After the doom and gloom of my last few columns, I wanted to write something a little more upbeat this month. Based on my current thoughts, I may not succeed, but by the end of this article I will try to have found a ray of hope.
At the end of July, I travelled to England with my family to visit my parents, brothers, and other relatives for two weeks. While connecting and relaxing were the trip’s main goals, I also wanted to learn about how England deals with homelessness. What I found out was depressing.
In London, I spoke with Maze, a homeless man who had fled his hometown when his life was threatened. He let me know that there was one drop in center in the city, but that it was only open for four hours a day. Other than that, he had to find libraries or museums to pass the hours. I was even more surprised when he said that there were no overnight shelters in London. I asked where he spent the nights, and he explained his methods for finding shelter from the weather in doorways or similar spots. Did the churches help, I asked. No, he said, they didn’t provide any programs to help the homeless. He really couldn’t spend time in the churches either, since the buildings were either closed during the day, or he had to pay to get in since many of them are tourist sites. Finally, I asked about his safety, and he confirmed that being homeless in a big city is extremely dangerous. In all, it was a depressing conversation, and not what I wanted to hear.
Maze did mention that some cities are more helpful than London. City councils will often pay for a homeless person to stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast, but he added that they usually send the individual to hotel in a different town. The aid includes a one-way bus ticket out of town.
I tried to speak with another homeless man, but as soon as I sat down beside him on the sidewalk, he grabbed his phone and pretended to take a call. I think he expected me to tell him about religion, or to tell him the solutions to all his problems in under five minutes. I took the hint and left him alone.
It’s impossible to judge how well an entire country deals with a particular social problem based on one interview. All I can really say is that I am thankful not to be homeless in a placed with so few resources dedicated to helping those in need. For all the challenges the homeless face in Minneapolis, at least there are caring individuals and organizations, and a noticeable commitment from the city and county governments, focused on helping. Obviously, this hasn’t solved all the problems, and many of the problems are getting worse as we grapple with the fallout from several crises. But, we have a foundation to build on, and that’s a good start.
That’s as hopeful as I can be this month.
by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.