With great interest, I read the June 16 article about the new low-barrier shelter option for the homeless put forth by ANCHOR [“Come as You Are: Low-barrier Shelter May Fill Temporary Housing Gaps,” Xpress]. The need to meet people where they are and promote safety is integral to the harm-reduction approach when addressing the physical and mental health challenges of our homeless population. The more options available, the better.
What grabbed my attention in this otherwise informative article was the opinion of ABCCM’s executive director, the Rev. Scott Rogers. He expressed the opinion that a portion of our area’s summertime increase in the unhoused population comes from those who “choose a homeless lifestyle” for social or political reasons. Homeless lifestyle? I respectfully disagree.
Just as mental, physical and socioeconomic conditions are not lifestyles, neither is homelessness; it is an outcome of those conditions. While my own son was homeless and traveling the country for four years during the mid-2000s, a hallway conversation with him might have led one to believe that he was choosing a traveling lifestyle; a deeper interaction would have revealed the pain that drove his soul to wander, looking for relief. His untreated bipolar disorder resulted in unhealthy activities: train-hopping, hitchhiking and substance use.
Those who travel through our area during seasonal shifts are often just doing that, traveling. They seek out a climate where they can sleep out-of-doors without risking hypothermia in the winter or dehydration in the summer. They are often rootless, detached from family and dependent on the kindness of others. Dismissing this as a choice not only ignores the real-life struggle of the homeless individual, but also the anguish of the families who love them.
We need to lessen the incidence of homelessness by providing permanent, quality, supportive housing and medical services. Until that time comes, having shelter options that will meet folks where they are is a start.
— Anne Seaman
Editor’s note: Seaman adds that she is a community activist in Western North Carolina who advocates for the effective and compassionate medical treatment for those suffering from substance use disorder. Her son, Stuart, was fatally poisoned by opioids in 2017.