This is an op-ed written by homeless advocate Mike Foster. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another day, another death, that no one seems to really care about. This is how it feels to me at this point. I began serving the Tompkins County homeless population in 2010. I didn’t realize the loss I would experience. Even having spent time homeless myself, I just never imagined I would find myself in 2022 having lost count of the number of my friends in poverty here who died. I know it’s somewhere in the 60’s… maybe more. I’ve been doing this long enough to have overheard the conversations where elected officials ask the local media not to report on these things. And while I do not judge motives in desiring these things not be shared, I want people to know that, like all the others, this man was a human being.
I would like to tell you about this man who died homeless, encamped in Ithaca’s West End on Sept. 19, 2022. He had a long struggle with addiction. There were times I had to administer Narcan to save him. One time, after he left in an ambulance, I took his backpack with me to keep it safe. I couldn’t bring drugs into the building, so I looked through it to dispose of anything illegal. All he had in his backpack was about 200 unused needles, and a Bible. That image has always stuck with me. Fourteen years sober myself at this point, I know what that fight is like—the desperation to get out, but not being able to find a way out on my own.
It wasn’t all lows, not by a long shot. He managed to put together substantial lengths of sobriety, maintaining housing and employment. At one point of extended sobriety, he helped me in Ministry. He would speak to people about his life experience, and the fight to find a hope to hold onto. He did outreach to people that were still engaged in active addiction issues. He educated family members who were experiencing someone they love dealing with addiction issues. The phrase I heard the most from him was “I’ll do anything to help, just send me.”
The temptation for us all is to engage in the thought process of “oh well, another addict got what they deserved.” But if we choose to engage in that thought process, we lose the image of shared humanity, an image that is supposed to be a priority for us all, not an exception. I would like to encourage my brothers and sisters in the Christian community to go to those who are marginalized and build relationships with them. We as Christians are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s a command from Jesus Christ that isn’t optional for us. We don’t love them as much as we love ourselves, we love them AS ourselves. This means we see that we are connected in our humanity. We all get hungry. We all get thirsty. We all get tired. We all know joy and we all know suffering. We all know hope and we all know loss. As human beings we all share Beingness. Including this man, my friend. His name was Jason, and he was a human being, in need of love just like you and me.