As leaf peepers make their way into the Adirondacks and dropping temperatures remind us of the impending winter freeze, it is time once again for friends and neighbors to take to Facebook and argue about Code Blue.
I will begin with a caveat: I live in a log cabin nestled in the woods, far removed from downtown Saratoga Springs or Wilton, so the odds of any Code Blue shelter impacting me are slim. But I am a business owner whose livelihood relies on a vibrant and desirable downtown, so I do have a pony in this race.
A quick recap of the issue at hand: We have an increasing number of homeless individuals in 12866; We have dangerously cold winters; A homeless individual did freeze to death in Saratoga Springs; The Code Blue shelter needs a permanent home; Some residents don’t want the Code Blue shelter near their homes or businesses.
While It sounds rather straightforward, the roots of this issue run deep, and in all directions.
First off, I don’t blame a single individual for not wanting the shelter near their home or business. It is very easy to be a social justice warrior disparaging your fellow Saratogians while typing away at your keyboard in the warm comfort of your living room. However, I bet many of these keyboard warriors have never volunteered at Code Blue, they don’t donate money to Code Blue, and they have never had a conversation with, or bought lunch for, one of our homeless. So, if your compassion for the homeless is limited to internet posts and self-promoting praise, feel free to jump on your keyboard and send me a nasty email.
But to those of you who are on the front lines making a difference, my hat goes off to you. Your selflessness and love are an inspiration for all of us. You are truly impacting lives and making a difference in this world. Some of these individuals are our Code Blue volunteers as well as the Saratoga Street Soldiers, a new local non-profit group who provide helping hands, compassion and kindness to those in need. Great job to all of you!
Back to our Code Blue discussion. I thought it would be useful to start with an understanding of why someone may not want the Code Blue shelter located near their home or business, so I spoke to a few of those individuals and received the following feedback. It all seemed very reasonable to me.
1. They have small children and it would worry them having homeless people walking up and down their street.
2. Many homeless individuals leave waste in areas they frequent.
3. A Code Blue homeless shelter would lower property values.
4. Many of the homeless individuals are mentally unstable.
I also had conversations with numerous business owners whose businesses have been negatively impacted by the homeless, and I have personally witnessed homeless people drinking, yelling, changing clothes and leaving garbage throughout downtown and in our parking garages.
While these aren’t stereo-typical images of a good neighbor, the Code Blue issue still does need to be resolved before the sub-freezing temperatures arrive. These individuals are our fellow humans. They are someone’s son or daughter; brother or sister and they deserve compassion and love just as you and I do.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. My only suggestion is rather than spending a month debating Code Blue, we spend the year figuring out how to keep people from becoming homeless. But I fear this is a more daunting task than most want to address, for the causes of homelessness are vast and complicated.
Some of the more prevalent causes of homelessness:
• Mental illness
• Unfortunate events
• Domestic Violence
Luckily, I do believe there is a single solution that could address many of these issues and it begins with you and me. And it begins at our dinner tables. The family is the most important social unit of society, yet it is one of the most neglected in recent decades.
While families come in all shapes, sizes and colors, there are some common traits that strong families share.
As Leo Tolstoy wrote:
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
It is our job as parents (and aunts and uncles and grandparents, etc.) to determine how our families turn out. We hold more responsibility than we can imagine, for our actions could affect generations to come.
So, without further ado, here are some of my suggestions for creating happy, healthy and responsible families, and hopefully making a dent in the homeless problem.
• Eat dinner as family…as often as possible.
• Make family game nights a priority.
• Spend less time texting and more time talking.
• Shut down all electronics (phones, computers) at a certain time each night.
• Focus on your blessings rather than your problems.
• Create clear boundaries of whatis acceptable.
• Hold children, and spouses, accountable for their actions.
• Punish with a purpose.
• Set high expectations and help them to reach them.
• Lead by example.
• Praise them when appropriate and discipline them when necessary.
• Make the tough decisions.
• Treat each other with respect.
Good luck in your family journey, and please lend a hand, or a dollar, to our local Code Blue shelter and Saratoga Street Soldiers.