Day Center and City Council members threatened over proposed homeless housing

Posted: June 8, 2010 in Bureauacracy, Discrimination, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Morality, Politics, Stereotypes, Stupidity

Prejudice toward and hatred of the homeless isn’t new. It exists in every community across the nation.

Whenever homeless support services (HSS) agencies or local governments propose, either creating new services or expanding existing services, invariably there are those within the community who voice strong opposition. That opposition takes on many forms: protests, angry discourse at city council meetings, fear-mongering, letters to the editor of local newspapers, and etcetera.  

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the stakes have been raised.

According to a news report from Tulsa World, an "informational meeting," (originally scheduled for this Thursday) regarding the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless’ plans for building a supportive housing complex on their property has been canceled. The reason for the cancellation: safety concerns.

As it turns out, the Day Center’s offices – as well as several city council members – have received multiple threats of violence.

The irony is that most opposition to the building of either homeless shelters or housing for the homeless is based on the belief that it will increase the numbers of homeless and – along with it – bring an increase of criminal activity.

The article doesn’t specifically mention it. But, I’m willing to bet that the threats have come from one or more housed persons within the immediate vicinity of the proposed site. And, it makes me wonder: who are the real danger to society?

In this instance, it certainly isn’t the homeless. Rather, it’s one or more of the "fine up-standing" members of the community.

Although I don’t agree with NIMBY-ism, I can understand concerns that area residents might have regarding the building of homeless housing in their neighborhood. Yet, that doesn’t justify making violent threats.

That type of terrorist behavior is akin to those anti-abortionists who talk about "the sanctity of life," but then destroy abortion clinics to prove their point.

But, this sort of vigilante mentality isn’t specific to Tulsa.

In October 2009, a meeting was held by the Hillsborough County Commission to publicly discuss a plan by Catholic Charities to host a "tent city" for the homeless in Tampa.

200 angry citizens gathered at the meeting to voice their opposition. Some of them informed the County Commission that they had "… bought guns to protect themselves from a plan to house the homeless."

What made the perceived fears of local residents’ all the more ridiculous – at least to me – was the objection to where the encampment was to be located. Based on the strong opposition, one would have thought it was being put right next door to a child day care center or literally in someone’s backyard.

The reality however, is that the nearest residential neighborhood to the proposed encampment was 1,200 feet away (the length of four football fields) and on the opposite side of a divided highway.

Even more preposterous, was the closed-mindedness of the people who attended the meeting.

Despite repeated attempts by Catholic Charities and other homeless advocates trying to explain the need because "… the recession had pushed otherwise hardworking families into the streets, or that the needs were greater than the current infrastructure could handle," opponents of the encampment refused to listen to the facts.

Perhaps the most sickening part of it all was due to County Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

The New York Times reported it this way:

"Mr. Higginbotham initially seemed to favor the idea. ‘In these tough financial times, someone has stepped forward and has been willing to reach out a hand of generosity,’ he said. ‘That’s what this country has been founded on.’

Then he introduced a motion to reject the [encampment].

The impression Mr. Higginbotham and opponents created was that of a lawless shantytown where the homeless would benefit from programs paid for with tax money."

Despite knowing that the area desperately needed additional "shelter" for the increasing numbers of homeless in the area, Mr. Higginbotham showed his lack of moral backbone and acquiesced to the mob mentality of those in attendance.

It seems odd to me that Hillsborough County residents are so fearful of the homeless, especially since Florida leads the nation in violent crimes against the homeless. So much so, that Florida lawmakers recently passed legislation, elevating attacks against the homeless to hate crime status.

Homelessness is more than just a social issue: it’s a human issue.

It can (and does) afflict "regular, everyday" folks from within our own communities. And although there are no easy solutions, significant numbers of homeless can be helped back into housing. But, only if we are willing to set aside our petty prejudices, our over-exaggerated fears – and our ignorance.

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Comments
  1. Rev. Cynthia says:

    ~Michael, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the proposed new homeless services center to be built in SLO.

    Also, I have the feeling that communities may have the impression that more homeless people come into areas where shelter is available, when in fact all of those same people were already homeless in those communities, but simply did not have a sheltered place to sleep. So, instead of being unidentifiable (because let’s face it, the vast majority of us tend to all look the same whether housed or unhoused), having folks in shelters makes it more obvious how many people are homeless and who they are.

    I question if some of this fear might be based on the terror of how very close most people are to being homeless themselves and the helplessness of that. If they think it could never happen to them, they are delusional. Fortunes can be lost and even the most seemingly secure safety nets can evaporate right before one’s eyes.

    I would also like to make the observation that just because someone looks disheveled or seems to have substance abuse or mental health issues or is panhandling does not necessarily mean that they are homeless. Just as the fact that someone is walking down the street wearing a business suite does not mean that they have a place to live. Many people without housing are working at regular jobs and living out of their cars, they simply cannot afford the cost of rent.

    • michael says:

      “I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the proposed new homeless services center to be built in SLO.”

      Cynthia,

      Regarding the proposed “homeless mega-center” – if media reports are correct regarding the overall cost of the project, my personal feelings are that it would be fiscally more responsible (and would better serve the community) if those funds were directly used to help those homeless who are employed regain housing.

      I mean no disrespect to those who are proposing the new center (indeed, I know several folks who work for local homeless support services and whom I admire). However, studies have already shown that shelters do not offer an effective solution for reducing the numbers of homeless in any community.

      To address the second part of your comment:

      People fear what they do not understand – especially when it is shrouded in misconceptions and stereotypes.

  2. RJP3 says:

    So the property values and safety of the people who live near by do not matter.

    HOW NICE.

    There is 100 pecent TRUTH that many homeless people have mental health problems and DRUG problems. Especially in the Meth and Heroin epidemics that are growing.

    Some Homeless do people kill and rob.

    • michael says:

      RJP3,

      Your assertion that: “There is 100 pecent TRUTH that many homeless people have mental health problems and DRUG problems.” is misleading and meant to deliberately shift focus onto only one cause of homelessness.

      While it is true that there are homeless who have mental health issues and/or addition disorders, however, they represent a minority. The actual “100% TRUTH” is that the overwhelming majority of homeless do not have these issues and are basically decent folk.

      With regards to your statement that: “Some Homeless do people kill and rob.” – it would be more accurate to point out that there are more violent crimes committed by “housed” people per capita than there are by folks who are homeless.

      I find it extremely sad that individuals such as yourself will engage in fear-mongering by selectively parsing their statements (and subsequently putting their ignorance on display for all the world to see) in order to justify their prejudiced point of view.

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