Let's help our homeless residents, not ignore them

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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To donate:
The Salt Mine’s operational manager Joe Sorber said residents can help the homeless by providing nonperishable food and/or cash donations that will be used to buy food. Where: Bring in donations to The Salt Mine at 590 Lincoln Blvd.
When: Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Invisible residents.
That’s what the homeless are to most of us.
I pass a few every day as I walk downtown and I see them at night as they walk, with all their possessions fitting in one bag, toward the Auburn Ravine.
But I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine.
With the exception of one or two homeless residents, we don’t exchange pleasantries.
Yet they’re as much a part of this town as I am.
Such as Gregory James Sims, a 41-year-old who didn’t remember how many years he has been homeless.
Sims lived at his grandfather’s house on Eighth Street until authorities “kicked me out” of the house.
His grandfather worked at Gladding, McBean and Sims attended grade school here.
About 25 years later, Sims is just trying to survive another day.
And it’s difficult.
I talked to him last Thursday afternoon as he sat huddled near the Third Street railroad tracks. It was 39 degrees out and all Sims had on were ratty jeans, sneakers, T-shirt, a lightweight jacket and a red stocking cap.
His attire was no defense against the steadily dropping temperatures.
“I stay awake a lot. I don’t get too much sleep,” Sims replied when I asked how he survives in bad weather.
Sims was not able to describe how he exists daily, without money, to buy the basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.
“I worked at fast-food places in the past and I tried to recycle but there are too many people recycling now,” Sims said. “I try to get by with garbage cans, dumpsters.”
And “every now and then,” Sims said, residents give him a few dollars for burritos.
The previous Monday night, Lincoln police received a call from a concerned resident that someone might need help near the railroad tracks. Police Cpl. Jeff Morse found Sims trying to sleep and left Sims a yellow plastic cover (multipurpose emergency blanket) to shield him from the elements.
Although the plastic was very flimsy and thin, Sims said it provided “a little” warmth.
Sims did not expect that his life would improve. The longtime Lincoln resident was more concerned with how he would get through the day.
He also felt removed from the everyday life most of us experience.
That is, we go to work, we go to school and then we go home to a warm house. Plus we have food and clothes available to us in our pantries and our closets so that our necessities are met 24/7.
Unfortunately, Sims can’t say the same.
As for the multipurpose emergency blanket that Cpl. Morse gave Sims on the frigid Monday night, the blanket is flimsy. It’s plastic on the outside and barely quilted on the inside.
“It’s not very warm,” Morse said. “It helps retain the body heat. It’s the same blanket used in car accidents for victims until they’re transported to the hospital.”
Even if Sims has trouble articulating his needs, Lincoln residents can still help him and the approximately 110 other homeless residents who call this city home at one time or another.
For starters, Morse suggests donating $10 blankets sold by Target and Walmart to the Salt Mine.  
Those blankets are much warmer than the emergency blanket he gave Sims.
Lincoln Sgt. Kevin Klemp also suggests that residents donate to the Salt Mine because “that’s where they go for food and help and church.”
The Salt Mine, on the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Sixth Street, provides food and showers daily for the homeless, and clothing and blankets when needed.
“We see on a weekly basis about 25 ‘regulars,’” said Joe Sorber, the Salt Mine’s operational manager.
There is no facility that homeless residents can go to escape the cold and to sleep at night in Lincoln.
 “Right now, the city of Lincoln has no shelters set up, no facilities for the homeless,” Cpl. Morse said. “The majority of homeless people have family here but they choose to be on the streets. During warmer weather, they go to McBean Park during the daytime.”
Both Morse and Klemp said the homeless do not cause problems.
 “They’re just like everybody else,” Morse said. “They have their problems and issues that they’re dealing with but they’re dealing with it just like everyone else.”
And Sgt. Klemp said the police don’t have much to do with the homeless.
“They don’t cause us a lot of problems. They keep to themselves and they don’t bother a lot of people,” Klemp said. “They usually want to be left alone.”
 Throughout the country, cities have struggled for decades to end homelessness but the answer is nowhere in sight.
With that said, the temperatures are going to drop considerably more in the coming weeks and the rainy season is starting earlier this year in Lincoln.
 I hope we all can reach out and provide some compassion to the area’s homeless throughout the year. Although they keep to themselves, the homeless need our help.
They’re really not invisible.