Last week brought to mind the words of Thomas Paine, who was addressing the future of a yet-to-be-born nation.

Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

If the response of elected officials, community volunteers and the more than 30 people who showed up last night at The Salvation Army to learn about how to become official volunteers is any indicator, this is not a community of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.

It was Thursday, Nov. 7, when government officials in the county learned The Salvation Army wouldn’t open its warming shelter that night, which it had done in previous years when the forecast was predicted to be below 32 degrees.

It was the next morning when City of Madison officials became aware of the situation. By that afternoon Madison Mayor Bob Courtney had organized an emergency meeting with the county’s emergency management agency director, Troy Morgan, and city department heads to find a way to provide temporary shelter for those who had no shelter from the cold.

The city’s warming station was opened that night as a temporary shelter from the cold and remained so through Monday night as another emergency meeting was set up for Tuesday afternoon to find a longer-term solution.

The biggest question of the hour when the Tuesday meeting convened was “how did this happen?”

Lts. Justin and Stephanie Hartley, who came to the Madison facility a few months ago, and some of their colleagues from the Army’s headquarters in Indianapolis told the group the facility here in Madison is not set up to be a shelter, and, there are Salvation Army national rules and regulations they must follow for an official shelter.

It is unfortunate the Hartleys and the community had not yet had time to know each other and work together. It is troubling that the policies of recent years do not meet the standards the Hartleys now face.

What’s most unfortunate of all is that the Hartleys did not communicate with local officials and community groups before the day temperatures were set to plummet.

But, as Mayor Courtney ably guided the group, the talk started to turn from a who’s-to-blame to what-do-we-do.

The Salvation Army representatives explained the building itself isn’t the only challenge. They need volunteers and those volunteers must go through special training and certification to work with the people who come into their facility asking for help.

Before that part of the discussion ended, Lt. Stephanie had offered to have the year ahead considered as a “provisional year” and attempt to open some shelter areas if the Army could get volunteer and resource help.

Lt. Justin told The Madison Courier that the Madison operation has an annual budget of about $350,000 and a $45,000 United Way grant that enables programs and help for children, families and individuals in need as well as providing breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. It receives no government money at either the federal, state or local level.

He said the overnight warming station trigger was changed in Madison two or three years ago to 32 degrees by 5 p.m., which resulted last winter in overnight shelter operations through most of January and half of February. That requires specially trained volunteers and workers and supplies.

Carol Marsh, who has worked for The Salvation Army here for many years and handles the intake when people come in seeking help, observed that most of the homelessness in this community is now related to drugs.

Marsh’s comments were not four hours old when David Sutter, the county prosecutor, went before the Jefferson County Council that evening to get council blessing on a grant he has written seeking to add another prosecutor to his staff to deal only with drug cases. Sutter provided documentation of 500% and 600% increases since 2014 in methamphetamine-related or possession-of-syringe cases. Ask Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Thomas or Madison Police Chief Jeremey Perkins about the increase in drug-related offenses. Talk to Jefferson County’s commissioners or council members who are working their way toward a new jail. Or, regularly read Record pages in The Madison Courier.

That’s not to imply all the people who seek help from The Salvation Army are addicted to drugs. Marsh also cited the struggles of veterans and the folks who just find themselves in unexpected tough circumstances.

But, it is also to point out that when an adult falls through the cracks and needs help for whatever reason, there may be children and other family who had depended on that adult and no longer can, which causes the problem to spiral.

The country is struggling with how to deal with homelessness. The National Coalition Against Homelessness estimates that 12% of Indiana residents experienced homeless from 2014 to 2018.

Homelessness is not only a problem, it is also a symptom of more basic conditions such as mental health issues, drug abuse and poverty that affect many, if not all, in our community, not just those that are homeless. These problems are OUR problems and require a community-wide effort to improve. It is not the Salvation Army’s and it cannot be left to our local governments to solve. We as a community must be part of the solution.

This community took reasoned and compassionate first steps this week. Let’s continue on the path.