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Pioneer Viewpoints: Time to act is now

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The easiest thing in the world to do is to do nothing.

Confronting difficult situations is never easy for individuals, much less for a community.

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But the issue of homelessness needs to be addressed, or at the very least become more of a prominent discussion in Bemidji.

The plight of some Bemidji homeless, many struggling with chronic alcoholism, was brought to the forefront the past week in a three-part series by the Pioneer’s Justin Glawe.

The Pioneer received criticism and praise — about equal parts — for the stories, which focused on a particular group of friends of Butch Ryan, a homeless man who was found dead near Nymore Beach in June.

Dissecting the criticism and the praise would take too long, but to suffice to say it boils down to two areas — praise for trying to tackle such a tough issue and critiques on focusing on this one group, in this case American Indians, and not presenting a broader spectrum of Bemidji homeless.

As Glawe pointed out in his Note from the Author on Thursday, not all Bemidji homeless are American Indians, and not all Bemidji homeless are chronic alcoholics. The majority in this group of Butch’s friends did, however, fall into both categories, and we wanted to tell some of their stories.

In addition to detailing the often tragic and sometimes frustrating lives led by this group, the series also led to the conclusion that there are no easy answers to the problem.

Is a new, large homeless shelter the answer? Or how about a wet house, a place where the homeless who are chronic alcoholics can safely sleep off a bender? What about a combination of the two? Or do we expand law enforcement to address the issue, or the social services/health departments, already stretched thin by ever-shrinking budgets. What role does the private sector play? Does Bemidji need a private rehab facility? Of course, the big question is (as always) — where does the money come from?

There are myriad factors that lead to homelessness, and we as a society have to do a better job of addressing these issues — everything from chemical dependency to mental illness to a lack of affordable housing to the overalls state of the economy.

We won’t solve anything overnight. This takes time, hard work and commitment. Bemidji has shown to be a resourceful community through its response to many a crisis. This should be no different.

People who have gone through treatment will tell you that step No. 1 is admitting there’s a problem.

OK, on to step No. 2

PS: The time for these conversations is now. On Monday, we learned that Andy Reed, one of the homeless people profiled in our series, died after being struck by a car early Sunday while he was on the streets of Bemidji. The longer inaction prevails, sadly, endings as those suffered by Butch Ryan and Andy Reed will only increase.

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