This isn’t an easy subject to talk about, and it isn’t an easy problem to solve. I’d love for you to read this article before we settle in for our chat.From the article: “NAFTA was the knife that sliced our artery.” That’s the simplest explanation for the storm that hit Hickory: the North American Free Trade Agreement normalized trade relations with China, automation, and America’s transition from manufacturing to the service industry. “Big companies moved straight out of Hickory and went to China,” says Roger Cornett. “Employees meant nothing. Their families were devastated and they lost hope.” Hickory experienced the usual symptoms of desperation and poverty: broken families and drug addiction. But according to Roger, homelessness was the most dire issue because the area frowned on trailer parks and lacked affordable housing options.
There were fewer jobs. New jobs paid less. Laid-off factory workers had few benefits to retire on and North Carolina’s safety net was insufficient. The Salvation Army was overwhelmed (and still is), and with no other place to go the homeless gathered in tent cities in the groves of trees behind the corporations that replaced their livelihood, often camping on private property that big companies either don’t realize they own or choose to look the other way about.
Hickory has a quite large homeless population. Even though our work situation is improving, the homeless problem is not. There are a lot of thoughts about why, but no one has any solid answers.
I think the problem is that everyone is only looking at one side of the problem…they aren’t all looking at the same side, but everyone does seem to only see one.
A solution to this problem must be a solution for three groups of people:
- The homeless
- People that live in Hickory
- Business Owners
There are many groups looking to help homeless people, and a whole list can be found on the city’s site, here. However, along with the listed resources (which homeless people can’t generally access), there is also the video I’ll share below, which I find to be borderline offensive…the main point is that you shouldn’t give homeless people money, and should give it instead to the organizations. The video seeks to convince you that it’s the best way to help a homeless person but I certainly disagree. Every organization has overhead costs and employees to pay, so if you want to give money or clothes to homeless people, I hope you will.
The video is hitting on the idea of toxic charity, or the idea that by giving homeless people things, you are enabling them to stay homeless. I’m not sure how that shores up with compassion, and I think we are called to be compassionate.
Roger Cornett is currently working very stringently with our homeless population, to keep them safe and not frozen in the winter. He faces a lot of opposition because of this idea of toxic charity. But he is a very compassionate person, and he is helping individuals survive.
There is a lot of talk about how the different organizations help homeless people too much, making Hickory an attractive place to be homeless, thus increasing our numbers. This is why I think that the solution must also help regular citizens and business owners. It isn’t pleasant to see panhandlers every time you shop, and it certainly isn’t pleasant to know there is a tent city set up in the woods behind your business.
I don’t know the answer, but I’m really intrigued by this Forbes article, which discusses turning abandoned big-box stores into shelters. I think that if we were to consider this, and moving the services to the same area, it could be beneficial to all three sets of people. It would be expensive, but the city already gives a good bit of money to the different organizations that help homeless people. I think that could be adjusted and grants could be written. At the very least, I would support the city creating an action team and require each organization they fund to be part of it, ensuring that there was ONE goal we were working to.
Do you have ideas? We certainly need to address this problem before it grows more out of control.