Mike McHugh has an excellent column in Sunday’s newspaper about the area’s homeless and how useless it is to help some of them.
The column is stark in its honesty. And it comes from a very real, personal place inside Mike. The column is the result of a philosophical journey Mike has been on about the homeless since mid-2008.
Since the murder of Mike Kozak, both Mike and I have spent a lot of time in the woods talking with people who prefer to live outdoors.
Mike and I are very different in many ways. He is a Yankee Republican; I am a Southern Democrat. He is well established and good with money; I live paycheck to paycheck. He has no children; I have five. (I’m starting to see a pattern here…) But we also have a few things in common: we like to look into things, we like writing, we like attention, we agree on the death penalty…
Proverbs says friends should sharpen each other like knives. Mike and I certainly do.
We first dicussed the homeless situation in summer 2008 while treking through the woods at the rear of the Piney Green Shopping Center one step behind homicide detectives.
Mike had no patience for the few homeless people we met. Due to circumstances in my life that I have detailed elsewhere on this blog, I tended to be more sympathetic to their plight. At first we agreed to disagree. But over the next several months, Mike began to adjust his attitude toward the homeless. By the time Christmas 2009 came, Mike was more than willing to help me write articles about the group of homeless people living behind the Midway Park K-Mart.
The community came out in response to the articles and wanted to help the folks living in tents and lean-tos. They brought so much food and supplies the homeless living in the woods didn’t have to work for anything. AND THEY DIDN’T.
One prominent Jacksonville businessman I know offered to pay the homeless to pay them decent cash to do minor chores like sweeping the floor of his shops. But the homeless folks said they would rather fly a sign and make more money doing nothing.
The Sheriff offered to buy a homeless man and woman lunch at the Golden Corral if they would pick up some trash along the road. They were flying a sign that said they were hungry and would work for food. The restaurant’s manager offered to go in half on the deal and the sheriff told the homeless couple that when he came out of the restaurant after lunch and the trash was picked up, he would make sure they got to eat. Yep, when the sheriff came out, the trash was still there and the homeless couple were long gone.
When Ashley first started at the newspaper, she wrote a story about a homeless guy who sold her a bunch of bullshit about wanting to work but not being able to because of people judging him over long-ago past crimes. She seemed intent on helping him find a job and worked hard to actually get him a few offers. Shortly after not following up on any of those possibilities, the guy was arrested for cooking methamphetamines in his tent.
Mike and I took Francine K. Wood, our sometimes collaborator, into the woods to meet some homeless folks. Afterwards, a homeless woman kept calling Fran, saying she had a child and needed help. The calls progressed from pleas to demands. Turns out the child was the woman’s adult son who was 22 or 24.
I didn’t feel too sorry for them when they were given the boot. I had seen them turn down real help over a handout too many times.
The pendulum had swung.
Mike had seen things my way for a while, but after interviewing grown men drunk in the woods at 2 p.m. saying they didn’t have time to look for a job while the beer cans piled up, I had begun to see things Mike’s way.
I certainly don’t mean to include families who have fallen on hard times and find themselves in the street (Been there myself). But if a person is living in the woods and has been there for several years, he or she has no intention of doing anything else.
I commend Mark Silvani for being honest about the homeless people who live around him in the woods off U.S. 17. He says he wants to get out, I think he might and I hope he does. But as for many others, they don’t want to go anywhere (except to the Yopp Road Walmart and fly a sign for $50 an hour).
Silvani is no saint. He has a North Carolina criminal conviction record stretching back to 1992. But he is honest about it and he knows he has screwed up.
Here is a photo of Silvani during a recent interview with Mike, Fran and I. Silvani said he plans to get a job and get out of the woods.
Here is some of his woodland neighbors. They plan to be drunk by noon.
Related to this topic, I applaud Leon Janusz. The Swansboro High School student spent time recently interviewing area homeless people and actually stood on the side of the road and flew a sigh as part of a graduation project about the homeless.
“You won’t understand somebody until you are where they are,” the 18-year-old is quoted as saying. Pretty damn insightful for a high school kid.
And Onslow Community Outreach does great work. They are in the business of helping people interested in helping themselves. The Outreach’s homeless shelter helps people get back on their feet, director Cara Moore told me Friday. Look at the list of rules the shelter has for people staying there:
No residents are denied admittance at Onslow Community Ministries, Inc. on the basis of color, race, creed, religion, or sex.
Every person applying to enter the shelter will be interviewed to see if they meet shelter requirements. You must have two forms of ID to enter shelter.
Residents are limited to two large or three small bags/lug gages. Shelter is not responsible for any personal items that are left at the shelter during the day.
Residents must enter using the front door only. Never open door for anyone, including other residents of the shelter. Please inform the supervisor if you see anyone who want to enter the shelter.
All residents will check into the shelter between 2:00 p.m. thru 8:00 p.m. Any exceptions, including nights out must be approved in advanced (24hrs) by the Director. Due to the limitations of the facility. No one will be allowed to enter the shelter after 8:00pm unless escorted by Police or any other special arrangement.
No fighting, foul or abusive language, arguing or petty bickering is allowed.
No weapons of any kind permitted in the shelter. No sexual activity allowed.
Smoking is allowed directly in front of the shelter entrance until 10:00 p.m. There is no smoking inside the building.
Residents are not permitted to use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs on or off the property for the length of your stay. Random alcohol testing will be done; if you register any alcohol level, you will not be allowed to enter the shelter.
All prescription and “over the counter” medications are to be given to the supervisor. Yours will be individually bagged and marked. It is your responsibility to tell the supervisory when you need to take your medication.
Residents will shower every evening as soon as possible after entering the shelter. You must wear appropriate street attire at all times, including when sleeping. Change clothes in the bathroom, not in the dormitory. If you use the bathroom after bedtime hours please be considerate of other residents and quietly go without slamming doors.
You must get permission from the person in charge to use the telephone; keep calls brief. Get permission to use the laundry facilities. Laundry must be finished prior to 10:00pm.
Residents will be assigned a cleaning chore nightly. Your bed and the area under and around it are to be neat and clean when you leave in the morning.
Lights will go out at 10:00 p.m. and all activities will cease. Lights come on at 6:00 a.m. (no one allowed up earlier unless approved by director). You must leave the shelter no later than 7:00 a.m.
No loitering around the building before or after hours. You are allowed to use the Soup Kitchen, if you are not taking a bag lunch. You need to prepare your lunch the night before. No outside food is allowed in the shelter.
Any resident who is unemployed must seek employment daily. Do not go job hunting with other residents. You must show proof of employment seeking daily. Your main goal is to find a job and somewhere to live.
The shelter is for short term stays only. There will be periodic checks of your progress. If no visible progress is made after your first two weeks you will be given a review to determine your exit date.
A person may stay in the shelter no more than (3) times in a two-year period. There must be least (4) months between stays.
Personal belongings will be disposed of 24 hours after a resident leaves the shelter.
Violation of any rule may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal from the shelter.
These rules are why several of the homeless folks I have meet don’t want to stay there. Like one of them told me last year when I asked him why he didn’t stay at the shelter, “there are no rules in the woods, just the law of the jungle.”