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I met Keith while driving around in an outreach van during subzero weather. Keith wonders how he didn’t freeze to death sleeping outside during what is now called the “Polar Vortex”. He continues that he has been sleeping under one bridge or another for over 20 years now.

We offered to help, but Keith didn’t want the help we had to offer. Keith drank 3 beers that day so he would not be allowed into an abstinence-based program, and he did not feel safe sleeping at the local low-barrier shelter. Plus, and this is a big one – Keith didn’t want to get a few hours of sleep just to be kicked out the next morning into the freezing cold. He said that going into a shelter just to be kicked out every morning is like having “only half of a house”.

I am still in Upstate New York and the weather report is forecasting subzero weather again. Most of our homeless friends like Keith, who have been on the streets for a long time, have adopted ways of surviving. NO ONE should have to sleep outside, especially when doing so is life-threatening.

We must change our systems so people who end up homeless do so for only a short period of time. It’s unacceptable that Keith has been on the streets for over 20 years. Communities must also work together to provide the right services at the right time. Keith wanted help to get out of the cold, we just were not able to provide the help he needed.

The saying in homeless services is homeless people like Keith are “service resistant”. I think that’s crap because if homeless services would simply listen to folks like Keith, and then PROVIDE THE SERVICES PEOPLE REALLY NEED, we could actually end homelessness.

Special thanks to Syracuse Rescue Mission

Invisible People

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