Robert Johnston, an advocate for the homeless, asks why the city of Little Rock didn't arrange shelters for the homeless in this week's patch of icy weather despite having done so during an earlier cold snap.
Deputy City Manager Bryan Day responds:
Our homeless service coordinator talked with the Compassion Center, Union Rescue and Salvation Army and all three had available beds and were open during the day. Because we did not have the volunteer base readily available this time (which we got thru City Connections) and because there were plenty of available beds and space, we opted not to open. When we opened last time it was 20 and 30 degrees colder than this past weather event and all of the providers indicated we needed the additional space – that was the primary difference.
Sandra Wilson, chair of the Homeless Coalition, had earlier distributed an e-mail noting the death of a homeless man, found dead near his lean-to. She wrote:
The story below [on Johnson's death] is a grim confirmation of what so many of us have said many times - how in the world do the homeless survive when it is so cold. Some do not.
Allan and I went out with the outreach van to the camps in mid-town this afternoon. The people that we served were in good spirits, and when I questioned if they were really alright, they reassured me that they really were doing okay. We provided groceries, socks, coats, etc. from the outreach van for ten homeless living in camps, among whom 3 were women that looked to be somewhere in their 50's, (it is so hard to tell age among the homeless.) There they sat in the snow and cold telling us how much they appreciated our coming out to them.
As we left, Allan and I talked about how well the homeless were surviving in the cold and I said that I felt better after seeing them because I had been concerned and thinking of them. It was good to see they were adapting so well. Not one of the people had complained about being outside in the mud, snow, and cold, but had just reassured me they were okay, and cautioned us not to slip on the ice and to be careful. As we drove on down to another site, I looked on my phone catching up on the days e-mail messages.
That is when I saw the message about Aaron Johnson found dead at his Little Rock campsite. The homeless are human beings. They may know how to layer on more clothing, if they have it, but they are just as human as you and me and they can and do die outdoors in extreme cold. If those layers of clothing get wet, etc. they are just as susceptible as the rest of us; they are not animals that can just survive because they are so different from other human beings.
I am ashamed for the relief I felt with the reassurances of Sherry and the rest from the camps. Leaving people out in weather that we would not leave our pet in just is not acceptable. All that we are doing just is not enough. We really must look at a more coordinated effort to ensure that we are reaching the most vulnerable and provide whatever assistance is needed to give them the means to fight weather related "environmental hypothermia" or in plain words, so they do not lie in a tarp lean-to and freeze to death. There has to be more that we can do.
-- Sandra R. Wilson