One stormy night, in the wee hours of the morning, I received an alarming call from a stranger, scolding me because my mother was cold and wet, sleeping on the street.
He sarcastically noted that I was probably in a warm bed, sleeping peacefully. I was in a warm bed, but I was no longer asleep, and my thoughts were no longer peaceful.
Soon after, the Orange County Police Department called stating they had a new program reuniting homeless people with their families, and they wanted to send my mother to Tucson to live with me.
I asked them, was she sober? They said she was a nice lady, and she would do well with me. They bought her a plane ticket and, along with her dog, sent her to Tucson.
My mother’s stay in my home was short-lived — three weeks due to drug abuse, safety and mental health issues. My three small children were being exposed to dysfunction; the same dysfunction I was exposed to as a child.
She needed her own apartment, so I used my mortgage money to pay her first month’s rent. I thought she could maintain it because she receives disability checks, but she was back on the streets within four months.
I feel bad that my mother cannot stay with me. I have a brother on the streets, too.
Many people are critical of my decision to not let them stay in my home. I understand their sentiment. I can’t help but think about them lying on the street, cold and wet, but I also think about the safety of my minor children.
As a child, I experienced bouts of homelessness, so I know what it is like to live in transition.
Currently, I live on the southeast side of Tucson. I see many homeless people but there are no homeless shelters for the general population. Esperanza en Escalante serves homeless veterans, but not homeless people like my brother.
This summer, I went with a group to do trash removal at homeless campsites. These campsites were very elaborate, with tents, fencing, generators, bathing spaces and more.
Though I was sad that many people in Tucson wrestle with homelessness, I was impressed with the ingenuity of the people who maintained these areas.
Then I thought about Tents-4-Homeless, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that addresses the need to protect homeless people from inclement weather. They provide durable, weather-resistant tents and sleeping bags to homeless men, women and children not in shelters.
Their efforts do not fix the homeless problem, but it provides protection from the cold and wet weather.
Why can’t we do this in Tucson?
Some might say that they do not want these tents littering our streets and that our homeless population needs to go to designated shelters. Sadly, our shelters are not easily accessible for everyone, they fill up quickly, and most times one needs a TB test and identification to stay the night.
Not everyone has the proper documentation — my brother included.
Giving out tents to homeless people is not a popular idea, and it’s only a Band-Aid for a serious problem — but it would help people living in these conditions.
I’m not certain if there is an immediate cure for homelessness, but I do know that groups such as 4Tucson are looking for solutions.
In the meantime, let’s do something before the weather gets colder. I’d rather see people warm and protected instead of being on the streets in inclement conditions.
Randiesia Fletcher-Riggs is is a disabled veteran, a community volunteer and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.