Let's keep talking about the homeless

I have been very interested in following the letters and guest opinions in the Tidings regarding the homeless issue in Ashland.

Aaron Corbet's article, "Who are the homeless?" was thoughtful and insightful. As a public health nurse, I worked for years in Ashland and other parts of the county with the pregnant women and families who were homeless or had very limited resources.

I found most of the Ashland homeless to be a particularly hard group to serve as they are extremely independent and many do not feel connected to the society that they ask for services. I agree with Aaron's descriptions of the issues facing this group of people, but most are not "kids" as he mentioned, although they might seem so to those of us older than 50.

I would like to quote a statement by Sharon Schreiber in a Tidings article of April 29, 2008, when the Interfaith Care Community of Ashland closed its doors for good.

Schreiber said that with the current nationwide economic downturn, she was seeing more and more Medford families who were on the brink of homelessness. "These people need emergency rental and utility assistance," she said. "In Ashland, there are such a limited number of people who are homeless and willing to change their situations. Most are looking for ways to subsidize a lifestyle they have chosen." She said the center offered housing and job assistance programs, but a majority of the people who utilized the center weren't taking advantage of those programs.

My experience as a public health nurse in Ashland echoed hers, and I do not think things have changed much since 2008. I like Aaron Corbet's idea of a "pay as you go" plan to require simple services in return for shelter, whether it be a small bricks-and-mortar shelter or a safe place to camp with hygiene facilities. This could not happen without significant cost to someone, however — taxpayers, churches, private donors.

Unfortunately, I do not think it would be accepted or utilized by most of Ashland's homeless population — especially if there are rules pertaining to drugs, alcohol or curfews. I wish it were otherwise, because I strongly believe in taking personal responsibility to the best of one's ability for our lives on this planet. Everyone has a need to serve and be useful, even those alienated from the majority view.

Finally, I would like to say that free camping in the watershed on public land without adequate toilet and bathing facilities is not the answer and puts everyone (including the homeless) at risk for more fires, water contamination, rapes, assaults and murder.

I do not have the answer, but let's keep talking about this. This public dialogue is a sign of a healthy community, and I am proud to be part of this community (even though I now live in the bedroom community of Talent).

Susan Bizeau, RN, lives in Talent.

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