I received a heartfelt, hand-written letter from a North Bend woman who is terrfied. Because of illness, she said, she couldn’t pay her bills and became homeless. The shelters were full and area agencies were unable to provide the help she needed to get off the streets.
She described how she slept in an abandoned car with rats, can’t get to the doctor and has no friends to help. She describes how her health has plummeted in the past few months. The only woman who showed any interest in helping her, an elderly woman she met while in the hospital, died several weeks ago. An even crueler irony is this woman who was put out on the streets provided many homeless teens with a place to stay before she fell ill.
“My tears have not stopped flowing since all this started,” she wrote. “I went through all the right channels and the system failed me.”
I have no easy way to get ahold of her. She is homeless and has no phone. She sent e-mails last month but doesn’t have regular access. Privacy concerns prevent area organizations that provide aid to people in dire financial straits from confirming or denying the facts of this woman’s case, or whether she had even sought aid from them. What they were able to tell me is that she is not alone. The Valley is full of people living on the margins, either homeless or without sufficient food, medicine and the other basic necessities of life. The backlog for emergency housing is more than a year long with waiting lists of many dozens.
When a person needs emergency housing and the shelters are full, as can often happen, where are people to turn when the wait for assistance is that long? The answer is that often, there is nowhere to turn.
When I started as editor for the Valley Record in mid-June, I immediately had an introduction to the area’s homeless population. I hadn’t yet found a place to live when my job started. As many are aware, rent isn’t cheap here. When I did find a place to stay, it wasn’t immediately available; I spent nearly two weeks camping at an area park until my rented room was open.
One of my fellow campers was a man about 60 years old. He said he had a home but his roommates were addicted to methamphetamine so he preferred to camp, a way of life he enjoys. He works part time as a landscaper, a job he doesn’t really like, but it paid his site fees and allowed him to buy food and fortified malt liquor.
He is a self-admitted alcoholic who also has diabetes. I could hear his groans from his tent at night as the sugars in the alcohol pained his sleep. He said he would prefer to die in his tent rather than any other way, except perhaps in bed with a beautiful woman, and he knows his drinking and diabetes are speeding him on his way and had landed him comatose in the emergency room several times in the past.
I spent my evenings chatting and dining with my camping neighbor. He told great stories and sang Beatles songs (horribly out of tune). He planned to move to another park so he wouldn’t overstay his welcome with the park managers. He was worried he’d have to resort to what he called “illegal camping,” basically hiding his tent in the woods, if he couldn’t get another advance on his pay to cover camping fees.
I haven’t seen him since. I wish him well. He, like the woman whose illness forced her out of her home, are part of the Valley’s invisible population of people living on the streets.
For those of you who pray, you might consider praying for them and all the others who could use our help. For those who want to provide physically-tangible help, Hopelink, the Salvation Army, area churches and food banks can all use volunteers and contributions to enable them to better provide the assistance that is in such short supply.