Op-ed: Sonoma County’s homelessness ain’t got no home in this world anymore

They’re the American refugees, our homeless. Now you might be thinking, what do you mean our homeless, I didn’t make them homeless. They’re not my responsibility. And strictly speaking you’d be right. But as a society of people that has chosen civilization, its laws and its accepted behaviors, and therefore we have shared responsibilities in its upkeep and maintenance, when we have people living on our streets, roughly 580,000 in our country, it’s clearly obvious something is amiss in our world. Too many of our people, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, can’t make it here and must drift from place to place … outcasts in their own land.

“Now you might be thinking, what do you mean our homeless, I didn’t make them homeless. They’re not my responsibility. And strictly speaking you’d be right.”

I’ve met some homeless people, talked with some and heard their stories, and as different as these stories were the one thing all had in common was that they’d fallen on hard times. A couple had been professionals, some were well educated, and others just ordinary working people that dropped through a hole when life collapsed around them. There but for fortune could easily have been my fate, and I’d venture to guess many of you.

Yes, there are alcoholics, drug-users, freeloaders and ne’er-do-wells in the ranks of homeless, as well as mentally disabled people. Nevertheless they are all of human flesh, feel pain, know sorrow and joy, and some knew love in their lives. All people deserve at minimum, sustenance, shelter and safe harbor. Those sick with addictions to deadly substances deserve care and treatment, as do the mentally afflicted. These fundamental needs, as so well made clear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights penned many years ago, are the responsibility of a civilized society, our responsibility, all of us.

It’s curious that we care enough for the welfare of dogs and cats, and provide shelter and care for them, as well we should. Besides providing clean shelter provisions for stray animals, they’re given food, medical care and large doses of love.

How is it that we do not feel as strongly about those among us with those same needs? Is it because we blame and fault them for their misfortune, and therefore the hell with them? No doubt that’s true of some of us, but those of us that know better, that understand our fortunes could easily have turned, then it’s not that hard to withhold judgment. Who among us never needed a helping hand at some time in life?

It’s estimated there are at least 3,000 people homeless in Sonoma County and a number of those are children. They’re nomads, living in make-shift camps or small groups, and consistently rousted by the police and so move place to place.

A homeless person cannot lay down on a bench, sleep in a park, or rest for any period of time in any public place. It is against the law in many states to be indigent; it’s called vagrancy. They are guilty of the crime of being poor. They have no place to go to the bathroom unless they find a public accommodation. Even to stop and rest is a crime. Consider for a moment how you would fare in those conditions.

In 1938 Woody Guthrie wrote:

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a roamin’ ‘round

Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town.

And the police make it hard wherever I may go

And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore

In 1986 Paul Simon wrote:

Homeless, homeless

Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Strong wind, destroy our home

Many dead, tonight it could be you

Is it not time for us to correct this?

Will Shonbrun is a writer and human rights activist who lives in Sonoma. His latest book, which he labels autobiographical fiction, The Road to Find Out is available at Readers’Books in Sonoma and can be viewed at www.willshonbrun.com.

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