Change your mind and you may change a life
"Hey, thanks for the cans and bottles," My husband Larry and I heard someone holler as we sat in the garage of our home on the busy street last summer.
Whenever we fill a trash bag with recyclables, we place the bag next to the sidewalk so that anyone who needs some extra money can pick it up without any embarrassment.
About a month after the gratitude yell, a different man knocked at our front door.
"You guys have a bag of cans and bottles out here and I wanted to see if it was alright to take them," he said. I thanked him for asking and assured him that whenever he sees a bag there, he can take it.
We have since learned the name of the first man, Paul, and we have brief conversations when he comes by. The first time we spoke, Paul held his head down and didn't make any eye-contact. Now he smiles and tells us about his day. It does my heart good. It's a small gesture.
Speaking of small gestures with wonderful consequences, I recently read a social media post written by Mendocino (Calif.) Sheriff Tom Allman, who I knew well when I lived in California. This is what he wrote:
"Here is a cool story. I am currently in Atlanta at an Opioid/Heroin Summit. This is my third time at this conference. Two years ago, I was approached by a homeless veteran, asking for cash. Instead of cash, I invited him to lunch and we discussed his options in life. He did not smell good and his clothes were not clean. So, fast forward to today (April 17), I'm walking down Peachtree Boulevard in Atlanta and this guy asks me if I wanted to listen to his rap CD. He looks at me and smiles and says 'Sheriff Tom.' It's the same guy, Keith, who was now wearing clean clothes and he didn't stink. He has been clean and sober for two-plus years. I'm taking him to lunch tomorrow. I'm really happy that our paths crossed again. I'll get a great photo of us at lunch."
Tom is hopelessly humble about his role in changing lives. He is a good man. He became a bit embarrassed that he was getting credit for Keith's legwork. So he wrote the following: "Regarding the man who I have met in Atlanta, this story should not be about me at all. This story should be that we should never just give up on people. I did very little in Keith's life, other than to have a conversation with him two years ago over lunch. He cleaned himself up, he made a CD with his rap music and he is using his entrepreneurial skills to move forward. He has actually asked me about Mendocino County and a slower life. The moral of the story for me, is very simple. It is easy to not see the rest of the world, outside of our own comfort zone. There are millions of Keiths in our world. Please don't think this is about me, or that I miraculously changed his life. Keith changed himself and for that, I am grateful. Thanks."
It's great when one man does something this special, but sometimes – oftentimes -- it does take a village.
This is where Medicine Hat comes in. Medicine Hat is a city in southern Alberta, Canada, that pledged in 2009 to put an end to homelessness. Now the city has fulfilled that promise.
Because according to Canada's CBC radio, "No one in the city spends more than 10 days in an emergency shelter or on the streets. If you've got no place to go, they'll simply provide you with housing."
Housing is sparse in Medicine Hat, but with money chipped in by the province, the city built many new homes.
Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston told media outlets that when the project began in 2009, when he was an alderman, he was an active opponent of the plan.
"I even said some dumb things like, 'Why should they have granite countertops when I don't,'" he said. "However, I've come around to realize that this makes financial sense."
This is a time that -- in my humble opinion -- we might need to change our thinking, because being judgmental and punitive to those who are obviously suffering does not benefit any of us.
It's only by the grace of God that I am writing for a newspaper and not sleeping under one.
Clugston said it costs about $20,000 a year to house someone. If they're on the street, it can cost as much as $100,000 a year. "This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people," he told the CBC.
The CBC reported, the strategy worked. "In Medicine Hat, emergency room visits and interactions with police dropped. But there was one change that initially surprised Clugston — court appearances went up."
"They end up dealing with their past, atoning for their sins," he told the CBC.
In Medicine Hat people who were formerly homeless have better access to needed services.
Mandy Feder-Sawyer is a reporter for the Beaverton Valley Times