As I write this I am still regaining the feeling in my fingertips and and toes. It's been cold here in Anchorage. It feels like it's been hovering around 0 since winter started. As I was taking out the trash after returning from a Thanksgiving weekend away, I saw what first looked like a pile of rags. Instead it was one of the many homeless people who inhabit our city, winter as well as summer. It was hard to tell how long he'd been lying on the hard-packed snow berm on the side of the street, but from the state of his un-gloved hands, he'd already been out in the elements for too long once this winter.
For those of you who haven't seen severe frostbite, I can't really explain it. I'd tell you to Google-image it but it is some disturbing viewing (seriously, if you are at all have a weak stomach, don't do it). A pair of guys found this man at almost the same time I did so we tried to get him onto his feet. Since we were unable to rouse him we decided to call Community Patrol. Community Patrol is a service that drives vans around areas with know homeless populations, picking up people who are either intoxicated or suffering from hypothermia. I talked to the dispatcher, giving both our location and a description of the individual. I thought 'he looks like a skinny version of Santa Claus' but that was too depressing to even consider saying.
As soon as the other guys saw I had it under control, they continued their walk. The dispatcher said that someone was on their way and, after a question from me, that there was no need to stick around. I hung up and took a step away from him. But I decide if this man is going to lay in the snow until someone comes to pick him up, then I can stand with him. I try not to think that it is this exact weather that kills a couple homeless people every year here in Anchorage. After 11 minutes I decide that the man had stopped moving and call 911 thinking that a patrol car could arrive faster than the Community Patrol van. After almost a minute on hold before my call is taken I was informed that the police had been en-route since my original call. 8 minutes later a squad car pulls up with a single officer in it who proceeds to pat down the man while trying to establish communication with him, and eventually assisting him into her squad car.
Everyone knows what has happened in New York and Oakland and in other towns across the country, but for the most part police officers are normal people doing a pretty thankless job. How many people are ever happy to see the police? I spent Thanksgiving weekend with a family friend who is in her second year as a police officer in a town a couple hours outside of anchorage. When it gets down to around -10 degrees, homeless people in her town go into businesses which they knowing they have been kicked out of for trespassing violations and refuse to leave. Our friend takes the call, makes the arrest and books the individual who then goes before a judge and receives 30 days in jail for trespassing. This goes on all winter because there is nowhere else for them to go. This is how the system works. People are forced to choose between illegally sleeping in the city's baseball dugouts and serving 30 days in jail. There aren't enough beds, and the churches apparently aren't welcoming them with open arm either. This is how the system currently works: our local jails are being used as De facto homeless shelters. A little Google-ing reveals that it costs almost $2,000 a month to house a prisoner, added to the money paid for court costs as well as to the arresting officer. While I believe, and most people reading this here at Daily Kos would agree, that we should help the people because it is the right thing to do, this purely fiscal argument should convince anyone that it is cheaper to provide what amounts to little more than a cot and a warm bowl of soup, and maybe use the extra money to expand transition services. Instead, the money is used in our criminal justice system and the increased militarization of our police forces, which are then turned back upon us...
This is my first diary here on Daily Kos. Almost universally, I find that what I think has already been written in a far more eloquent way than I could hope to achieve. I just nod my head and hit the rec button. However, this event really shocked me, especially since for a couple minutes I thought I was watching someone die. Remember that to people who have little or nothing anything makes a difference. Your time, your donations, anything. I'll try to add links to resources after I get done preparing for my work week, and if anyone has any ideas please throw them into the comments
1:54 PM PT: I wanted to quickly address this comment. This was initially a reply to the original comment, but after thinking about it for a second, I decided to make my answer a little more visible, so I'm reproducing it here in its entirety and without edit:
"samanthab, I in no way meant to offend.
I did not mean the comment as a shot at churches. I know many people who volunteer through their church group and do the same thing I did last night but on a weekly basis. Just because they are serving in a food line or washing bedding doesn't remove the immediacy of the help they give to this same population.
samanthab also raises good points about the onerous restrictions placed on those attempting to feed and shelter the homeless population, not just in Alaska but nationally. I remember reading about a Florida law earlier this year that required anyone feeding more than 25 people in city parks to apply for a permit, even though these parks had been used to feed the homeless for at least 5 years
The comment was meant as a jab at the Ron Paul-crowd (which seems to be over-represented in Alaska when compared to the country as a whole). I seem to remember a statement by Ron Paul in an earlier Republican debate that 'neighbors and churches would take care of the uninsured' and simply meant to point out that there are people right now who aren't being taken care of by their neighbors or churches, so it is up to us as a society to find a way to help people keep themselves from falling through societies' cracks, or to help them up once they have tripped.
Also, samanthab, you seem to be quite knowledgeable about the subject, so what resources are available to people who want to donate their time or supplies?
Thanks for your point of view"
I also wanted to pass along this link which, as far as I can tell, provides a list homeless shelters in any given area in the US. I know that the ones listed for Alaska have decent reputations, so hopefully it works as well for the rest of the country. If you have any extra cans of chicken broth left over from Thanksgiving dinner, or want to burn some of those extra calories you ingested in the form of 4 slices of pie, look up a place in your area and give it a call.