outraged went to social media or to City Hall and expressed their disappointment.

Then the homeless fade from memory.

There were 417 homeless people in the three coastal counties in 2015, the last time HUD broke down the state’s homeless census by region.

We can do better. The solution is not to chase homeless people from city to city.

The Coast, the One Coast, needs to come up with innovative ways to help the homeless, to treat them as humans.

Let this latest attempt to deal with problems created by homeless people be the beginning of that conversation. Let it help us think about the homeless as individuals. Let it help us bear in mind there are many reasons people wind up living on the streets.

Some live that nomadic lifestyle by choice. Some have mental-health issues. Some are veterans, former housewives, business people, the once gainfully employed who have hit a bad stretch.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We have to find many and varied solutions.

And the starting point should be compassion. The compassion shown by the volunteers in our soup kitchens; by the “bag ladies” of Tennessee who weave plastic bags into sleeping mats to give the down-and-out a bit of comfort; by the social workers; by the shelter volunteers.

Many of the people living on the streets were once sure they would never find themselves in that situation. Those people need only an opportunity, a job, and they would be homeless no more.

It is a tough problem, one that can by alleviated only by talking, listening and creating — not by shooing these people away or throwing our hands up and saying, “Forget about it.”

Who will step forward and be the leader who brings our One Coast together to tackle it?

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.