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People Experiencing Homelessness are Vulnerable Always

RIP Homeless PersonHere is a news item by reporter Jack Encarnacao, about a body found in Quincy, Massachusetts. The deceased was assumed to be a person experiencing homelessness:

A 47-year-old man thought to be homeless was found dead in a Quincy Center alley. The Norfolk County district attorney’s office is investigating the death of Robert Aldred, who was found on the ground shortly after 9 a.m. Monday behind 1534 Hancock St. Investigators do not suspect foul play. Aldred was known to police, Quincy police Capt. John Dougan said. The state Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the cause of death.

What’s so special about this story? Nothing. It could be a piece of boilerplate. No disrespect is meant to the reporter, who was just doing his job, and passing along as much information as was available at the time. But really, it’s like a form, with the name and age filled in, and the location of the body. They probably all say, “______ was known to the police.” How many similar notices have appeared in American newspapers this year? Like Bob Dylan sang, “He was only a hobo, but one more is gone.”

It’s good to know that no foul play is suspected in the demise of Robert Aldred. Unless, of course, we examine the root causes of homelessness, and detect a whiff of foul play in the policies and practices that force so many Americans into the streets.

All too often, the play is foul. Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk reports from Houston, Texas, that the police are looking for whoever has been strangling women, and that the Houston police are investigating murders of three women since this summer. They might have all been killed by the same person.

Twenty-four-year-old Raquel Mundy was not homeless herself, but in June her body was found by a homeless man, as the writer relates, in “an overgrown lot on a dead-end street leading to railroad tracks.” Mundy had dropped off her mother and her two kids at the bus station. Then her car was towed from a restaurant parking lot, so she was stranded. There is an additional heart-rending detail:

On Monday, police would not confirm reports from the time of her disappearance that her mother received two text messages from her suggesting she was with [a] Hispanic man and in danger.

We don’t know the facts, but the scenario is easily imagined. People who depend on Greyhound for their transportation are in a low socio-economic group. Bus terminals are usually downtown. Downtown parking lots charge exorbitant rates. This poor woman probably couldn’t afford the fee, and didn’t want to just dump her mom and kids in front of the bus station. No doubt she wanted to do something frivolous and irresponsible, like, for instance, kiss them goodbye and see them safely onto the bus.

So she took a chance, and left her car in a restaurant parking lot bristling with signs threatening to tow away all non-customer cars, and her car was towed. Apparently, Raquel Mundy then accepted “help” from the wrong man. Imagine the grandma, on the bus wending its way out of the urban center, two children in her care, getting text messages from their frightened mother, her imperiled daughter. What a horror.

Was Raquel Mundy’s killer the same man who also strangled two certifiably homeless women, more recently? On September 30, Reita Long, age 52, was found dead not far from the same bus station. Then, a little over a week later, the body of a 62-year-old woman named Carol Elaine Flood was found near the old YMCA, also downtown.

The police department is leaning toward the theory that it’s the same killer in all three cases. They’re advising homeless people not to sleep alone on the streets. It’s not the most helpful advice ever given, but they’re doing their best. The city is asking for help from the public, and there is a $15,000 reward for the right information.

Here is a statistic from the National Association of School Psychologists:

The suicide rate for homeless males between the ages of 18 and 24 is 10.3 times higher than the national average.

There are a lot of statistics to choose from, depending on which part of the U.S. we’re talking about, and it varies according to age group, sex, military status, etc. Let’s just say there is more suicide, proportionately, among the people experiencing homelessness than among the housed. And consider Japan, where suicide is a commonplace cultural tradition. For the same reasons, poverty and homelessness, the numbers there are really grim.

The Homeless Memorial Sunrise Service in Austin, Texas

The week of November 14-20 is designated as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. In Austin, Texas, there will be prayer, song, and fellowship as we remember the lost friends of the past year and all the years before.

There are huge human costs involved when a society maintains a population of extremely vulnerable and disempowered people. An elected official is always invited to speak at the Homeless Memorial Sunrise Service, insuring that at least one public servant has the opportunity to raise some awareness of those costs. The ones who do are heroes.

Here is the information on the November 14 event, in case you are anywhere in the area and need to plan ahead. The time is 6:30 in the morning — to catch the sunrise. The place is Auditorium Shores at South First Street and Riverside Drive, Austin, TX. The Homeless Memorial & Tree of Remembrance is located on Auditorium Shores at South First Street and Riverside Drive. It is just 75 yards east of the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue and just west of the Fanny Davis Gazebo.

No sad event would be complete without a Call to Action, and the recommended action in this case is the implementation in this country of the Universal Living Wage. The guidebook for this movement is Richard R. Troxell’s new book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. After the Memorial, Richard will sign copies of the book, whose proceeds all go to ending homelessness. Coffee, cocoa, orange juice, and breakfast tacos will be served.

Come to think of it, why would a person even need to be in the area to take an interest in this event? Why not make a road trip of it? Wouldn’t it be interesting if about 50,000 people showed up for the Homeless Memorial Sunrise Service in Austin, and then the next day, 75,000 people showed up for the homeless memorial service in another city?

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Source: “Man found dead in Quincy thought to be homeless,” The Patriot Ledger, 11/02/10
Source: “Houston police investigating murders of 3 women,” Associated Press, 11/01/10
Source: “Helping Homeless Students,” NASP Online
Source: “Memorial,” House the Homeless
Image by Matt From London (Matt Brown), used under its Creative Commons license.