The unintended consequences.
It’s been 19 days since my last post. And it is now beyond one year since losing my sense of smell; nothing new, although I am working to convince myself that I’m smelling things… I just get some of them wrong. I thought I smelled chicken pot pie, and it was ham. I wanted to smell cinnamon, and it’s faintness was like a deeply rooted memory, like pulling up something from kindergarten. After inhaling to the point of potentially passing out, I stopped.
And over the last couple of weeks, I celebrated the completion of 53 rotations around the sun and the seven-year anniversary of being married. Thanks Mom, for bringing me into this world. And thank you husband, Dave, for being my partner and my rock.
Enough about me.
From the Human Services Campus, we see 876 unsheltered individuals in our neighborhood and 900 sheltered people in our buildings. The overnight temperatures in the 40s are cold for those outdoors. The creativity of forming structures to inhabit includes piles of blankets, layers of clothing, and at times, fires. Fires in grills, on the ground, in cans. This natural instinct of building a fire to be warm is not safe in and near nylon and other fabric.
And we are almost out of blankets for the people in shelter with maybe a ten day supply remaining. We receive free blankets via the Federal government; they are single use “disaster relief” blankets. I really dislike the label that says “disaster relief,” and I really appreciate that we can use these to help people stay warm in shelter. Word from the Governmental department is that Congress needs to approve a budget before more blankets can be ordered and shipped. (Yes, I have reached out to Congressman Stanton and to the City of Phoenix for assistance.) We will be launching a blanket drive this week – stay tuned for details.
This week brings us the unofficial start of “holiday giving.” The time of year that brings our neighborhood random drive-bys and drop-offs of all kinds of things. People who have good intentions will arrive with perishable food, non-perishable food that can’t be cooked anywhere, clothes, toiletries, and apparently whatever they have decided “homeless people” need.
I realize this may sound good and helpful. And I tell you that the unintended consequences are rarely seen by the people who drive away, likely feeling better about themselves because they did something charitable. Most people don’t stick around to see if there is any clean-up needed after passing out pizzas, sandwiches, and burritos.
Here is what I have observed:
Food assumed to be wanted/needed by “homeless people” is not always liked, needed, or wanted by the people it is given to, and it goes to waste. It may land in a trash can, however it often times lands on a sidewalk or in the street. There it sits until a pigeon maybe is attracted to it, or it dries and rots. The wrappers or boxes, if there was any, stick to the road, or a fence, or a tent, or they blow down a sidewalk and end up in another property.
Business and residential owners then have more trash on their property, which gives them cause to have negative feelings about homelessness. No one wants trash on their property, rightly so.
Sometimes the unhoused and unsheltered do eat this food and sometimes overeat. Sometimes they hold on to the food without refrigeration, and then they may eat it. In either case, at times they end up feeling ill. Without being too graphic, if you are housed and have an urgent need for a bathroom you have a higher likelihood of accessing one quickly than the unhoused who may have to walk several blocks to reach a bathroom. I will let you fill in the gaps as to what may happen…
When the saved food eventually goes bad, it may land in a trash receptacle, and it may land on a sidewalk, in a parking lot, or on the street. This leads to more trash and fodder for birds, feral cats, etc.
Hygiene items and toiletry kits look “nice.” And not every person wants all of the items that people take the time to kindly pack in a bag. People pull out what they want and yes, I’m starting to be repetitive here…. some times what they don’t want lands in a trash receptacle, or in the street, on a sidewalk, in a parking lot, or blows around the area.
Lastly, I have seen the “givers” taking selfies of their generous and charitable acts. Please don’t do that. Especially don’t take photos or videos of people who are unhoused and unsheltered without their permission. They see you, and they have expressed they do not like being “treated like animals in a zoo.”
By no means am I saying that those who are unhoused and unsheltered are not deserving of food and hygiene items. I am saying there are organized and safe ways to offer items to people. And people deserve to have their needs met 365 days per year, not only during this holiday season.
If you want to be kind, I suggest starting with your own neighborhood. Look around, do an online search for nonprofits in your area (in Arizona use https://211arizona.org). Contact those organizations and ask them what they need. If you want to outreach to unsheltered individuals, visit with them and engage them in conversation, and ask them specifically what they need. And then bring them that thing.
If you would like to help those on and around the Human Services Campus, please visit https://hsc-az.org where you will find volunteer opportunities and donation item wish lists, including a list of service provider partners and links to their websites.
About the Human Services Campus
Founded in 2005, the Human Services Campus is a collaborative force of partner organizations united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, 16 independent agencies on the Campus see nearly 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. For more information, visit www.hsc-az.org.