Complicated problem requires many solutions
I provided food to residents of the Seventh Day Adventist Church’s temporary night shelter for four months last year to better understand the homelessness crisis in Skagit County.
Over 30 concerned community members contributed greatly to this effort. As a result, I spent time meeting the numerous homeless individuals, seeing the physical conditions that many of them had and listening to reasons for being homeless. The county paid the Friendship House to provide staffing and paid for the provision of a security guard on duty at all open hours.
Even though the church staff were not required to be on site for the operation of this shelter, it was only because of the compassionate and kind offering of their gym and restrooms that 23 people otherwise sleeping in freezing cold, wet, unhealthy, unsafe conditions were given a chance to be dry, safe, watched over and warm with access to a toilet, sink and shower.
During that time, I met over 90 homeless individuals and witnessed people with severely disabling conditions such as hypothermia, frostbite, dementia, diabetes, PTSD, anxiety disorder, depression, alcoholism, mobility problems requiring wheelchair usage, cardiac conditions, open lesions, serious dental problems, severe mental health challenges, suicidal ideations, addictions, severely swollen limbs and deafness.
These people ranged in age from early 20s to 88. Causes reported for living without a home included fleeing domestic violence, death of a parent that led to loss of a home, the end of a rent-sharing relationship that meant inability to find an affordable rental, eviction so a landlord could renovate and charge a higher, unaffordable rental rate, alcoholism, unemployment due to a severely disabling condition and opioid addiction.
These are some of the challenges faced by people living in Skagit County in cars, under trees, buildings, tarps or bridges. This is a complicated problem with the need for multiple levels of solutions and a rapid, humane, compassionate response.