To the editor:
In recent weeks, a homeless woman — let’s call her “Janet” — has been in Winslow with a sign: “Need Food.”
A rare sight. Not because no one on the island struggles. But couch surfing or sleeping rough outdoors are some of the scant options for those without a home.
When I spoke with “Janet,” her rambling, contradictory remarks seemed to indicate mental illness. I urged her to consider Helpline. Subsequently, Helpline staff and volunteers also offered food, but she declined.
It seems “Janet’s” mental illness may be keeping her from accepting Helpline food, treatment, temporary financial assistance, or information about shelter elsewhere in Kitsap County. Without help, her prospects are grim.
It surprised me to learn that roughly 2,500 Bainbridge Islanders – 1 in 10 – use Helpline’s food bank or social services each year. Most only need transitional help. They come from all walks of life. Challenges like cancer and unemployment do not discriminate.
What can you do? In Washington state, “Janet” has the right not to seek mental health treatment, unless she poses a danger to herself or others. If you believe a homeless person is experiencing a mental health issue and are concerned, you can call 9-1-1 to report a “non-emergency.” Bainbridge Island Police Department officers are trained in mental health assessment, can call in additional support and can offer a Helpline “kitchenless” food kit. You just might make a difference in the life of a mentally ill homeless person.
Consider also supporting organizations that are helping neighbors through the worst of times. Not only Helpline, but nonprofits such as Housing Resources Bainbridge, Island Volunteer Caregivers, Bainbridge Youth Services, the Senior Center and Island Neighbors.
What can we do as a community? Our rental housing shortage is acute and worsening. Many teachers, firefighters, police officers and retail workers can’t afford to live here. What’s more, when “life happens” and islanders need temporary housing, options are few.
In the big picture, the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force is exploring solutions to the housing crisis.
In the meantime, there’s a lot we can do to keep our neighbors from becoming homeless in the first place.
Interim Executive Director, Helpline House