Editorial: Put a face on homelessness

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Port Townsend and Jefferson County put more resources into helping the homeless than many surrounding areas. They’re not always enough.

A 56-year-old woman died last week and hypothermia was a main factor as she stayed in a tent encampment in sub-freezing temperatures in Port Townsend.

At times like this, we naturally have a couple of different reactions. Aren’t there places for her to go? Did authorities know about this camp, and did anyone check on their well-being?  

Generally, the answer is yes. But with many individual circumstances, it’s not always easy to provide those services. Some might not be willing to accept them.

We live in caring communities with people who bring resources together to help people in need. The American Legion shelter run by OlyCAP and COAST is a prime example. The new warming shelter, which opens on Sims Way later this week, will add to the capacity. Food banks provide another layer of support.

Although we know such services are important, many of us still think of homelessness and don’t see a specific need. That term is nameless, faceless and emotionless.

The woman who died had a name, Cassandra Aldrich. She left behind a daughter who lives in Port Townsend. A grandson, too.

Aldrich was a lifelong caregiver, someone who put others’ needs before her own. She also was caring for a dog, which police reported as aggressive. More than likely, as Aldrich’s daughter told us, the dog was protecting its owner. The man with whom Aldrich was staying reportedly was barefoot in the snow last week and was taken to the shelter at the American Legion hall.

We are heartbroken and disappointed, upset it would take someone’s death to shine a light on difficult living conditions. But we also know there are many people constantly working behind the scenes, without seeking the spotlight, who are driven to prevent these exact circumstances.

The best approach is to get involved. To get to know people on a first-name basis. To learn their story, understand their past, and help to provide for a better future.

There are many fortunate people in our communities. There are also many people who aren’t as fortunate, often through no fault of their own.

It’s more personal when you connect face-to-face.

— Brian McLean

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