Sure did get cold this week! It seems we jumped straight from summer into winter without much transition period at all. Doesn't that make it seem even colder?
Whether you fall into the "stop feeding them and they'll go away" camp or the "we all need support at times" camp, you may be like me. My mind starts thinking about the folks in Tahlequah with limited or no regular shelter.
I know there are hidden camps in areas within and near Tahlequah. I hear from property owners about individuals breaking into empty buildings or house basements. We see damage to community structures and to privacy fences where wood has been "harvested" to build a fire. The financial hit to business owners and to the city from buildings destroyed because someone built a fire in a dumpster is painful.
I would like to think that if my life took a hard dip and I were looking at living in my car or a tent for a while, my family and friends would step in and help. There are families in town though who have a loved one who has jumped deep into the drug and addiction world. The friends and family of those individuals have had to make the "tough love" decision to quit facilitating that lifestyle. That one tears at your heart.
To those people who love one of the homeless in town, I feel your pain and know how you worry when the weather drops to 13 degrees overnight. Not knowing if your child or grandchild has found a warm spot, or if they're without shelter, can sure keep you awake at night. What a choice. After rehab efforts fail, either help the drugs kill them or leave them to the elements.
There are a lot of societal costs to addiction and homelessness. There are also a lot of hard-dollar costs in damage to property, increased law enforcement needs, fire department runs, environmental cleanup. Some cities have determined that it's cheaper to care for basic needs than to pay expenses after the fact. Surely there are grants, right?
If I could wave a wand and make an immediate change, Tahlequah would have a shelter program that encourages individuals toward sobriety, employment and stability. We would have an alternative sentencing program that helps end the rotating incarceration, vagrancy lifestyle. We would have more, and more affordable, rehabilitation options. What a Christmas wish, huh?
Luckily Tahlequah does have people and organizations that are working hard to care for immediate needs. This sudden cold snap brings the needs of these organizations for support into sharp focus. Donations of coats, blankets and socks are welcome. Money for supplies and food is always welcome. In the meantime, Tahlequah Area Coalition for the Homeless is needing help with their Thanksgiving Day meal. They are planning to feed 200 individuals at the First Methodist Church Activity Building at 5 p.m. Money and volunteers are both needed. If you want to contribute, find TACH's Thanksgiving Meal Fundraiser on Facebook, contact Jay Jones, or Zoë Institute.
Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.