With eyes wide open

Published 8:39 pm Monday, September 13, 2010

It’s hard to know just how big a problem there is with homelessness in Western Tidewater. Especially in Suffolk, there is so much sprawl that it would be hard to know where to look to find people who are homeless and living on the streets, and it’s easy for many of us to close our eyes to those few unfortunate individuals we do meet.

During a “point-in-time” count of homeless individuals last winter, a Suffolk News-Herald reporter got a look at just what kinds of conditions such folks suffer under. The city’s geography forces them sometimes to live in the woods under makeshift shelters of tin sheets or branches. Parks are largely devoid of homeless residents, because they’re often so far off the beaten path. And there are few denizens of the street in the downtown area, in part, because there are so few resources available there to help them live.

Nobody is arguing for societal structures in Suffolk that would encourage an influx of homeless people. It is, after all, pleasant to be able to visit the city’s parks, its wharf and other public places without normally having to worry about running into sketchy characters with questionable reasons for being there.

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Nonetheless, there are homeless people in Suffolk — last year’s count tallied nearly 60 in Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton — and they need help.

The Western Tidewater Continuum of Care Council will gather dozens of government agencies, charity organizations and others who provide services to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless for a day of helping at the Suffolk National Guard Armory on Wednesday.

The idea is to make life more livable for these unfortunate people, to be true neighbors to those who don’t have an address. It’s a laudable response to a problem that would be all too easy to pretend didn’t exist. It represents an eyes-wide-open approach to life that encourages compassion for all people.