Homeless refuse shelter only because they want to drink & drug?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 6 Nov 1998 05:36:33 -0400


The article below states that most homeless people who refuse shelter do so
because they want to drink, do drugs and avoid mandatory showers.

Do you agree?  Why or why not?

Does the article below represent homeless people accurately and fairly?
Why or why not?

Do such media representations of homeless people, such as those below,
benefit homeless people?

Whose interests do images of homeless people as "treatment-resistant"
advance?

http://www.suntimes.com/output/coffey/cofy.html
FWD Chicago Sun Times - October 30, 1998

THERE'S LOTS OF ROOM AT THE INN

BY RAYMOND R. COFFEY SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Before we get all teary-eyed over yet another episode of that urban soap
opera about downtrodden homeless souls sleeping out on the sidewalks of
Lower Wacker Drive, I would like to interrupt for a brief visit with
reality.

* On any given night, through all seasons, there are from 35 to 50 homeless
people camping out on Lower Wacker. Many of them, if not most, have alcohol
or drug abuse problems.

* Also on any given night, even in the dead of winter, homeless shelters
downtown and all across Chicago have hundreds of empty beds, with clean
sheets, showers and toilets other than sidewalks.

* The reason people choose to stay on Lower Wacker--13 of the regulars have
been there for 10 or more years--is they prefer the sidewalks because they
don't want to be bound by standard shelter rules, such as no booze, no
drugs and you have to take a shower.

For years now, Chicago's Coalition for the Homeless and executive director
John Donahue have been dishing up illusory estimates of a constantly
``growing population'' of homeless people.

They also have been asking the city (and state and federal governments) to
spend more money on programs (such as their own) and on living wage jobs
and affordable housing for the homeless.

The Lower Wacker residents get a lot of overcooked media attention, as they
did again this week when allegations surfaced that Mayor Daley was now
fencing their camping grounds in order to drive them out.

What does not get much attention is the reality of what Chicago is doing
for the homeless, as seen by Sister Connie Driscoll, a Catholic nun who is
chairwoman of the Task Force for the Homeless and who since 1983 has
operated the Saint Martin de Porres Center for the homeless at 6423 S.
Woodlawn.

Her agency and programs are ``entirely privately funded--no government
money at all'' and she bluntly challenges Donahue's portrait of the
homeless plight.

Driscoll says Donahue's estimates of the homeless--the current number he
told me Thursday is 15,000--``are inflated and always have been'' out of
concern the government won't send them ``as much money as they would like.''

Donahue told me ``there are no empty beds'' in Chicago homeless shelters.
Driscoll says ``there has never been a night'' in nearly 10 years, on even
the coldest subzero nights, when there have been no empty beds.

The city has 4,805 shelter beds available, a number that will rise to 5,500
as winter arrives, according to Human Services Commissioner Daniel Alvarez.
On Wednesday night this week there were 206 empty beds.

In recent years, Driscoll said, the city has ``really cracked down on''
poorly performing shelter providers, and ``we find the shelters [now
operating] to be very well run.''

So why do the Lower Wacker homeless refuse to go into a shelter? ``Many of
them just don't want to live by the simplest rules. They want to take their
bottles and drugs in with them,'' Driscoll said.

Carmelo Vargas, a Human Services employee whose assignment takes him to
Lower Wacker almost daily, agrees that most of the homeless there have
substance abuse problems. Many have been in jail.

They have a different lifestyle, he said: ``They sleep days and stay up
nights.'' Also, besides not having to observe anyone's rules, Vargas said,
``they can live comfortably'' on the food, clothing and other gifts brought
to them by feel-sorry passersby.

Driscoll's St. Martin de Porres Center, which deliberately and specifically
takes in homeless substance abusers under rigid discipline rules, also
offers a whole range of rehabilitation and training programs.

``We have moved thousands of people'' into stable lives, she said, and
there are other homeless shelter agencies also ``doing a tremendous job.''

The mayor says the new fencing along Lower Wacker is aimed at resolving
security and illegal parking problems there--not at driving out the
homeless.

Why not? I wonder. Sidewalks and doorways were not built to be bedrooms or
campsites. There are, obviously, better places to camp out. And other
people do have some rights, too, such as using sidewalks to walk to and
from work
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