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We need to do better for our homeless

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When I worked in Santa Barbara, we used to call this time of year the “killing season.” By the scores, our neighbors without shelters in Santa Barbara would embrace Death, who stalked them. Their bodies would be found tucked away behind bushes, in alleyways, fields, along the beach. They would die from hypothermia, diseases, and ruined health but mostly from lack of hope. In all cases it was despair and loneliness that forced them into Death’s arms.

And then there were those who found their fate on the railroad tracks. One man neatly piled his belongings beside the tracks, set his earplugs and wallet on top, and calmly walked down the tracks into the oncoming train. Another client laid down directly on the tracks, as did this distraught woman did in SLO recently. Still another jumped in front of the train.

Often I tried to put myself in their place, see the world through their eyes. How tortured their souls must have been from the symptoms of their mind diseases. The loneliness made especially cruel coming so close to Christmas, which amplifies their estrangement from family. We would lose our friends on the streets by the score during the Season of Death.

Perhaps we can take time and offer our prayers or a moment of silence in honor of our friend without a home who died such a lonely and violent death, and also a thought to her family who may or may not be notified of her death. And perhaps we can reflect how we continue to allow such a tragic and immoral societal problem to fester without bringing the political, financial, and moral willpower to end this national disgrace. Maybe in the end, the mentally ill homeless, along with the rest of the meek will “inherit the earth” but not before going through hell first.

Since this poor woman’s death, a man was killed by the train in SLO County and a 19-year-old woman committed suicide on the tracks in Goleta. Not only do these tragedies speak to the needs of the mentally ill homeless, but also they highlight the glaring need for effective mental health services. Mental health workers need to be on the streets on a daily basis taking services to those without, including those who are resistant to offers of help. Morally, we owe the homeless, the mentally ill, and our disabled veterans. In this crazy season of hate demanding that those in charge of providing help to the less fortunate can help redeem who we are as a society. Refusing to do so will define what we have become.

-- Ken Williams - Cambria

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