I love South Whidbey.
I first moved here kicking and screaming at the age of 15; I graduated from Langley High School and like so many youth, I couldn’t get off the Island quick enough.
I returned however in 1984 after traveling and living in various states, from one coast to the other. I realized that there was no better place to be found to raise my children. No other place to feel at home.
Although everything seems to have always been more expensive and of less variety here on the Island; from milk to gas to housing to clothing to what have you, we just live with that reality as an exchange for living in this little paradise. It’s worth it to us to be able to call this place home.
I love how this community steps up and surrounds and wraps their arms around well-known Island residents who have been presented with catastrophes. Be it a long-term illness, a house fire or a death. It is heartwarming how the community rallies!
However, I feel an absolute need to try to call attention to an inevitable consequence of our economy. Of being a rural community with few resources.
We have issues directly related to being a rural community. We also have and face challenges which mirror larger urban areas. What we don’t have are the resources the larger, urban communities have. We have to rely on each other. We are community here. We are family.
Are you aware, that there are many people here who have fallen off the radar or perhaps were never on the radar to begin with and are in dire need of help from their community? That there are homeless, hungry, tired and frightened men, women and children here, in our little paradise?
These are people who every day, week after week, month after month have to choose between food, shelter, heat, clothing, school supplies and gas to get to and from their jobs so they can continue to choose between food, shelter, heat, clothing and school supplies.
What happens when they can’t juggle those few dollars successfully? They go without food. Without warmth. Without basic necessities. Forced to move out of their homes because the money wouldn’t stretch far enough?
Where do they go? What do they do? There are no homeless shelters here so far as I know. I believe there is one still in Oak Harbor. That doesn’t help the families or the individuals living on the South End working at a minimum wage job. Which, by the way most jobs on South Whidbey are. These aren’t new circumstances nor are these the only scenarios.
These are some of the circumstances that are growing in numbers every year. Of course, people also become homeless as the result of other situations. The circumstance/situation doesn’t change the reality of being homeless. Right here. On South Whidbey.
Nearly every single one of us is one paycheck, one illness, one car accident, one crisis away from facing homelessness ourselves. And if not you personally, I’m betting that someone you know is. You may not be aware of it, but chances are you also know someone who will go to bed with hunger pains tonight. Not a pleasant bedmate.
This week was not the first time that I’ve heard a story of a person who suddenly found themselves homeless on South Whidbey. I know there have been and are people who essentially live in their cars, lay their heads down wherever they are able at any given time. Some are lucky enough to have a friend offer a room for a short period of time. I remember a man many years ago who was trustworthy enough that a local business owner allowed him to sleep at his business after hours. This week though, I was told the story of a near 60-year-old woman who found herself homeless Monday evening, in need of some sort of temporary situation so she could work towards having her own shelter again. She had the good fortune to be given a phone number, which she called.
As a result of this call, another call was placed and she was provided a place to sleep for a couple of nights. In a trailer with no water, but shelter just the same. She can stay only a couple of nights because the young woman and her partner who reached out are also about to find themselves without shelter. Yet, they extend hands, hearts and share the little they have without question or hesitation. We should all be so lucky to possess half that much compassion.
I know people of nearly every financial position in our community. From those who practice that money juggling act to those who have more than enough; who are in positions to help; who have empty, unused cabins, campers, trailers, rooms above their garage. This is a small community. How is it possible that we have millionaires living among us while others are homeless? Hungry? Frightened? Living every moment in a state of crisis?
Let’s step up and help our fellow community members!
There are many ways you can do this. The first thing you have to be willing to do, is to be willing to give of yourself. It’s so easy. Take a look around, we do have many community members who do this already. Join their ranks. Dare to reach out and make a difference in another person’s life. Dare to lend a hand to someone in need. Dare to set an example of compassion. Dare to help your neighbor. Dare to help a stranger.
Those who are homeless, hungry, tired, sick, frightened, alone in crisis don’t wear signs around their necks announcing their circumstances, but if you listen, really listen, you will know and you can help. When you are called upon to give of yourself, don’t question or judge, just do it!
How will you explain to your children, to your grandchildren that you didn’t help because you “thought someone else would”? I know that
I would find that explanation impossible to conjure up, much less tell my children and grandchildren.
Debbie Grimm is a longtime Islander who has raised six children on South Whidbey.