Homeless In New Bedford
Meet one of downtown New Bedford's regulars. I have known of and spoken 2-3 times to Rick. He lived outside the Pleasant Street post office for much of this summer. I've never seen him fight, use drugs, cause trouble. Last year, Rick was a main stay and focal point across the street at Bank of America. Now that the autumn air is cooling, Rick fights off the stiffening breeze with a hoodie and his blanket is laying on the stairs in front of Webster Bank, Pleasant Street door. Fortunately, his belongings saddled in these red bags include warmer clothing to fight off fall's falling temperatures. On this particular Saturday morning, the digital indicator on the bank's clock reads 11 Celsius.
I am grateful today that Rick's legs are covered. On the days/evenings when he's attired in shorts, my eyes often zoom in on the blistering, scarring welts occupying territory on Rick's calves, upper ankles and thighs. It's almost like flesh eating worms are carving into him like a hot knife skims through butter. And, while the climate is slowly chewing at Rick's lower torso, the days and nights of the New Bedford environment eats away at the fabric of his mind.
A friend told me Rick is her cousin. He flat out refuses help, even a meal from family, that he's lost it upstairs and imagines things in his life are going to just magically improve. She may be correct.
Just say no is one of Rick's mantras. He will frequent a soup kitchen and other more traditional charities. In our conversations, Rick sternly yet incoherently rambles about how "They?" are going to get him off the of streets. Two years ago "They?" were placing him at the New Bedford Hotel, just a mere couple of blocks down from his former palatial estate at Bank of America. In our encounter Saturday past, Rick told me, in a few days "They?" are moving him upstairs from his current digs outside Webster Bank. There are apartments and office space above Webster. To the best of my knowledge, nothing, not-a-thing is earmarked for Rick.
On Friday October 16, the Homeless Service Provider Network [HSPN] is hosting a homelessness experience outside the Normandin School. It's called "One Homeless Night... is too many." The Reverend David Lima told me the goal is to open civic leaders' eyes to the problem and start a dialogue about how to help this seemingly needy population. Maybe the leaders should spend a week/month/year or two with Rick.
I'm not dogging this event, One Homeless Night, but there ain't nothing like the real thing. Maybe the HSPN should invite Rick as a guest speaker. I'm sure he could give the leaders and organizers an earful. You see, business and political leaders know when/where their next meal will come from. They know the bed Saturday evening will be comfy. Rick could invite one or two of the leaders to bunk with him, Saturday night on the cold, cement steps outside the bank for his mattress. How 'bout take a drink from one of Rick's plastic water bottles? Just trying to keep it real.
I am not sure why Rick is homeless. I'm not sure it's my business to know why he's homeless. I do wonder, like many others, how do we remove this form of blight from downtown streets, out of sight, out of mind?
As always, I am curious as to your feelings. Comments are very welcome below as to who bares responsibility for the Ricks' of our local world? Is this a family issue? What role does church/charity play? This is not a government related problem, or is it?
Should government be the solution, and at what cost? Do we bark, "it's not my fault" and demand the homeless pull themselves up by their boot straps? Can they? Will our collective embarassment coupled with inaction, pave the potholed road to an early grave for Rick and his ilk?
If you view government as a viable solution to the homeless challenge, how much of your tax dollars should readily support mental health related issues? For maintaining regular health? To feed and shelter the homeless? Transportation Costs? For employing social workers? Receptionists? Book-keepers, Supervisors? Custodians? Administrative Assistants? Folks to train the receptionists, Admin help, Supervisors, etc? As a rule of thumb, for every homeless person eligible to receive government help, everyone of the above and more receives a taxpayer supported paycheck for their service. In other words, there are more helpers than those eligible to be helped! The lowest paid of the helpers will always earn more than a receiver of our gracious tax supported hand-out! The same holds true for any of the outside contractors.