What is a Life to You?
By Harmony Robin • Guest Columnist | As I sit and gaze out my window, the summer breeze cools my face. Listening to the sounds of a summer night and typing away what I hope will have significance or meaning to someone, somewhere, someday.
A few days ago I came across an article on Facebook and decided to click on the link and read it. Normally I don’t take the time to do so, nor do I take such time to scroll through my news feed to begin with. But, this particular article piqued my interest and so I began to read…
It was an article from a local news circuit in my community. Smoky Mountain News, had published an article and its title read, “Bridge Cleanup Fiasco Could Result in Legal Action.” Hmm, “bridge cleanup?” I murmured to myself. Having the time and curiosity I started to read.
The article began with a paragraph explaining a group of “concerned citizens” dubbing themselves as “Saving Haywood” could be facing legal action. This particular group was formed in an effort to address the problem of homelessness in our community. The volunteers of this group conducted what they called a “cleanup” by disassembling a makeshift home. This makeshift home was the home of a man and his dog. A home he had created because circumstances in life had left him with no other choice. A man who was working at the time of the “cleanup” as a landscaper and planned on returning… To what, at the time, he called a home. A man who was homeless and considered an eyesore to the community. Not the whole community. Just the “concerned ones.” Only an eye sore to the members who really cared about our town and how its appearance was presented.
I continue to read, and the next line is a quote from the homeless man. Stating his name and age at the end of the quote. The quote reads, “Everything I own is gone.” name, age...
My heart fell to my stomach, and I felt panic as I tried to continue the article. Hurriedly scanning every next word, as if my life depended on it.
The article begins to explain the circumstances as to why the man became homeless and touched on his past, his previous employment and previous living situations etc. All throughout the article quoting him, because he was the reason for this particular story being published. I make it halfway through the article and the author once again quotes the man. I begin to feel the stinging in my eyes and the lump in my throat turns to tears pouring down my face as he is quoted saying, “Everybody needs a home, or someplace they can call home, where their stuff is, where they can go and relax, decompress and put the world aside and just restore themselves.” “Whether that’s under a bridge or on top of Eagles Nest Mountain, (which is where the wealthier of our community reside) generally everything you own is at home.”
It was May 1 of 2021 when the volunteers of this group along with four of the city’s local police officers raided what he called his home. Not only violating his right as an American citizen to privacy, but also violating our fourth amendment right to have our belongings seized under no authorization by any official … or notice of said seizure of belongings. His belongings and personal items were not only seized by “volunteers” of the community, but they were also all disposed of and tossed out like he was nothing, no one. Just as they said, “an eyesore to the community.” His birth certificate, social security card, clothes, cookware, cooler… EVERYTHING tossed into the garbage. Like HE didn’t exist. Like his life had NO value. Like he wasn’t human just like you and me.
Quoting the man again, “They passed judgement that I was of little to no value, likewise my things.” That was all true. That is exactly what they did. How immoral and unjust this act was. Not only to him but to all the other homeless they had seemingly just bulldozed away weeks before.
Being quoted in an article from a different news source was one of the leaders of the volunteer group called “Saving Haywood.” A man who had moved to this community, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains from Florida. He states, “The amount of litter and garbage you tolerate is kind of a barometer of how much civic engagement there is in a community.” He goes on to say, “It’s important to address this. A preponderance of litter lowers property values and sends the wrong message. Syringes definitely need to be addressed.”
This man moves to the community that I have called home for thirty-three years and wants to be part of a change? A change to better the community. His concern however, about syringes or homelessness didn’t come across as concern for this community or the people who inhabit it. In fact, it came across to me as someone who moved here to retire and wanted to spruce up the town's physical appearance. So, others, like him, could acquire property to flip. Then sell or rent as profit to line their pockets during retirement.
This town is very different from the busy and homeless filled streets of the big cities in Florida. Maybe he really didn’t expect that people in every single state in this country experience real struggle. Maybe he doesn’t know that over a half a million people in the country are homeless on any given night and a third of them are unsheltered. Then again, I would hate to make assumptions or judgments about anyone I don't actually know.
In this separate article, ‘The Mountaineer’ goes on to quote this man once more as saying, “There is a preponderance of nonprofits thinking they are doing a great thing by providing constant handouts, but that has a negative effect as well.” he goes on to say, “It should be a hand up instead of a handout.”
The word “trash” was used quite a bit in this article by ‘The Mountaineer.’ However, how much of what they bagged up during all the weeks they have been “Saving Haywood” was actually trash? How much of the bags were filled with someone’s last and only items from whatever former life they had before their current struggle? How much of what was bagged up was food, or their only means of identification such as birth certificates or social security cards? Things required to seek employment in this country. The group bragged in this article about how much they had “accomplished” and how much more could be “accomplished” with more hands. With more volunteers, more people who are eager to “SAVE HAYWOOD.”
