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Facing the Homelessness Dilemma 

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I have my reasons for not thinking too much about the plight of homeless people, but the death of Kliff Paul Groves made it hard to ignore for a while. I had to remember a time when I was one step up from homeless.

Facebook is not a complete news source, and the Daily Press hasn’t published anything about Kliff. But his descanso — roadside memorial — is by the signal light exiting from the Albertsons parking lot. Many of you saw him there with the stick he used to hobble around for the last few years.

I met him before he needed the stick, which he used because of the kind of accident that can happen to people on the street. According to a post from his sister-in-law, he died of a stroke, which is better than the violent rumor I heard. She said two of his daughters and four grandchildren live in Silver.

Kliff told me enough for me to understand that life is hard for the homeless. In one conversation he was in despair because someone had stolen his tent. Death at 60 is not a great surprise.

I’m not going to say much more about Kliff because my acquaintance was short and distant and I learned little about his background. Based on the Facebook posts about the memorial, a lot of people recognized and appreciated Kliff.

I know a little about his lifestyle because for a few years, starting about 1972, I was a hippie kid driving a beatup car or hitchhiking around the country. At one point I was down to my last $20 — although $20 was worth more then.

I don’t compare my former self to Kliff or many of the other homeless in Silver City. I chose my lifestyle. I had no mental illness or disability. I could and did work whenever I found a need for unskilled labor. I had some good times and some hard times.

I spent a few years barely getting by when I felt I was talented and competent, but nobody recognized my talent and competence. Then finally they did, and I went from failure to success so fast it made me sick.

Although I was never quite homeless, I do remember the frustration of watching people living a comfortable lifestyle that I had experienced but couldn’t quite get back to. That feeling comes back when I see homeless people barely surviving.

But now I own a business and, like other business people, I’m concerned about burglaries and “unpleasantness.” For example, I don’t want my business raided by the homeless man who was recently arrested for breaking into several downtown businesses.

On Facebook, you can see a security camera video of him wandering around a business without a care or a clue. I have my doubts that this man will be helped by existing social programs, and perhaps he doesn’t mind a stay in the detention center that our county commissioners spoke so highly of after a recent tour.
We hear endless complaints about the homeless people served by Supporting People in Need, or SPIN, but we can also give SPIN credit for trying to do something when few others are. They do something even if it’s wrong.

Unfortunately, nobody knows what to do. People are homeless for many reasons: mental illness on one end and the outrageous cost of housing on the other. Some problems are easier to deal with than others. You can help those who are capable of receiving help, but some who need the most are the hardest to know what to do for.

I know about the endless troubles of a friend who tried to be a good Samaritan to a homeless woman, but I can’t get too specific about the private lives of people we all recognize. I, too, was once let down by a homeless person I tried to help.

Maybe we can learn something from other people’s experience. On Thursday, Nov. 2, at 6 p.m., there will be a presentation at the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center by Farmington officials about how they have dealt with the problem. The title is “Community Solutions to Substance Abuse, Mental Health Challenges and Homelessness.” I hope they’ve figured it out, because we sure haven’t.

Just remember that every homeless person you see has a story — sometimes a terrible one. We’ve all heard that proverb: “There but for the grace of God go I.” It’s real for me, and maybe for you.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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