[Hpn] Fight Homelessness, Not The Homeless
William Charles Tinker
Sun, 2 Oct 2005 14:58:17 -0400
Fight homelessness, not the homeless
Sunday, October 2, 2005
Homeless people are becoming more and more visible by the day.
Sometimes they're asking passers-by for pocket change, or rummaging through
the trash in search of deposit bottles. Sometimes they're napping on a park
bench, or reading in the public library.
They are a frustration to business owners who worry that panhandlers cause
potential customers to shy away.
They are a challenge to property owners, who complain when homeless people
camp out on their land, and to police who are charged with keeping them from
trespassing and from illegal behavior on public property.
And they are the responsibility of all of us.
The ranks of the homeless are growing.
Because of Michigan's persistently bad economy, shortage of affordable
housing and cuts in government services, it is clear that the state's
homeless problem is not improving.
The local numbers bear that out: Since 1990, the number of shelter nights
used by homeless people in Kalamazoo County has more than doubled -- to
92,904 last year. That doesn't count those who avoid going to a shelter.
Some would solve the problem by keeping homeless people moving -- from park
bench to library, from library to fast-food restaurant, from fast-food
restaurant back to the park bench.
Others would solve the problem by insisting that they be allowed to collect
in one place, and allowing the proliferation to drive others away from that
Neither is much of a solution.
Most of these people are temporarily homeless. They're low-income people who
lived from paycheck to paycheck until their jobs disappeared, rent payments
were missed and eviction notices came. Or they fled abusive relationships in
the middle of the night.
The temporarily homeless are perhaps easiest to help. They gladly accept
shelter. They can be assisted in finding new employment, a new home. But
with a struggling economy that is not creating many high-wage jobs, and with
housing devouring an enormous percentage of their low incomes, they'll
always live just inches away from homelessness.
For them, economic growth and job creation are crucial, as well as greater
commitment at all levels of government to provide long-term, affordable
For the chronically homeless, who more often than not are struggling with
mental illnesses or substance abuse, the challenges are different. It is
sometimes hard to convince them to accept shelter. They're often unable to
hold jobs. Government-sponsored mental health care and substance-abuse
programs for them must be aggressive and intensive. And that can be
expensive -- some would say too expensive -- for taxpayers to support.
If we really are concerned about homelessness in Kalamazoo, then we must do
more than shoo these people from public places and more than insist that
their growing numbers be tolerated.
But it will take a concerted effort on the part of government and business
officials, along with social services and nonprofit organizations, to make a
Can city, county, state and federal officials make this a priority in their
next year's budgets?
Can the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce and Southwest Michigan First
make the issue of homelessness part of their economic development plans?
Robert Putnam, a Harvard University public policy professor and best-selling
author, told a Kalamazoo audience recently that this community should work
to reverse the national trend of more people living in isolation. Find ways
to draw people together to work on addressing community problems, he said.
Putnam said we need to do more ``bridging'' in our community to bring people
who are different together in a united purpose.
It seems like homelessness would be a likely cause.
Jack Hopkins, president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, said
the foundation would be eager to support a group of people interested in
establishing a national model for building social capital -- essentially
neighbors helping neighbors -- for a community.
A group of people in this community aiming to eliminate homelessness should
take him up on that offer.
William Charles Tinker
New Hampshire Homeless / Founded 11-28-99
25 Granite Street
Northfield,N.H. 03276-1640 USA
Advocates,activists for disabled,displaced human rights.