When I heard the news that a man was found dead on Monday morning, it hit me like a punch in the gut. When Moab Solutions starting working with the homeless in 2008, we made a promise to ourselves that we would not let anyone die on our watch if we could help it.

The chronically homeless are marginalized, invisible, vulnerable, and very often trapped in a hellish existence by mental health challenges and addiction. They go from jail to the street to the hospital to jail in a never-ending cycle that gets them nowhere fast. The best society could offer this man was the longest jail time that could be mustered, just to keep him safe. That was not enough to save him.

Moab’s nonprofits and agencies do their best to cobble together responses to this serious societal ill, yet it isn’t enough. We need the city and the county to help us help those in danger of dying on our streets. We need more than a reaction to a tragedy. We need to prevent tragedy from becoming reality, and in fact, we need to create an environment that nurtures people’s desire to make a change.

When we started our five-year weekly meetup with the people living along the creek, the whole community got involved. Churches made Sunday dinners, volunteers made gourmet lunches, people knit warm hats. The community got to know the homeless population and accept them as fellow human beings. In the warm glow of that acceptance, many found the courage to try something new. We helped people get into drug and alcohol rehabilitation, reunited some with family, found housing for many, and did green job training with a number of them. Eventually, there was nobody left living along the creek.

But without the ability to maintain sustained efforts, hard-core chronic and the newly homeless filled the void left by those who successfully made it off the streets.

What this death reveals about society is a lesson in what not to do. Do not ignore this problem. Society creates and thus society can solve this problem. We can do better and we must do better. If just a tiny percentage of the efforts that go into frivolous pursuits became a focus on solutions to the issues that create and maintain homelessness, we could truly begin to find the answers. And then all of society would benefit.

My friend, I am sorry we could not keep you safe, and we hope that you rest in peace

Note: Since this letter was written, we have provided emergency shelter for two men who were out in the cold.

Sara Melnicoff

Founder, Moab Solutions