Experiencing Homelessness

Yesterday I came across a post on Facebook that ran around in my mind all day and will not let me go:

Here is a recap of the story in case you don’t want to click to go on Facebook:

At 7:30am on the first day of the Governor’s fishing opener, one of our neighbors, Jason, was at Lake George, talking to a couple people experiencing homelessness. A police officer came up to them and said that the park was closed until 3:30 because the Governor’s festivities. While telling them to leave, the police officer ignored another person walking with their dog. At this time, Jason believed this was a profiling situation and asked why there were not signs posted about the park closure. Jason then called the Parks Dept. and was told that everything was open except for one parking lot. He then shared the information with the police officer, and the officer said he wouldn’t talk to the Parks Dept. and yelled at Jason again and again to leave. I’ll let Jason take it from here in his own words:

After this I went down to the police department to talk to his supervisor…. He informed me that it was the governor’s state patrol detail that closed the park and it was a miscommunication. I took this at face value at the time but an hour later I drove by the park and seen around 50 people not associated with the event using the park. I stopped on an adjacent street and watched / recorded people and officers at the park for about 2 hours and did not see a single person get asked to leave.

We decided at this point to call the state patrol and find out if they were the ones who closed the park. …(they) told us that they had nothing to do with the park being closed.

How does this story sit with you? What does it make you feel? For me, it makes me feel sick about the whitewashing of the truth of St. Cloud. Yes, there are people with pontoons that fish for fun on the weekends at the cabin that has been in their family for decades – and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there are also people that fish out of necessity – because they don’t have a home, much less a fridge full of food. These neighbors of ours bring the fish back to their tent community and cook the fish over an open flame. However, this wasn’t the kind of fishing that is on display today.

What if it was? What if the Governor said that he wanted to fish with the homeless veteran featured in this news story? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Just imagine that. The Governor and our neighbor, Michael, kicking back and fishing. What would our state leader learn from Michael, an Army Veteran? How might this change the work our state does to end homelessness?

Ending homelessness, specifically for veterans experiencing homelessness, is not a pipe dream. Some cities – and even a couple states – have worked extremely hard to do so. That means doing a heck of a lot more than kicking people out a park the day of an event. It means proactive steps put in place weeks or even months before an event – like was done for the Pope’s visit to Philly. We could have done that. Then, it means turning those steps into sustainable, long-term solutions.

We could have used the fire in the St. Cloud library, started by one of our homeless neighbors so that he didn’t have to spend another winter on the streets, as a time to enact REAL change in this area for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. But we didn’t.

We could have used the WHOLE YEAR leading up to the Governor’s fishing opener as a time to really look at how to help our neighbors experiencing homelessness. But we didn’t.

We wanted a more beautiful downtown area, and we’re getting it. We wanted more parking downtown, and we’re getting it. We wanted to focus more on our beautiful view of the Mississippi again, and we got it. What if the attention of the city councils, mayors, and government leaders now turned towards ending homelessness in St. Cloud? Our track record is pretty darn good of doing what we set out to do.

So, why not set our sights on the extremely worthy goal of human dignity and respect?

Jason and the Tri-County Homeless Alliance are continuing this conversation with our local officials, but are not feeling heard. In fact, they are feeling lied to and ignored. What ideas do you have do force this conversation into the light? How can you use your power and influence for the good of all of our neighbors in the St. Cloud area