Yes, as I sit here and type away, the summer night breeze no longer cools my cheeks. In fact, my cheeks are flushed with red. I’m so outraged when I think about how much is wrong with what is being done to the community of our homeless. How immoral, unjust and disgusting it is to just throw someone’s belongings and their life to the wayside. Because they’re bothersome to what some want to seem like a “perfectly beautiful little tourist town in the mountains.” Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that this happens everywhere. I wish with everything in me that I could change that. Changing someone's mindset is hard to do. Especially people with no moral backbone. I can, however, see what is going on right in front of me. I can try to be the change, be the voice for the people who aren’t even given a chance to have one. The people who are just like you and I… I aim to do just that.
That homeless man under the bridge… he has a name. His name is Elijah. He is human and deserves to be treated as such. He is intelligent. He is funny and witty. He is talented and he has a heart. A heart that has taken on more struggle than most ever will. That man living under a bridge… he is my brother. I KNOW who he is. I know what he has to offer this world. I know his heart and I know he, nor anyone else, anywhere, ever deserves to be treated any less. His backstory is no one’s business. His life and means of living…. no one's business. We as American citizens have that right. The right to privacy as we bear the same right to our belongings.
You see a story like this one on tv or read about it in the newspaper or online, however, your reaction after that, defines your character. Are you the person who says, “good, I’m glad someone is finally cleaning up the mess,” or the one who says, “wow, that is so sad and immoral and just wrong.” Yet, you shake your head and go about your day, forgetting by the end of the day that you even read the story at all. As the sun sets, you get ready for bed after eating a warm meal and taking a hot shower. There are people just around the corner wondering where they are going to lay their heads and rest their weary eyes once more. With empty stomachs and dirty clothes on their backs they search. Hoping to get some sleep if any and prepare themselves to take on the cruel world when the sun once again rises. For them, tomorrow is another battle. Another constant uphill climb and that must be so mentally and physically draining that it’s hard to even fathom.
We are quick to forget and put it aside because we can’t change the world, right? Quick to put it aside because we are too busy and it just isn’t our problem. Quick to put it aside because we have enough on our plate each and every day, enough to deal with. While in the back of our minds we painfully hope that someone else WILL actually deal with it. Someone else will fix the problem. Someone else will find a better solution. Someone else, someday. Just not us and just not today.
I know, I have thought this. I have done this most of my life. Whether it be something I have no control over or something I could have had a voice about but didn’t. Not that I didn’t care or wasn’t passionate about certain things. I just selfishly felt like my own struggle was enough and I couldn’t possibly take anyone else's problems on.
As a single mother of three kids working and going to college, some days I’m barely keeping my own head above water. “I know it's out there but what can I do?” I say to myself... I can ignore it, choose not to watch the news, or read articles online, turn my head when I see someone holding a sign or standing outside a soup kitchen. Because if I don’t see it, well, then I don’t have to feel guilty for not trying to do my part.
I hope everyone, at some point, feels compelled in their lifetime, compelled to stand up for something or someone who has no voice or isn’t even given a chance to have one. I know I am not backing down from this issue in my community. I know what I want to show my children. I want them to see what is right and morally ethical. I know we, as humans, are not here to just merely exist. I may never be or see the change I would like to before leaving this earth. Sadly, I feel it will never happen in the entirety of this world's existence. At the end of the day, my belief is that we are here to love and be loved. We are here to try and understand and respect one another. Here to embrace the differences within each of us. We are here as a test to our morality, our character and our hearts. One mind, one body, one soul. What are you doing with yours?
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My question is this if the "Saving Haywood" people are all about saving our community, why not try out the method that my grand parents and great grand parents and people of their generations did offer a helping hand instead of condensation on those who are less fortunate. I was born and raised here in Haywood and have moved away for a while and moved back. I have been in the situation of being homeless and not knowing where my next meal was coming from, I have lived in a make shift tent made from a torn tarp duck tape that was gained by ill gotten means at the time and what clothes I had to make a make shift pallet to give some relief from the cold hard ground. I have used tin cans to dig out a hole to make a fire to try and stay warm. Thanks to some people who cared I was eventually able to work myself out of the situation, but destroying what little people have all in the name of "cleaning up the community" is utterly disgusting. Why not instead of these new apartment buildings like where the old Bi-Lo building is at, where an apartment is rumored to be 1,000 a month for just a one bed one bath, they actually make some apartment buildings for the homeless where they have a place to live and to clean up on the grounds of where they have to find employment and work for their place to stay, big cities have been making tiny home communities for their homeless with such guidelines and rules, some even as far as just working for the city cleaning up trash off the sides of the roads to be able to earn a place to live and some cash for food and other needs. The drug use issue that's been cited in news articles boils down to this yes alot use drugs for various reasons and get hooked on them some started because they got addicted to perscriptions that were being handed out all willy nilly, then again there are alot of people who started using drugs as a way to dull the mind so they could cope with the hoplessness of being thought of as untouchable, an eyesore, or many other reasons, not all homeless are homeless because they want to be, and for those who have lived here for most or all their lives remember until we started having an increase on people moving here from big cities and places we never had the drug problems we have now. So back to my original statement where have the old timey methods of uplifting the poor and downtrodden of our community with love, understanding, and a helping hand. Don't just turn a blind eye to what's going on in our town because it wont just disappear if anything it'll only get worse.
