Yesterday, while taking the twins on a walk to the Co-op and the post office, I met an elderly woman on her way to the city council offices to drop off some paperwork. She wanted to see the babies, so I stopped and we chatted for a bit. This woman lives two blocks from a church that, because of singular zoning that affects only it among all our local churches, runs many homeless programs from their facilities, with some of the homeless then congregating in the area and sometimes causing problems for the residents. She told me of the city council meeting that night, where this issue (the idiosyncratic zoning and resultant problems) was going to be on the agenda.
KidThree and I decided to go to the meeting, which turned out to be a good thing for us. The city council room was packed, with religious people lined up around the walls and out in the lobby. (They all wore purple to identify themselves and their issue.) When public comment came, many of them spoke, several of those speakers being people who ran some of the different programs.
The speakers drove me nuts. Almost as a rule, they were smug, sanctimonious, and absolutely blind to the reality they were sentencing their neighbors too. Speaker after speaker, they spoke of the homeless as if they were fallen angels, timid, polite, grateful souls who would never hurt anyone. They ignored the reality of the hardcore homeless, of the aggressive panhandling, of seniors intimidated within their own homes by vagrants peering in their windows, even of an occasional assault. One speaker likened one senior's story of an assault with a bank robbery that had occurred nearby. The gist of her remarks was that the bank robber was never caught, so the wandering homeless were not the only threat to the downtown residents and therefore the resident had no valid complaint.
Another speaker gave a statistic that 60-70% of homeless are homeless in the town they grew up in, so that our homeless here were 'our children.' If that is true here, then the 60-70% are those welcoming help from the churches, leaving the other 30-40% being from out of the area. The hardcore homeless, those afflicted with addictions and/or mental illness, come to our town from the big city down the road--it's only a buck and a half bus ride. I rode those buses for years and know from personal experience that coming to this town is considered a way station of sorts, a place where the pickings are ripe.
It's a difficult question. Homelessness is a frightening, tragic thing, affecting so many different people, but being homeless doesn't automatic confer angelic qualities. Someone living behind a professional building for a year, peering into the windows of the elderly widow next door, is not someone who wants another lifestyle, or who at least is able to live another lifestyle. If those holier-than-thou church folks really cared about ALL of their neighbors, as they claimed to do, why was that man homeless for a year two blocks from the church? His residence behind that building ended only because he was picked up by the police, who confirmed to the widowed neighbor that he was dangerous and she should be careful about encountering him.
I don't have any answers here, I'm just venting. Church folks helping those who want to be helped is all well and good, but it is callous of them to pretend that their neighbors shouldn't object to people living on their porches or peering in their windows or encroaching on their personal space to extort money. That lack of reality in their vision impairs their ability to do real good by making neighbors unsympathetic to the real good that they can do.
It's a problem. Blast that Ronald Reagan for shutting down our public institutions. Blast homeless shelters that only open in certain weather conditions. Blast it all. I'd love to see little villages set up with the recreational vehicles that people can no longer afford to run, to get the hardcore homeless into them, with no job-hunting or twelve step participation required on their part (requirements being so often beyond them, and thus forcing them back under the bridges and overpasses).
Another issue on the city council agenda was the need for senior housing here in town. Many speakers talked about the lack of options for those ready to give up the homes where they raised their families; it was interesting to listen to them. After a bit, I asked KidThree if she minded if I got in line and said something about the lack of disabled housing, a subject near and dear to my heart as we had such a difficult time with housing following the shooting. KidThree was all for it, so I got in line and waited thirty or forty minutes for my turn.
It's no surprise that many people are more frightened of public speaking than of even death; it is intimidating. I held onto the podium, apologized for my shaky voice, and tried to look directly at the council members while I spoke. I told them of the difficulty I had finding accessible housing, that most first-floor apartments have stairs or steps or porches of some sort, and also spoke about the difficulties of getting around our downtown because of the bad sidewalks and overgrown vegetation. I told them that when they saw a wheelchair-user out in the bike lanes, they had let that person down, and told them of walking with LadyP one morning and seeing another senior out with her caregiver, that pair with the senior with her walker out in the bike lane while the caregiver was up on the sidewalk.
After I spoke, a man came up to me and gave me his business card; he was the Director of Public Works. Later today, I'll give him an email to set up a meeting so I can show him some of the problems in our immediate area. (I had invited all five of our council members to come out for a walk with me so I could show them the problem of inaccessible sidewalks firsthand.) One of the city council members also asked for me to email her, as she is interested in the subject of disabled housing. It will be interesting to see what becomes of that city council visit.
Now it's time for a shower and the dishes, as the babies arrive in a little over an hour.