Homelessness of Salisbury

The Affect on Public Health

Like many Salisbury residents, it’s hard to be out in public without noticing a panhandler or drug addict slumped over. This isn’t a new sight and as the years string along into each other, the situation has enveloped on itself repeatedly.

The amount of homeless folks have drastically increased in the past 2 years, and there is a need to deliver programs that can put them back on their feet. Many of the homeless are US veterans suffering from PTSD. There are many factors that contribute to this problem including employment loss, access to timely healthcare, drug addiction, mental illness, etc.

Factors vary but the fact is we have multiple homeless encampments inside the City of Salisbury limits, in addition to being all throughout the Rowan County. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic I believe that there should be more strict ordinance requirements, but implementing them in a humane & equitable way.

What I Have Seen

What really brought this to my attention was a Salisbury homeowner reached out to a few leaders. She wanted to bring awareness to the space behind her and her neighbors’ properties, that became populated with homeless people. We have all seen them around panhandling, however, the organization of encampments on private property is alarming.

I decided to take a walk in the woods. I was with a group of concerned citizens who are concerned about the homeless encampments forming in this area. In a slight venture off trail we came upon the living conditions of what seemed to be at least 30 people or more living in multiple campsites of varying size. Supposedly the routine is to leave during the day to panhandle & come back very late at night.

It’s a fact that our homeless shelter gives out more food than there are rooms, so it only makes sense that many homeless are living like this. Many homeowners & citizens that live & visit the area do not know they have these camps in their proximity, making it a potentially dangerous encounter. There was clear organization & efforts to build sustainable living quarters for long term living accommodations.

Visual Evidence

Photos that I took that present the homeless encampments and illustrate what’s been happening for years.

The Level of Organization

The level of organization was that of military training at this camp. I saw organization & construction like a set of stairs dug out of the earth, a city water meter broken into and transformed into a well, organized liter piles, and trenches created to divert water from flooding tents. Latrines & other human waste collection methods were also being employed to make it a more livable community.

Other improvements like shelters transformed into living quarters and blankets around for extra people if needed. Clothes were hung on a line as if they were was, and also there was an American flag on a pole. Clearly these homeless encampment residents have been here for awhile.

Unfortunately within all this organization were the common signs associated with homelessness. Empty beer cans, empty pill bottles, syringes, & other items that indicate mental health and drug abuse were found as well. It seems as if they are perfectly normal people except when it comes to the way they use drugs & alcohol for most part.

The Public Health Challenge

It’s important to have compassion for these people, especially our US Veterans. At the same time though, homeless people during a pandemic present a more urgent public health crisis. We also have to think about the financial stability & increase in healthcare costs that our healthcare providers have to endure. There certainly has to be some kind of financial burden on our local healthcare system and could at some point make it not be profitable to operate in the area.

We must ensure that our Veterans are being cared for locally, and if they need transportation to another VA facility for care that they can properly get to that facility. There is a high demand for alcohol & drug addiction treatment programs that make wait times for local residents take months to years.

Partnering & employing our local healthcare providers in this public health challenge is a must, and I believe it starts with the VA. Salisbury & the VA have had a good relationship and I believe we can come up with better solutions to help with our homeless veterans. Veterans are leaders with access to healthcare that could help initiate change in other areas of the homeless population.

Addressing The Issues

This would be a start to addressing the homeless population in a humane & equitable way, however, you can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do. People that have no intention to improve their lives may be a lost cause, but that doesn’t mean this section of the population are hopeless. The main thing is that help is there for those that want it.

With that in mind, we also can’t make taxpaying citizens endure dangerous environments unsuspectingly because we are out of room to house the homeless because we failed to bring it on our agenda. At minimum, citizen’s should be aware of these areas for safety concerns. Awareness also raises activism, and more people active in the fight against homelessness can only bring more positive change. We can have a brick, but having a brick does not mean the brick is getting laid. We can have conversation regarding changing ordinances and collaborating with local programs – something that can happen after this election with the next generation of city council.

Survivors are also the biggest advocates and activists for the causes they survive as well. If we can give hope through some successful interventions to others, then I believe we can create the grassroots change needed to help minimize the homeless population. There will always be those that hit hard times, and we that kind of safety net for our community members at risk. Unless we move more people back into being productive members of society, we will forever be faced with a growing homeless population.