I don't believe one word that Harmony Robin says. For instance, Elijah was not working as a landscaper when Saving Haywood cleaned up under the bridge. He was in fact in jail. Why does she feel it is okay for her to lie about this?
Let's pretend she were right and Elijah was able to keep a job as a landscaper while homeless. There are better options for him and for the community than him living under the bridge. Pathways can help people to change their habits such that they won't become homeless again. So yes cleaning up the bridge was the moral act and the Saving Haywood people should take pride in having done it.
I am so disgusted by the Overhultz couple & their comments, I had to take a moment so that I may comment with tact. However, I do strongly suggest to the Overhultz team, just as my mother always told me, think before you speak. Lisa & Erich, we welcome you & many other outsiders every year to our beautiful mountains & we do so with open arms. “We” (I) request only one thing of you, and frankly should be a prerequisite to land ownership in the area. It is kindly requested that you respect the land, culture, & people of our community. We would not come to your city with dump trucks full of dirt & dump them downtown. That would be crazy. Though mountains are much prettier than concrete, concrete is what that city chose, so concrete it is.
I take particular issue with the use of the word ‘concerned’ citizens. Assuming there exists basic civic knowledge amongst this group, I find that ‘concerned’ is very much a misnomer with regard to their objective (which is clearly defined within their comments). Concerned citizens implies concern for the community. Community implies our people & our land. Read carefully as both of the Overhultz crew each specifically outline their motivation. Lisa even goes as far as to attempt slander with regard to an individual of this community she has never met. Now that’s a questionable moral compass, but I digress.
If the true issue were solely the “eyesore”, why not address the various components that culminate to make the eyesore? That is what a true concerned citizen would attempt. Lisa& Erich, have either of y’all ever spent a day pulling weeds? It’s called “pulling weeds” because if you don’t get the root, your work is in vein as that weed doesn’t even wait for you to walk away before growing commences. I do sincerely hope each of you read this & I pray you receive this message: you’re not fooling anyone. It doesn’t take a genius to gather that your actions that May Day & those thereafter show complete disregard for the issue at hand & the people of our community experiencing said issue.
Your actions were poorly planned, unethically carried out, & followed up on by equally disturbing perspectives. Thank you for your comments as they do lend valuable information with regard to your motivation. They also show zero comprehension for how terribly you missed your mark of offering anything positive to this community. If anything, you fueled the fire. All that work, in vein.
Those people are still homeless. Homeless on the streets of Haywood County. I’m fairly sure all you accomplished was pissing them off. You may have also earned yourself a court date. Time will tell. But please understand if you are to positively contribute to this community, your actions must not be rooted in greed. Affluence is obsolete when your heart is in the right place.
Nobody cares where you’re from but rather how you conduct yourself amidst our community. Thank you & God bless.
I'm the "Florida guy" referenced in this writer's remarks. It doesn't matter whether your from here or not- if you live here, this is your home and your community. The writer touts her 33 years of being a resident here, but if she's satisfied with the downward spiral of the community, then it is a sad reflection on how she sees her role as a citizen in her community.
Thankfully there were plenty of citizens ( not just at this bridge site, but throughout town) that cared enough about their community as well to clean up the trash that was turning our community ugly. Under that bridge alone was over two tons worth of trash. It took 13 volunteers over 5 hours to clean up. As far as discarding personal items, if any positive items having personal I.d. would have been found, such as a driver license or social security card, it would have been turned over to the police. The objective was to clean up a dangerous eyesore.
There is a big misunderstanding involving the motives of those who participated in the cleanups- we are not anti-homeless; far from it. We want to see people back on their feet and living healthy productive lives. What we are tired of seeing (aside from the trash) are policies and practices which only enable the destructive behaviors which sometimes ( not always, but sometimes) contribute to the homeless population's spiral downwards. Needle/syringe giveaways, constant handouts with no accountability from recipients, and pretending that garbage piling up isn't really happening...all are strategies destined for failure.
Thank you to all citizens who took their personal time on a beautiful Saturday morning to pick up litter and clean our community. Haywood County is a beautiful place that needs to be kept as such.
Elijah had a place to stay at Pathways. Apparently he couldn’t cooperate and ended up under the bridge. The bridge that is not public property. Therefore, he and the other individuals that were “living” there were trespassing. The Saving Haywood group had permission to be there and to clean up the area. The trespassers had no such permission.
It’s easy to talk about what is perceived as unfair and cruel. Why not take Elijah and his dog into your home?
It’s a shame that some people sit and criticize but don’t actually get all the facts or come to a clean up to see the situation for themselves.
Maybe the Floridians need to help this community become what it once was… beautiful. Maybe someone who has lived here for thirty three years should be rolling up their sleeves and helping clean up the wasted food filled with maggots that was left to rot or help clean up the human waste, used feminine products and syringes that were left all over.
By the way, that bridge is located approximately 300 yards from a playground. If the locals won’t restore “their” community, then the outsiders will.
It doesn’t matter where a person is from. What matters is if a person cares the community enough to be involved.
Beautiful and thoughtfully written. Thank you for sharing this.