A woman stopped by our office the other day to show us a photo of a homeless person who is commonly seen around Meridian, sleeping on a bench or shuffling across a street.
“Who’s going to do something about this,” she asked?
The question is fair.
Along with this particular homeless person, you don’t have to travel far in the city to find a panhandler at a busy intersection, a squatter near a railroad track, people pushing shopping carts filled with their belongings.
As of Wednesday, there were at least 67 homeless people in Lauderdale County, according to the Mississippi Continuum of Care Balance of State.
An accompanying report by The Meridian Star’s Ryan Oehrli documents the homeless situation in Meridian and Lauderdale County, but the problem can and does exist anywhere and everywhere across the country.
Causes of homelessness are as many as the individuals affected – lost jobs, catastrophic healthcare costs, death of caregivers, broken relationships, mental illness, substance abuse …
Around 30 percent of Meridian’s population lives below the poverty line, according to the latest U.S. Census data, which can make the slip into homelessness a short fall.
Once on the streets, some people choose to stay for a variety of reasons – distrust of organizations, a desire to be alone, a reluctance to follow rules. Others wait for a hand up.
Some vagrants cause problems, such as the those who break into local businesses, damage property or simply portray a poor image of the city and county.
So who is doing something about this?
There are many good people and groups around Meridian, helping our homeless population, including Christine Rainer and Alsane’s Mission, Fannie Johnson and L.O.V.E.’s Kitchen, Multi-County Agency, the Salvation Army, Wesley House and many other churches, faith-based and government organizations.
We live among generous people willing to donate food, money and time.
Readers poll: Homelessness
Do Meridian and Lauderdale County do enough to address homelessness?
But we also know it’s human nature to generalize the blame and to expect easy answers.
If there’s a lesson in the photo the woman showed us, the people we pass on the street or in examining the homeless count, it helps to find a solution by knowing individuals have a name, such as William Jeffrey Crane, who talked to us this week, and an individual story.
None of the homeless people planned to be that way.
You or someone close to you could easily find yourself in similar misfortune. You’re closer to falling into poverty than hitting the lottery jackpot. And if you don’t fall into poverty, you will at least be affected by its cost.
The question is back to you: What are you going to do about this?