Homeless in Morro Bay
by Richard Hannibal
As the MBPD Homeless Liaison, I monitor and interact closely with the "homeless" in Morro Bay. In addition, I advocate for them, and yes, on occasion, I must make an arrest. The word "homeless" is kind of a misnomer. They think of themselves as "people without walls." What we would call a "campsite," they call "home." I am always touched in the late afternoon when I see them on the street and they tell me they are on their way "home." Following is some wisdom I acquired from the homeless in recent months.
- Tina — "F*** regret!"
- Alvin — "Give a little, take a little."
- George — Where are you coming from? "Yesterday." Where are you going? "Tomorrow."
- Thomas — "If you have more than you need, you are stealing from someone else."
- Jack — "I am no more homeless than an American Indian."
- William — "Twenty years ago I came home from work and learned my wife and two daughters had been killed in a car wreck. I walked away from my house and have been walking ever since."
- Rhonda — "One day it will all make sense."
Recently I had a stimulating conversation regarding homelessness, not only in Morro Bay, but also nationally. During the conversation, I gave some examples of short-term solutions. Like any societal problem, from medicine to social, we need to keep folks alive long enough to come up with a cure. Short-term to Pastor Randy Ponder, dozens of other Morro Bay citizens, and to myself, involves insuring basic food and shelter. In other words, keeping folks alive.
The person I was conversing with asked me for long-term solutions. I had to humbly bow my head and admit that I had none. I finally said that long-term solutions must come from levels of our society much higher than he and I. It involves money and must come from the state and national level. Little ole Morro Bay is ill equipped to deal with the problem other than through the efforts of its generous, thoughtful citizens. This conversation intensified my thoughts about the homeless problem.
Long Term — hmmmm — we could easily legislate the homeless out of existence. We could strictly enforce laws that prohibit camping. We could make loitering, and soliciting of funds illegal. And, we could outlaw the meager search for recyclable items in dumpsters. Oh ya, we could deny medical care to everyone who does not have insurance or the funds for such care.
The courts have deemed loitering and soliciting funds a constitutional right as long as there is no trespass, impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic or disruption to a business. However, with the right social sentiment, this could change. In other words, we could eliminate homelessness by taking away their place to live, congregate, solicit funds, and obtain medical services. Of course, rational thinking people quickly reject these thoughts, though refusing medical services to those who cannot pay for them was applauded by a few at a recent presidential debate. Or, we could set up internment camps. Oh, I forgot, we already tried that didn't we.
Like some diseases, there are presently no long-term solutions. This is hard to admit by a society that thinks it has all the answers. All we can do is keep the patient alive until a cure is found. This involves empathy, respect and recognizing the human dignity of everyone, including the homeless. It involves self-sacrifice in the form of volunteering in any way you can. It involves slowing down long enough to ponder the problem.
I hate to admit it, but there are many in my generation who have lost their enthusiasm, ideology, and hope from the 1960's. There are many of my 60's brothers and sisters who still espouse the well-worn mantra, "a**, gas, or grass, no one rides for free."
I learned several years ago that all I had control of was a space about 50 feet around me. I used to wring my hands about the world's social injustices and only made myself miserable. When I began to focus on the 50 feet around me, I was able to concentrate my thoughts and efforts more productively. The problems were no longer insurmountable at that level. I can only hope that what good I think and do will ripple out into eternity. I can only hope that this positive energy will mingle with the positive energy of other folks and perhaps some day, critical mass will be achieved and there will no longer be homeless folks.
Editor's note: We are moving into the winter, rainy season and our homeless citizens can always use warm clothing and rainwear. They can also use camping gear. If you have these useful items, in good condition, I will come by and pick them up. Contact me at MBpoaNewsletter.