Editorial: Many reasons for being homeless

  • Arise for Social Justice Environmental Justice Director Syair Bey discusses the common misconceptions associated with homeless people at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield recently. To the right is Arise Executive Director Tanisha Arena.

Published: 1/21/2020 10:41:31 AM

When it comes to being homeless, one size does not fit all. That’s part of the message the Springfield nonprofit Arise for Social Justice shared during a presentation on a recent Saturday. The group met with members of the Racial Justice Rising group at the First Congregational Church of Greenfield.

The homeless in Greenfield are clearly present. We see them often holding cardboard signs on the sidewalks downtown and at intersections, asking for help, which for most is money. There are those who oblige.

What we don’t know is what led them to this situation.

Advocates at the Springfield group note the most common assumptions are “homeless people are lazy,” “all homeless people are on drugs” and “that would never be me.”

Yes, for many, being homeless is only one of their problems. Those include addiction, mental illness and the lack of available services, domestic violence, trauma, illness, the breakup of a relationship for whatever the reason and, of course, poverty. Let’s face it, many people in our country live paycheck to paycheck. A sudden loss of a job can put a person and even a family in peril.

Not everyone has family and/or friends willing or able to take them in, or for any long period of time.

And while Greenfield rents might be more affordable than comparable areas in Western Mass., being able to pay for them while working a low-paying job is a huge obstacle, never mind coming up with that first, last and a security deposit. Another is a landlord’s willingness to take them on as renters.

Arise for Social Justice Executive Director Tanisha Arena said issues such as racism and militarization have contributed to homelessness. She encouraged people to be politically active and vote against politicians who want to use measures to “criminalize homelessness.”

Of course, the best people who understand the plight of homelessness are those who have experienced it, such as Syair Bey, the environmental justice director for Arise for Social Justice. He notes there are homeless who have cell phones and cars but still can’t afford or qualify for housing.

“I was homeless and I had a job. I had a way to get around. I just didn’t have a place of my own,” Bey said.

They shared what they are doing in Springfield for those who don’t have a home — from trying to change city policies to providing an address for mail or a place to shower.

What can we do in Greenfield? Yes, we do have agencies and individuals helping those in dire need.

Even so, we will remind you that it was just a year ago that a couple staying in a tent died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a space heater. Hypothermia was also a contributing factor to the woman’s death.

How they happened to be camping in the woods on a frigid night was complicated because the man was a registered sex offender. But the sentiment afterward was this tragedy did not have to happen.

The response included tangible offers of help such as a state-funded warming center at Chapman Street’s Salvation Army and money contributed by the Interfaith Council to pay for hotel rooms when the Wells Street shelter is full.

But more help is needed, including access to permanent good housing that is affordable. Given our country’s wealth, it is unacceptable that people are forced to live in their cars or camp in the woods.

Who is willing to take a chance on giving the homeless an affordable place to live? It’s a question that begs an answer.

But first, we need to accept the realization there is no one reason for being homeless.




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