Homelessness and our community

homeless

Dear Editor,

It’s that time of year again when the talk around town starts to turn to the seasonal return of the transients (campers, travelers, etc.) and all the problems they seem to bring with them.  This year there seems to be a misconception that The Nederland Food Pantry and the Sox and Sandwich program attract transients to our community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Homelessness is a serious problem throughout the United States. There are many reasons individuals and families become homeless including mental illness, unemployment, the high cost of housing and substance abuse. As there is no one cause, there is no one solution. Likewise there is no one reason people are attracted to our community.  A few of the factors that might be involved include the closing of the Boulder Homeless Shelter mid April, Boulder and Denver ordinances that prohibit people sleeping outside, or the nearby national forests that provide legal, dispersed places to camp. However, the meager amount of food provided by the Nederland Food Pantry and the Sox and Sandwich program is not a factor that attracts transients to our community.

The Nederland Food Pantry’s goal is to relieve hunger while serving our clients in a respectful and compassionate manner – affording each the dignity all deserve.  In this vein, once a month we provide the seasonal transients a “Camper Bag” consisting of a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, water, canned fruit, and some fresh produce if available.  Also included in the Camper Bag is a trash bag as well as current information about fire safety and restrictions. Transients are not afforded the same self -shopping privileges as permanent community clients.  However, everyone is greeted with smiles, some conversation and a lack of judgment.

Socks and Sandwiches is a weekly gathering of volunteers, law enforcement officials, community and church leaders, and transients who share a picnic lunch and conversation with one another. Along with a sandwich, water, and a warm pair of socks, transients also receive trash bags and are informed of where and when to bring them from their site to be picked up weekly by volunteers.  These gatherings have resulted in piles of trash bags left at the West Magnolia parking lot to be picked up by designated volunteers.  The presence of our local law enforcement officers has resulted in the exchange of concerns by both the officers and the transients.

Having the number of transients in our community during the summer months that we do creates a number of problems and concerns including trash, increased crime, and increased fire danger.  The meager amounts of food provided to the transients do not attract the transients to the area.  However, the act of providing the food has a positive effect on the transients and may mitigate some of the problems.

First, treating another human being with respect often results in people giving that respect back to the community and its members.  Food Pantry volunteers have witnessed over and over that the majority of transients are grateful not only for the small bag of food but for the opportunity to have a place to put their trash, a means to dispose of it, and current written notices of fire regulations.  It should be noted that the U.S. Forest Service is unwilling to place a dumpster at the West Magnolia trailhead for fear that it would be used by local residents.

Second the outreach efforts open lines of communication between the transients and the community.  Dialog between parties can help mitigate problems.  Lastly, people who are acknowledged and treated respectfully are less likely to disrupt and to be disrespectful of our common social norms.  As Paulo Coelho, said, “Because you believed I was capable of behaving decently – I did.”

Rather than condemning the transients and those in the community that work to help them, lets work together to as a community to find effective solutions to the problems.

Please contact the members of the Nederland Interagency Council on Homeless Encamping (NICHE) to learn more about the issues, the facts and help to become a part of the solution.

Thank you,

Margaret May
Board of Directors,
Nederland Food Pantry

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