Confehr: Homelessness in your face, on the square, in our schools

Friday, January 15, 2010

About this time last year, I noticed and wrote about a woman counting pennies to pay her water bill, seeing it as a reflection of the economy.

In recent weeks, a couple of women were referred to me so they might get help with housing problems. Solutions may still be found, although social services are a byproduct of a news desk and not the initial goal.

Monday and Tuesday came with events that reminded me of Mayor Joe B. Jackson's Blue Ribbon Committee on Homelessness in Murfreesboro. The retired roofer who'd fought through the Pacific Islands as a U.S. Marine was elected to public office in 1968. Thirty years later, his Blue Ribbon Committee on Homelessness was solving a real problem.

Lewisburg Mayor Barbara Woods told me she wants some of the topics of City Council discussion to fade away so real issues may be addressed. Some are. For example, steps are being taken to be ready if Cedar Ridge Landfill must close. If it does, local government costs will increase. Local residents will pay for it, one way or another.

A wise man once said the poor will always be with us. He also suggested we help each other.

I tried on Monday while asking the question of the week.

"God knows," Martin Schultz replied when asked what he's doing to celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "I'm homeless."

Frigid weather always raises questions in newsrooms. What's done about homeless folk here? A simple man-on-the-street Q&A could have provided the answer.

"I don't know what I'm doing next week," Schultz continued. "I live under a bridge in Nashville."

He hitchhiked to Lewisburg and he said he was hungry.

Despite a reluctance to engage in checkbook journalism - paying for interviews - I offered to buy him a sandwich at the restaurant across the street so we could talk where it's warm.

"No," he said. "I've got to go this way."

So, as he went south, I asked why he came to Lewisburg. "I'm looking for a woman," he replied.

Maybe his priority was straight. Maybe she's hot.

After lunch the next day, I was told of a woman here with two children who were evicted for nonpayment of rent. My friend took them in so the children wouldn't have to change schools if the three moved to a shelter in Tullahoma.

This story has an OK ending. Today or Monday, they're moving into a Lewisburg Public Housing unit.

Wednesday, I was told some folks had gone from church to church getting help and then disappeared, probably to another town with warm hearts at churches where help would be available.

That was a problem in Murfreesboro where the mayor's committee worked to have a local registry so needs could be assessed and resources made available efficiently. It took a while, and some legal advice on how to maintain privacy, but the end result was worthwhile.