As you might guess, the homeless in Merced have as many problems today as they have had every day of their lives, as they try to get by without proper shelter, support and help from a city that would rather ignore the facts of the homeless that wander our streets, hoping that they will just go away.
We have a shelter that allows homeless people a place to sleep at night for 150 days per year, but they must leave by 7 a.m. in the morning to mill around town until 4 p.m. when they can return for dinner and sleep. Now just imagine what you would do for the day if you had no money, little chance of getting a job or for that matter no clothes, address or cell phone to even apply for one. This is the life of a homeless person not just in Merced but throughout the United States.
Our city officials have ignored the homeless population for years and only in the last year have they even begun to address the situation and problem. Why? Because homeless activists have brought the problem to the city of those refusing to leave the Black Rascal encampment, going to the City Council meetings with the homeless people over and over again, asking for answers to address the issues of homelessness instead of ignoring them. Media attention has brought the homeless people and their plight and circumstances out in the open. Why should the homeless be treated as though they don’t exist?
Maybe we come from an era of not caring about our neighbor, only about the gratification that we need for ourselves: new cars, fancy houses, sporty clothes.
Now a new factor enters into homelessness—lost jobs, foreclosure, too many credit debts. Wait, I might become homeless myself! This is a new twist, and people now are frightened that this could happen to them. Yes, it could in a moment.
We who can go to sleep at night in the comfort of a home, eat whenever we feel like it and get up to use the restroom that is only a few feet away should fight for the right of everyone so that they might also have these same comforts. If we the people don’t join the fight for transitional housing and shelter and safe ground for the homeless—then shame on us.
Naturally, some folks who are homeless will not take a helping hand. Some are so mentally out there that they don’t even know how. But that is not an excuse to abandon those who do want the help. I have seen so many who we have helped in Merced succeed and thrive after they were given a helping hand out of the streets and dumpsters, alleyways and shelters that really are just a revolving door. They have a respite for a few months, then are homeless again.
We as a society must take a stand and protect the rights of all the people of our community—not just those that look and smell and speak well. How can we not speak on behalf of the rights of all? That is what our country is based on, justice for all.
I have seen firsthand the abuse that many homeless have been given by the very people who are supposed to be protecting us all. “Who cares?” is the attitude of many: they are just the homeless, the old wino, who caused his or her own problems by poor choices. Maybe so, but is this a reason that they should not have the same rights that each and every one of us have?
Think about your homeless neighbor the next time you see one and imagine their struggles if you can. They are tough, resilient and they are human. Pick up the fight so that we might someday end the vicious cycle of homelessness. Write the City Council members, the Board of Supervisors and the city manager demanding action in your city to end homelessness.
Addendum: The church sanctuary at Sierra Presbyterian (at M Street and Yosemite Avenue) in Merced officially ended on January 31. Sierra Saving Grace, the entity that sponsored the sanctuary. officially lost its right to the property to the Central Presbytery. Nine people are still there because they have no place to go. It was explained that they cannot be formally evicted without due process as they have established residency, even before the Central Presbytery took over the property. Meanwhile, the City of Merced has not proposed a solution for these nine people or the several other homeless persons scattered throughout the city.
Forum on Homelessness
A community forum on homelessness will take place on April 9 in the California Room on the University of California, Merced, campus. The general public is invited.
There will be a keynote speaker, followed by a panel discussion and breakout sessions on various topics. The forum will conclude with a summary and proposals for future direction.
Interest in the forum arose because of the rising homeless problem, controversy over the enforcement of a city “no camping ordinance,” controversy over a church sanctuary located near a residential area, student concern and involvement in the issue, and the area’s high home foreclosure problem.
The forum is co-sponsored by the University of California, Merced, and the Central California Journey for Justice. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Progressive Organizations of Merced
Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth
P.O Box 387, Merced, CA 95341
Social Action Team of United Methodist Church
899 Yosemite Parkway, Merced, CA 95340
PFLAG of Merced
P.O. Box 2446, Merced, CA 95344
Students for Social Justice of Merced College
meets every Thursday at IAC Social Science Bldg.
Unitarian Universalist Church
P.O. Box 3223, Merced, CA 95344
1729 Canal St., Merced, CA 95340
Merced Associated Democrats
Amnesty International of UC Merced
5200 N. Lake Rd., Merced, CA 95343
California Central Valley Journey for Justice
P.O. Box 1136, Merced, CA 95341-1136