Not Here 8/26/19

Opinion piece by Richard Bleil

This morning, I heard of an incident from November 5, 2018 in Kansas City, NE. A volunteer organization ended up in an altercation with police over the food they were serving, which resulted in police pouring bleach on the food to be sure it could not be served. Now, to be fair, Kansas City health officials claim that the food was not being handled safely, saying the volunteers had not been trained and the food was transported in the trunks of cars, and complained that the organization had not obtained the proper permits to do so. The group claims that nobody informed them of a need to obtain permits and disputes the official claims of what happened at the site.

I was not there, and do not know what did or did not transpire, but more and more, officials are lashing out at the unwanted. Rocks are being placed underneath freeway underpasses to make it impossible for homeless to sleep there. “Art” is being placed where benches once were so homeless cannot sit there. “Detention Centers” are being used to house people (yes, people) seeking asylum.

Perhaps I’m cynical. Maybe the food really was dangerous due to poor handling. Maybe, as the official story goes, the rocks are meant to protect people so they don’t accidentally roll on the road in their sleep. But I can tell you that, even if it is unofficially, there is an attitude of shuffling homeless people out of cities because they are undesirable. Mayors are putting people on buses and shipping them to other cities because, well, not here.

People don’t like to see the strife of others. We tend to get uncomfortable and nervous if we see somebody crying. In New York City, on the very first day that I had arrived, I was told by at least three people to ignore the homeless, because I won’t even see them by the end of the week. But I never wanted to be the kind of person that could turn a blind eye to the plight of others. On the day I left, I was still seeing the homeless, and saw each and every one of them as I left.

We need to do better. It’s not that we CAN do better; we NEED to do better. I have been in a cycle for loss for a very long time, so maybe my perspective is a little more sensitive than it would have otherwise been, but I have made plans for being homeless. I’ve considered where to go so I could live without a roof, especially through the winter. It’s a frightening concept to consider if you would eat rotting food, or sleep on it for the warmth it gives off, but it’s a more than a concept for some. There are people who make that decision every day.

And it breaks my heart.

In Rapid City, the police (no doubt under the orders of the mayor) went to a privately owned Catholic church to inform them that they will no longer let homeless people sleep in their basement. The city had built a place for homeless to sleep, out in the undesirable neighborhood far removed from the city. This church had let homeless sleep in their church for years, and rarely had any problem. They accepted everybody, regardless of state of intoxication. The new facility would not accept people who were drunk, so being intoxicated, but not so intoxicated as to be admitted to the hospital, means you have no roof over your head.

Some of my readers might be thinking that this is not a bad thing. If they can’t afford a bed, maybe they shouldn’t be buying booze. I understand that. But what I don’t understand is their story. I find it difficult to blame people who are struggling that badly to want to escape and forget it all. It’s probably not a good life choice, but now you have an intoxicated individual out in the street without help, where nobody can provide services to them, and those who want to have been shut down by “city officials”.

Is that right?

I cannot tell you what is in the hearts and minds of city officials who shut down a church offering beds to the homeless, or who pour bleach on food so the homeless cannot eat it. I can’t tell you if their intentions are good by providing what they perceive to be safer accommodations or food, or if this is a cover story so the homeless are “not here”. I know that this is not what our country was built on. I do know that this is intolerance, not acceptance. I know that stories like this make me ashamed of what we have become. If people want to reach out and help, giving of their own resources and money, spending their own time, then city officials need to find a way to help them to do so, rather than just block their efforts.

Police get a bad rap already. They don’t get to be like the firefighters, rescuing kittens and being there for disasters. The police do protect society, but do so by upholding the laws meant to protect the citizens. They’re like the “mean parent” who is the disciplinarian, the one who grounds us when we are doing something that we shouldn’t be doing. Don’t make it worse. Seriously. Let’s avoid stories that are still circulating nine months later because of how heartless they seem.

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