In response to the large amount of feedback the Pioneer has received as a result of the first story in our series “Homeless in Bemidji,” Editor Matt Cory suggested I write an explanation of my motives for pursuing and reporting on this issue.
Since moving here in late December I’ve been seeing the same faces around town. They’re the faces of people I’ve identified as being in a group I’ll call “visibly homeless.” No, they do not represent the entirety of Bemidji’s homeless population; no, not all homeless people are Native American; and, no, not all homeless people are heavy drinkers. But most of the visibly homeless are, and I’ve been working with some of them for the past three months in an attempt to learn what their lives are like. Sometimes, lives can be ugly.
Anyone who takes from this series that all homeless people are drunks or Native Americans is missing the point, in my mind. The point of “Homeless in Bemidji” is to encourage discussion. From what I’ve seen in my time here, Bemidji is a compassionate and thoughtful community, with the ability and resources to tackle tough issues. When the body of Butch Ryan, a homeless man, turned up on the shores of Nymore Beach in late June, I expected more of a reaction.
I didn’t see it.
My hope is that members of the community who previously hadn’t noticed these street people see them for who they are — people, not merely criminals or drunks. Some of the information contained in the stories is not easy to read. Some of it, in fact, is incredibly sad and upsetting.
But it’s important, I believe, and none of it would be possible without those who have let me come into their lives, even for a little bit, and allowed me to tell their stories.
Sherry Iceman and Andy Reed have been especially welcoming to me. Iceman, with whom I’ve had several late-night discussions regarding not only homelessness but this series in particular, has been open with me. She has found herself in a difficult situation, and isn’t always proud of her life, but is willing to tell her story. That’s an extremely brave decision and she should be commended for it. She has asked for help and, in a way, I am asking for her. As a reporter, I simply have a louder voice.
Providing the information with which to spark a discussion is one of the most important functions of journalism. With this series, that is what I hope to achieve.