I figure that the best way to learn more about homelessness is to take it to the streets. So, I did. I first spoke with Eugene. He was sleeping. He tends to fall asleep slumped over on his wheelchair. I later found out that he had rheumatoid arthritis and hence the wheelchair. Regardless, I woke him up, gave him some breakfast funds and three cigarettes. I asked him if he had seen Jackie, my other homeless friend. He said no. So I asked him some questions and he happily answered them. As it turned out, his answers were invaluable. He gave me insight to what it was like to be displaced by the government when the I-95 was built through Overtown, about a half century ago. I also got the perspective of a man who has been homeless for more than twenty years. He’s from the old-school. The problem is he dropped out of school in 7th grade. There is a direct correlation between dropping out of school and homelessness. Importantly, I also found out why so many homeless come to Miami and stay here: the warm weather.
Before I go on for too long about Eugene, who is sound of mind, kind, and gentle, I will first delve into two other cases. Let me begin with Ron. This 25 year old young man is here from Millville New Jersey—hoping to find opportunity. According to him, Greyhound lost his luggage and the 500 dollars he came with. He’s only been in Miami for two months. He, too, cited warm weather as a reason for coming here. He said drug use among the homeless was rampant. When I threw away some trash I had in my hand, he said that that was the first time he had seen someone use a trash can around here. It could be that he’s not paying attention. Frightfully though, he’s probably saying the truth. Another guy, Abel, is 28 years old, also from New Jersey, and also used Greyhound to get here. Not surprisingly, other than finding out that his son was actually not his, warm weather was the main reason for him coming. When asked what kind of a role drugs play in the plight of the homeless, he said “the most important role”. When asked why, he said “a lot of them ask for money to do drugs”. But that didn’t tell me why they did it, so I mentioned to him whether it was just a way of escaping reality, and he said it was exactly that, an escape. I can see why they would want an escape from reality when theirs involves little to no companionship, hope, opportunity, health care, hygiene, security, or even sustenance. When I asked him if it would be good for the drugs to be gone, he said yes because then people would have to face reality. Naturally, because facing reality is the first step towards solving your real problems. Here is what I have learned from speaking to these three men: warm weather will always lure the homeless to Miami—so we better have a good plan to deal with their inflow, for the most part, they use Greyhound to get here, drug use is widespread among them, they don’t feel safe sleeping in Camilus House (when asked how moving Camillus House farther away would affect them, Abel and Ron said, “longer walk.) No matter what, so long as they are homeless, they will be in the center of the city, because that is where the most people and money are.
I’ve come to quite a few conclusions. In a practical sense, there are two types of homeless: those who can work and those who cannot. From the latter, you can imagine that there could be several reasons why they can’t work. They might be too old, physically handicapped, or mentally unstable. Obviously, these are the most vulnerable. Dealing with their problems requires concerted government intervention. The others who can work have hope for social rehabilitation. The government has to play the primary role in offering them jobs. It is shocking to see how young some of these homeless people are. Not only can they work, but they want to work. What really bothers me is that the CBD is filled with trash, the streets are filthy, and there is graffiti everywhere. Clearly, there is much work to be done.
- Significantly increase the resources at the disposal of the narcotics units in and around the CBD. These drug dealers have to be taken off the streets. The homeless aren’t exactly mobile. This means the drug dealers are at fixed positions. I refuse to accept that our law enforcement, with added resources, cannot take these scum-buckets down, one by one. So long as drug use is rampant, the homeless will remain in their current state of disrepair and the overall security situation poor.
- The government must conduct a homeless census while simultaneously diagnosing their mental and physical state—those who require medical attention, get it (psychological, drug-rehabilitation, etc). Those who can work are given government sponsored jobs like cleaning up the streets, painting over graffiti, and picking up the trash. I just don’t understand how the government can allow prisoners to work on the street, like slave labor, and not think about the most vulnerable and unemployed people on the streets who will work for almost anything.
- Explore government housing options that are public transit friendly for the displaced.
The solution is to help provide them with a way out—not move Camillus House; unfortunately not even expanding Camillus House will cure the problem. With drug distribution reduced, the homeless will find it more difficult if not impossible to get drugs. They will be forced to face reality and we can help them improve it. The government is not doing enough. I don’t see them do anything at all. There are no results on the streets at least. The homeless claim that there is no assistance. The sad thing is that while we’re all celebrating the rise of these buildings, on the very same streets, the homeless population is swelling and their drug use is out of control. Still, there is plenty that can be done.