The ragged people

January 26, 2012

Sadly, Harford County is where an ever-increasing number of people with no building to call home have taken up residence. Camps have sprouted up in different places. Not all that long ago, there were tents on the land surrounded by parts of the Bel Air Bypass interchange, as well as in secluded territories along the Ma & Pa Trail in town.

Last week, just days before a survey of homeless people was conducted, a man and a woman who had been living in a makeshift camp in Aberdeen were found dead, and a third person ended up being taken from that site to the hospital for treatment.

A few years back, an organization that goes by the initials FCCAU (Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United) was successful in setting up a permanent homeless shelter for the county. This added substantially to long-established practices of police agencies and churches providing motel vouchers to people who were down on their luck.

The long and short of the situation in Harford County is that while homelessness is a serious problem, serious efforts have been made to deal with it. These efforts have involved government agencies and private organizations like FCCAU, and have met with a fair degree of success in helping a lot of people.

Still, the case of the Bel Air Bypass homeless camp demonstrated a sad reality. When that camp was in place, overtures were made to the folks staying there in hopes that they would partake of some of the help being offered locally. The help was refused. The camp ended up being taken down and the people living there either moved on or ended up being arrested on public nuisance type charges.

Such outcomes are a terrible reminder that a disturbing number of people who are homeless are not firmly rooted in reality. In many cases, drug abuse, or more properly substance abuse, is the culprit. In others, it's untreated mental illness.

Getting well from such afflictions doesn't happen because someone offers a motel voucher or a warm bed in a shelter. It remains unclear if the people who spent their last days in a homeless camp in Aberdeen were what Paul Simon called "the ragged people" in his song "The Boxer," or folks who could have been helped with a warm bed and a hot meal. The availability of such help, however, indicates they were probably in need of much more.

Finding a way to offer the kind of help that truly changes the least among us for the better is something that won't happen easily.

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