What do you do when the homeless call?


What do you do when the homeless call?

There was a knock on our door last night. It was a homeless woman asking for a blanket. At first we said no, but then I ran out and gave her a blanket.  It was Christmas, after all.

The next morning she was curled up in our side yard, fast asleep. I took her a cup of coffee and a few bucks, but after a short conversation, it was obvious she didn’t have all her faculties. What to do now?

We have no training or space for her. I’m not sure taking her in would be of any great help – we would be just kicking the can down the road.  But am I just justifying doing nothing? Probably. So I went to the professionals for advice.

I found a seasoned police officer (he had a lot of stripes on his arm) in the local cop shop parking lot.  I explained my problem. He said I should call police dispatch and they would send officers out.

I said I didn’t want her arrested.  He laughed.  “We don’t do that any more. We have a packet we give them with all sorts of places they can get help. If we determine they are not “all there”, so to speak, we bring them in for an evaluation. If our team decides they can’t care for themselves, we check them in to a psych facility until we can sort them out. If they want, we will take them to a shelter. If not, they simply walk away. We won’t (read that can’t) force them to go anywhere.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  The last time (about 20 years ago) I spoke to the LAPD on this subject they told me they picked up the homeless in our area and took them to Beverly Hills or Santa Monica and let them out. The police in those cities did the same in reverse.

My officer friend told me that much had changed in how the LAPD dealt with the homeless.  They had teams that did little but work with them, and all the resources of the city both public and private were at their disposal. It seems there are more than 40,000 homeless living in shelters, in cars, or on the streets in LA. County.

For whatever reasons (More than half are either mentally incompetent or drug abusers) these people have lost their way. There are shelters, there are programs, there is help. But many either don’t want to or can’t avail themselves of that help. In a free society, we can’t simply force people to do things they don’t want to do. There is no question we need to do more, but what?

Its not perfect, but certainly better than it was. There will always be homeless. Sometimes its temporary. A set back at work, a family dispute. Sometimes its a choice. Sometimes its mental illness or drugs or alcohol. Sometimes a hand out will help, sometimes it won’t. We can but try.

In the mean time, I might suggest that we all make a donation to the local shelter.  I’m sure they need it, and maybe the woman who spent the night in our yard in my yard will get the help she needs.


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John Van Horn

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