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Opinion | The homeless are real people who need real help

MIlam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On March 4, 2014

It's around midnight in the parking garage that I call home. I'm on the fifth floor stairwell curled up on the asphalt trying to fall asleep, trying to not let the arctic air break me down.

Sleep never came easy on cold nights, or any night when I didn't have the comfort of a bed to drift away on. Humans are adaptable, though, I would always catch at least a couple of hours of interrupted sleep on most nights.

Dwelling on dark thoughts when you're homeless is the surest way to a mental collapse. Looking for answers when none existed always followed a similar pattern. Why am I homeless? Cause I'm a loser. How can I get out of this situation? Well, as I stated, I'm a loser, ain't happening. Will I see my kids again? Losers don't see their children.

Concrete is cold. A parking garage has a lot of concrete. I slept on concrete at night. I was often cold. When I got ready for "bed" at night, I would take what little clothes I owned that I carried around in a grimy blue backpack, and lay them on the ground to use as a sheet. A too-thin layer of protection from that cold concrete.

Backpack, sheets made of clothes, my dirty black coat and the fetal position. The concrete was his usual disdainful self: cold, hard and unforgiving. I slept in a f**king parking garage.

The above is excerpted from my uncle, Chris Milam, and his stories "The Cop and the Vagrant" and "Stories of Homelessness: Merry Christmas," respectively, which both can be seen in full on his blog: wispofsmoke.wordpress.com.

According to Drop Inn Center, one of the largest homeless shelters serving the Cincinnati area, there are 9,675 confirmed homeless people (which includes supportive housing) in Cincinnati. With another snowstorm covering the area, how many of those 9,675 homeless individuals will be trying to sleep on cold concrete, as my uncle did in the winter of 2011?

My uncle is in a better place now thanks to Transitional Living here in Butler County, run by Kathy Becker. They saved his life by offering him a place to stay, a therapist, a case manager, medication, group therapy and access to a registered nurse. But it wasn't always like that.

The loneliness and the self-loathing that permeate the mind of a homeless person are perhaps worse than the cold rattling their bones. The type of loneliness that makes one feel invisible.

"No friends, no family, just nothingness. You have to remind yourself that you're still a human being, even though you feel like a feral dog. A f**king lonely dog," Chris said.

He said such self-loathing is more at the forefront when one is homeless rather than any misguided social perceptions people have about homelessness. However, all too often, I hear people on my Facebook feed or in general conversations, deride the homeless as less than, as con-artists, as the annoying froth interfering with our daily commute with their panhandling.

If people think that is just anecdotal derision of the homeless, then consider what some local governments have done.

There have been laws passed in Philadelphia, Orlando, New York City, Houston and proposed in Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere to ban people from giving the homeless food in public spaces (like parks). Luckily, thanks to the efforts of the ACLU and other groups, Philadelphia has since backed down.

However, with food pantries already stretched thin, these laws seem especially harmful and unnecessary. I can go to a park and feed a pigeon, but I can't feed a hungry human being?

Other places, like Nevada City and Denver, have passed ordinances requiring a permit to sleep in a public place or even your own car.

"It just basically means you can't set up a tent. You can't live in your vehicle. You can't live in the woods in Nevada City," Nevada City police chief James Wickham said.

These local governments try to guise such actions as helping the homeless, but it's really more cosmetic: a homeless man sleeping on a park bench is unsightly to residents and tourists.

The first step to solving homelessness is being aware that those affected are human beings in need of our help. Beyond that, when one considers the team effort needed to help an individual out of homelessness (case workers, therapists, nurses and so on), it can seem daunting to solve.

Even so, the Tiny House Movement, which provides micro-housing to the homeless, is a promising start.

A self-funded organization, Community First, has already lifted 100 homeless people off the streets in Austin, Texas. Occupy Madison in Wisconsin provides a 98-square-foot structure complete with a bed, toilet and tiny kitchen.

"Our first house cost $5,000 to make, and we did it without asking for government help," Occupy board member, Brenda Konkel, said.

Family should be the first line of defense to helping the homeless and if not, then places like Transitional Living offer a necessary support system.

Our family wasn't there at that time for my uncle. Regardless of any of his past transgressions or that we had offered help on prior occasions, we weren't there during that time. And I see it as a blight on our family record. He wasn't a killer or a rapist; at the end of the day, he was family.

"It's your fellow man or woman that's broken, not a monster. A simple 'hi' actually means a lot to a struggling person. Makes us remember that we are still human, just like you," Chris said.


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