They are completely accurate that this phenomenon is not just downtown and not only in Asheville. Living on Burton Street in a fantastic community near the Peace Garden in West Asheville, our corner is a major thoroughfare for car and homeless traffic. I believe — having retired from health care and social services — that there are many complex problems for many of these wayward, saddened and despondent humans.
In addition, there is a real “business” in panhandling in our city. The regular folk who stand at these spots with their cardboard signs negotiate with one another for “their” times on those corners. This is serious business for them, almost like punching a time clock.
So, my thought is that they have a sad life — yes — yet very effective customer base any given day, based upon the attention they give to the Interstate 240 ramp and Haywood Road plus the stoplight at Patton and Florida avenues into the historic Burton Street community in West Asheville. Everyone must be giving help in some form out of their car windows. Money? Food? Drugs? Clothes? I have seen it all.
Many times walking down Burton in front of our home, serious mental illness is observed — torn clothing, nudity, talking and screaming to themselves and twice lighting fires on the sidewalks in our residential area. What can you possibly say to this? The panhandlers have plenty of customers, and the seriously mentally ill are in crisis — more then I have ever seen in my 38 years in social work.
Also —an observation only — in the articles I have read over the last couple of years, the homeless agencies (and there are a lot of them ) rarely ever mention a community mental health system. This is a federal and often state mandate. I am not clear where Asheville/Buncombe County’s mental health system weighs in on this subject — my ignorance. Yet as a reader, there is rarely a mention of the community mental health leaders. I also didn’t notice if they were interviewed or attended the last big business meeting.
Surely, they are at least being invited to meetings. The police cannot, nor can the emergency medical services system, take care of these truly sad and harmed street people. It is my understanding from a neighbor EMT that they take them to Mission Hospital to be triaged. Really? Many communities have crisis stabilization units, specifically licensed to treat. Often in other states, these are located and managed by the community mental health system.
And lastly, it is blatantly obvious to me that there are many homeless advocates and agencies in such a small city, yet rarely do I read about collaboration and true problem-solving for the social issues among these agencies. This is hard for me to believe, yet the first recommendation from the most recent homeless study done for the city/county was the lack of collaboration [“From Asheville Watchdog: National Consultant Offers ‘Road Map’ to End Homelessness in Asheville … Again,” Feb. 8, Xpress website]. Are there differing agendas or a fractured approach to services that can sometimes only follow the grant requirements given to an agency?
Sorry to be long-winded, but I do think Asheville has a unique situation — a need for centralized, organized solutions to help these folks.
— Vikki Dibble