December 5, 2023

What’s left of the homeless camp.


Our prime purpose in this life is to help others and if you can’t help them. At least don’t hurt them.

-Dalai Lama


It’s a bit chilly out today.  The temp is 46℉, with a feel-like temp of 42℉ or less.  The cloud cover is broken, with only an occasional flash of sunshine.  The wind is light, around 7 miles an hour, just enough to make the temperature seem even lower than it is, without being blustering.  The ground is dry, the morning frost is gone.  This is Waldo weather, for sure.  He bounds out into the lead, tail wagging, happy to be out here walking and exploring.  I, in my rainsuit over light jacket, gloves and knit ski cap, fall in behind him.  We’re soon at a good pace and I put my body on autopilot.

We’re not quite ¾ of a mile on our way and I see a woman standing still, staring off the trail into the woods.  At her feet are a number of bags and a pile of what can only be described as “stuff.”  Things like plastic bins holding hammers and screwdrivers, a grocery cart, a bicycle with no back wheel — you know, stuff.  “What are you looking at?” I ask as I approach.

“My husband and I noticed some people camping in the trees,” she answers.  “You can see it from here, now that the leaves are gone.  Some homeless people were living there.  We called the police and now the city is removing what they left behind.”  That seemed rather heartless and entitled, but I let it slide.  As I came up next to her, I turned where she was looking and saw three people carrying more stuff to add to the pile next to us.  In the distance, down a small hill I could see more of the same.  It was far enough away that the camp would have been hidden in the greenery, when there was some.  At my feet, I saw a well-worn path that led in that direction.  I had noticed it before, but assumed it was just a hiking trail that I wasn’t aware of.  That’s not like me.  I’m usually curious enough to pursue an inkling of something unusual.  But in this case, I let it slide and missed an opportunity to learn something interesting.  Not now though.

The woman continued on down the trail and I entered into conversation with one of the three people decamping the site.  These people work for the City of Marlborough Conservancy and were given the job of cleanup.  It turns out, there were two homeless people living down there – I don’t know for how long, but it must have been at least weeks.  The land belongs to the City of Marlborough and the homeless people were told they couldn’t stay there, they had to leave.  The people I talked to didn’t know where they went, but they are gone.  Apparently, there was another couple of people living a little further into the woods.  They were on private property and had to leave as well.

I’ve seen homelessness quite often in the past.  It’s not unusual to see the homeless in the ER when they need medical attention.  They have no money for healthcare, so there’s nowhere else they can go.  One third of the homeless have mental health issues, so we used to see them also when it was deemed they weren’t safe on the street and people, usually the police, didn’t know what else to do with them except send them to the ER.  We would get psychiatry and social work involved and some resolution was arrived at, but it was always just a band-aid and temporary.

I am disgusted and embarrassed that my country can’t deal with this growing problem in an effective and humane way.  We are the richest and most powerful country in the world and still, we have one of the biggest problems with homelessness.  This is true even when compared to more impoverished countries.  We have a homeless population per night of over 500,000 and it’s growing every year.  The overall odds of experiencing homelessness during some part of a year are about 1 in 200.  1 in 200.  Our society is broken.

And that says nothing about people who are housed, but have no hope of ever owning their own home.  Housing has become so expensive that many will never be able to afford to own a home.  35% of us rent, and yet rent in many states, including here, is more than a mortgage!  Is the American dream dead?

I shake my head in bewilderment and continue on down the trail behind Waldo.  At least we have a warm place to sleep and enough to eat.  But still, I wish there was more I could for those who have neither.  I sigh.

I am grateful that Waldo and I are doing okay.


Some of the things left behind by the homeless campers.

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