Hiding Our Problems

I think “Hide The Homeless” laws, like this one (Board of Supervisors to vote on ordinance banning soliciting on streets), are generally questionable for at least two reasons:

1) They push people WITH needs out of view of people who could SERVE those needs.

Do panhandlers, newspaper salespeople, street musicians, etc. make you uncomfortable? Sounds like you are a human being. Could that discomfort lead you to act to help a fellow human being? Sounds like maybe a useful bit of discomfort. And I’m not saying you have a DUTY to help, but if you feel lead to help (either in that moment or later by reaching out to a homeless service organization) aren’t we all better off for your having been faced with a need, and being led to serve that need?

2) They treat a symptom but leave the disease.

Stay with me here, homelessness is not a problem, it is a symptom. It is a symptom of a disease of disconnectedness in our community. Homelessness occurs because people have no family, friends, job, church, neighbors, or other network to turn to in their need. There are major economic elements (Do we effectively connect existing residents and newcomers to jobs?) but as many of you know homelessness is NOT equal to joblessness, it isn’t even primarily about joblessness. There are many contributing elements to a person ending up on the street and only one small one is whether they have work. We need to recognize that a full vibrant economy (promoting and allowing the broadest economic development possible) is the foundation on which we lay a healthy, interconnected community, but then we need to think about all the other things that community needs.

We need a community with strong churches and other voluntary organizations working in our urban core. We need to have a community that treats abusive drug consumption as a symptom of disconnectedness or addiction, instead of criminalizing and further marginalizing people (often young people) who are desperately in need. We need men and women to step up as coaches and mentors and employers, for sports and tutoring and arts and Scouting and internships and jobs and other positive youth activities, helping to put our kids on the right track early.

It might satisfy some people’s aesthetic vision for the county to “disappear” this symptom of a deeper problem. But if it really IS a deeper problem, is an “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” policy really the best strategy?