Letter: Overlooked and steps from being homeless

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In regard to reader Tom O’Brien’s recent letter [“Asheville’s Homelessness Predicament,” Jan 12, Xpress], I heard echoes of many of my own personal observations from the past few years. All his thoughts are well-taken and should be reread, so I’d just like to add something about homelessness in Asheville that has been troubling me for some time.

As well-meaning as much of the city populace is when we take a look at the issue (I detest the millennial buzz phrase “We need to have a conversation about …”), I fear that at times an accompanying issue is being overlooked.

Consider: When you hear the term “homelessness,” are the first images that come to mind rattily groomed, chain-smoking alcoholics meandering around Pritchard Park or their unwashed sign-wielding brethren lodged at medians and stop signs with their shopping carts? As unfortunately phrased that the previous sentence may be, I can guarantee you that it’s a description a lot of us subscribe to, even when we support reach-out social agencies and feel good about ourselves.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to observe and talk with many, many teenagers and young adults in their early 20s who don’t fit the above scruffy/dirty stereotype, yet are perennially just a few drug incidents or financial disasters away from homelessness. They have typically disintegrated their social and familial relationships — we all need support systems, no matter how tough or independent we view ourselves — as well as experienced years of abuse and trauma, lost multiple jobs, amassed criminal records and more.

So they feel their backs are permanently against the wall, and they give up. Misery has no beginning or ending date that can be offset simply by keeping a calendar in your smartphone and setting a Google alert.

I probably once casually referred to this demographic along lines of “just teenage dope fiends” and maybe even assuming most of them will grow out of their self-abuse “phase.” Well, I was a dumbass. If those impressions turn out to be accurate for some of the crust punks, trust-fund kids and those with eventual job prospects, what percentage of them am I willing to give up on as simply another data set? Maybe they’ll just continue to age and turn out to be the next generation of Pritchard Park regulars. And anyway, I can’t do much about future “inevitabilities,” right?

I’ve got my own life to live.

In 2021, I frequently drove along I-240 and past the highly visible downtown homeless encampment. It ain’t there no more, tourists, so you can breathe easy. But while the tents were still there, I began noticing more and more young people among the dwellers. I have no idea where they’ve moved on to now. But I plan to find out, because I do know that relocation doesn’t erase peril, and for some reason this notion haunts me deeply.

As the late poet Jim Morrison might have put the matter, “What are you going to do about it?”

— Fred Mills


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.