While visiting Oakland, my sister and I stayed at a very nice hotel in a beautiful location on the estuary at Jack London Square. But we were somewhat shocked driving to the location when we drove through a huge homeless camp set up on the sidewalks under the freeway; there were traffic cones set up to require drivers to stop and drive slowly through the encampment. My impression was there was a lot of trash and possessions strewn all over. It was like driving through a television episode of the TLC television show "Hoarders". And when we drove through the camp to get to our hotel, we observed several people that appeared to be mentally ill (ranting or wandering across the road ...)
My brother and sister-in-law were so upset they would never stay at our hotel. Mindy and I had a bit of trouble in the hotel lobby; a young homeless guy persistently tried to hit us up for money on the first time (we were waiting for my sister to pick us up); and the second time a homeless woman had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace; she was dazed and incoherent and in the process of being kicked out by hotel valets. Both Mindy and I thought the hotel should restrict the lobby to guests with keys, or post a security officer -- I am sure that the prospect of warm room, clean bathroom, fresh water and coffee is extremely alluring to those who have nothing! But the guests were departing the lobby because they were uncomfortable, which doesn't help the hotel's business.
I was very interested to research and read that Oakland is trying to help the homeless camps by offering some city services. That includes using traffic cones to slow down traffic; providing portable toilets, clean drinking water, and trash pick up. Plus offering mental and medical health care, and job services, to those who need it. Here is a link to a newspaper article about Oakland's experiment for more compassionate approach to homelessness:
This is VERY controversial among business and neighboring homeowners. And the City states it is not a permanent program; it is an interim measure while they try to create alternatives.
This really did prompt me to think about the serious issue of homelessness in our cities. Maybe some of it is that I don't live in a large city -- but my sister who lives in Oakland's hills, and my brother from a large city (Phoenix) and my sister from New Orleans area ALSO were somewhat shocked by the extent and visibility of homeless camps on the street in Oakland.
Here in Central Oregon there is a large homeless population, but we are surrounded by National forest where it is legal to camp. Many of the homeless are camped along the rivers, or in large out of the way camp areas. I've talked to several people who live in their cars; they definitely have a better situation than those who live in tents. Our shelters are overflowing during the frigid winter months, and most shelters restrict behavior (i.e., no alcohol or drug use). Some require the homeless to look for work or be out of the shelters.
I don't know the answers. I feel compassionate toward the homeless, and it was a shock to see how large the problem is in the big city. I hope Oakland has success in creating more housing. and social programs (to help those homeless who may need such help -- many simply can't afford the high cost of an apartment -- but it was pretty obvious that some people had serious health issues). All of us are terribly aware of the horrible fire that killed so many young people (the "Ghost Ship" in Oakland, where a warehouse had been converted to illegal cheaper housing).
My hopes and prayers are with those who are struggling with homelessness, who may be struggling with mental health or addiction, and to those leaders who are trying to help. I have volunteered in the past at our local Bethlehem Inn (motel that was converted to housing for the homeless) and the meal programs provided at our local churches. I am committed to doing more in 2017! After all, there but for the grace of God, it could be me ...