The furor over the wealth of 13 regular users of Portland’s homeless shelters reminds me of when I worked at a Fairbanks, Alaska, drop-in center for street people, mostly alcoholic.

The idea that a typically understaffed shelter would first look at bank balances before letting the person in is ridiculous on its face.

Now we’re learning it would have been more honest had the Department of Health and Human Services checked the backgrounds of these repeat users.

Think of the laser-focused criticism we’d hear from the DHHS had one of these 13 died from exposure after being refused admission – and then it turned out the shelter made their decision because the person had $20,000 in the bank, but they failed to learn that the person was mentally ill and/or didn’t have access to the money.

At the shelter where I worked, we’d first ask clients to turn in any weapons, remind them that alcohol and drugs weren’t allowed and try to keep them awake. (Regulations prohibited our clients from sleeping in the shelter.) Repeat offenders were always allowed to come back.

As shelter staff, your primary responsibility is to provide shelter. A straightforward conversation with someone abusing the shelter takes place inside the shelter. You don’t assume that the person’s status stays the same.

Some of our clients might be drunk when they arrived. A few could be violent; we’d then call the police, who found an alternate warm place – jail. When you are a shelter employee, your primary job responsibility is to provide shelter. Our drop-in center was a low-cost alternative to much more expensive police time.

A subgroup of 13 questionable shelter users out of hundreds of clients doesn’t constitute a pattern of incompetence by the Portland shelters. In our current political climate, I’m chalking this up to a convenient data set to achieve a political objective.

Jo Ann Myers

Waldoboro