The picture on the front page is only one way of illustrating homelessness in Bremerton and, by extension, Kitsap County at large. Beyond the panhandling, heavy drinking and chronically homeless, there are couples, children and senior citizens who’ve found themselves without money for housing of their own. Those pictures have appeared in our pages over the last few months.
Since the first of the year, four out of nine of our front pages have carried news of our homeless population. Two, including this week’s, tell of the chronic homelessness and two explain a bit about life for the less stereotypically obvious homeless – those who want their homelessness to end as quick as possible.
Anecdotal and imperial evidence matches many of the common sense conclusions easily derived by paying attention to the street corner during a drive through many local major intersections, or a grocery store parking lot. There is no doubt that more people are homeless in the county than when the recession began. Many of them have begun to reach out for money, literally.
Between May 2009 and October 2011, the number of people that self-reported homelessness, while receiving basic food assistance, doubled to 2,215, half of those reported living outside.
Social problems created by the current increase in homelessness should be dealt with by policy-creating elected bodies and policing agencies in a manner that includes compassion and common sense along with regulation and legal requirements that come from bureaucratic action of any sort.
At this point during the recession, most of the homeless in the county did not choose to be homeless nor is their current status as such tied directly to personal action, choice or lifestyle. They were once your neighbor and lived in that house which now sits foreclosed. Now without a home, they remain citizens and deserving of the same attention as currently employed tax payers
Those that do choose the homeless life are seen by many to be wrongheaded or misguided. Some homeless say they won’t go to the shelter because of the rules, others outright say they’d prefer to stay in whichever situation better allows their drinking and drug use.
One possible solution discussed at the recent Kitsap Public Health District sponsored gathering of social service agencies sought to get some drinkers living outside to live inside in the kind of specific shelter that allows people who have been drinking, or using some drugs, inside for the night.
Another topic was a Bremerton law regulating panhandling. Though fines and fees are a significant revenue source for the City of Bremerton’s general operations budget, we believe that a panhandling law would only lead to fines and ever deepening layers of trouble placed upon the poorest of those living in the community indoors or out.
A community is judged by its character as much as anything else. How people take care of their own will be judged by the future looking back at historic events such as today’s economic that most in this community are working and hoping to make it though.
Something will have to be done by the community, in concert with local agencies and government help, or history will not be kind.