Eureka City Hall has been the site of a homeless encampment for a few weeks now. From all accounts the tents are gone by the time city workers show up in the morning, and the cops have been letting the people camp there ... until now.
This weekend the homeless were moved out by the police. The usual problems were cited: trash and the like. The protest (as some had made it out to be) lasted about 30 days. Ironically enough, the past few days have been some of the coldest of the year. That's a great time to move the down and out out and away.
Eureka has a homeless problem ... like many other areas. I've lived in Old Town. I've seen it first hand. Some of them are homeless by choice. Some of them are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control. Some of them are aggressive. Some are super nice. The point is, they are people like everyone else, but unlike a lot of other people, they don't have a roof over their heads, they are often the victims of random crimes and bothered by police. This group at city hall didn't have a place to go, so they went to city hall to make a point.
Whether or not the point was made remains to be seen, but one thing can be sure, moving them out did not solve the homeless problem. Yes, it may have kept the city hall parking lot "cleaner," but it did nothing to address the problem of homelessness in the first place. Honestly, I'd rather the police clean up the drug dens then roust the homeless, who were getting out of sight by morning anyway. So why this? Why now?
The economy is in the toilet. More and more people are ending up on the streets. We may not always be happy dealing with panhandling and whatnot, but this is a problem of society. As a society we have to deal with it. We can't look aside. We can't pretend it doesn't exist or doesn't effect us. These are families, these are young people, old people, smart people, addicts -- they are people, and to ignore them says more about us then it does them.
The police may be happy that they don't see tents in the city hall parking lot anymore, but where did those people go? They didn't just disappear. They didn't suddenly find homes. They went elsewhere and the problem remained. Just because we don't see them now doesn't mean they aren't there.
The poor in America are a lot like our elderly -- disposable and forgotten about except at certain times of the year. (Chritmas for both.) Granted, people have their own problems to deal with, but we can't ignore what's right under our noses. We can't pretend it doesn't exist.
A few of the homeless protesters (they say they were protesting the lack of housing and how the homeless are treated) were interviewed on KIEM. They may not be as articulate as the usual talking heads, but they had a lot more to say. The one thing they said over and over (in not so many words) is that they are people and that shouldn't be forgotten.
I'm big on personal responsibility. I get irritated with getting asked for money. But I still have compassion and understand that people have different obstacles they got to get over. I can't be vocal about personal responsibility as long as I make sure it goes both ways. I can hold the homeless as responsible as I hold the homed. As long as we live in this world together, the problems of the homeless are everyone's problems. Eureka can't considerate itself a compassionate city if it is forcing the homeless out because some workers found toilet paper in a stairwell.
The obvious answer to homelessness is: Give them homes. It's not that simple, however, though it would be nice. We could legalize squatting, but that still wouldn't solve things. A lot of these people need the help of social programs meant to combat addiction, chronic unemployment, medical needs and so on. Some of them are veterans with PTSD. (What does that say about us when we have homeless vets with issues?) Some are families who have never had to deal with this before and they have no idea what kind of help is available to them. So what we need is not only homes, but also the idea that these people aren't problems.
It's tough when you look at the scope of the problem. It's so huge it seems like there is nothing that can be done. And maybe that's true. Maybe there is nothing you can do ... at least not so on the surface. If you don't have the means or knowledge to help, the least you can do is not make their lives harder. You don't have to give money -- that's fine -- but don't refuse to give them your change and then berate them for forty seconds. Who does that help? Does it make you feel better? Do you think your "pep" talk will cause them to become magically employed?
Years ago I worked for a retail establishment. My boss and I were outside cutting some wood for shelves. An obviously homeless man came up to us and asked for change. I said (truthfully) that I didn't have any. My boss told him to "get a job."
"God bless," he said, and then he walked away.
I pointed out to my boss that we could've used the help with the wood. "Why didn't you offer him a job?" I asked.
"Look at him," she replied. "Who would hire him?"
I didn't point out that she was perfectly capable of changing something for this guy that she was complaining about -- lack of a job. She could have had him working, but instead she advised him to get a job even though it was doubtful she would ever hire him in the first place. Her lack of responsibility for the situation coupled with her rudeness probably made her feel better. It did nothing for me, however, but to establish the idea that my boss was a hypocrite and a bit of a shit, too.
So the police brought the homeless campers an early Christmas gift. How nice of them. How progressive. How New Age. I guess we can all feel better now. We don't need to have our field of vision cluttered with unpleasant reminders of where society has failed. We don't have to see them as we travel to get a $3.50 coffee. The police turned on the light, and they scattered like cockroaches back under the sink. If their presence worked that well on protesters, imagine the results if they came up against real criminals.
I understand that we live in a society of laws and rules, but I'm still a little ashamed right now. I don't get some kind of joy in thinking people whose lives were most likely pretty miserable in the first place just had more misery dumped on them by people who are employed to serve my safety. I didn't ask for this. I don't know anyone who did.
Camping at city hall was asking for problems, but instead of treating them as such, maybe the police should have asked if there was anything they could do for them. After all, last time I checked they were there to serve and protect them, too. I guess on the plus side they're all used to being treated like shit so this was nothing new anyway.
We could've treated that differently. Instead, we did what we always do. Maybe next year.