Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fearing the Homeless


I’m not sure where this comes from. That is, the notion that somehow the homeless are dangerous. Yes, many of them seem “different” (mental illness) and many of them smell and some of them beg for money. But where is there any evidence they are dangerous?

I’m not picking on ThirtyWhat. Almost everyone I’ve been with while walking past the homeless gathered in or near the downtown Lincoln Library has expressed some fear of these folks. I’ve even heard completely irrational fears coming from members of the Springfield City Council.

Now, before you start in on me being naïve or somehow unfamiliar with the public behavior of the homeless, let me say that for three years I lived very near Chicago’s State Street Mission. I encountered dozens of homeless every day. Never was I attacked or threatened. Hit up for money? Yeah, all the time. Was I ever annoyed by being continually approached? Yes, but I was never fearful.

Here in Springfield, I think you would be hard pressed to find many acts of violence perpetrated on the rest of the population by homeless people. Can you find ANY examples of violence by a homeless person here or somewhere else? Sure, and I can do the same for doctors, lawyers, police, computer programmers and housewives.

Having said all that, I agree that the issue needs addressing by offering more help to those who need it. And maybe Blevins is right, we just don’t have the will as a city to cure the illness rather than just treat the symptoms. But fearing the homeless isn’t going to lead to positive solutions.


Anonymous said...

I can see where you are coming from on this.

I personally don't feel threatend in general by homeless people.

I'm a fairly big guy.

But I did have a chance to speak with an older gentleman in his eighties.

Going to the Library is one of the most important things he had left, but he told me he no longer feels safe in the Library, and won't go anymore.

I also spoke to a young woman about this concern, and was told that she will not go for exactly the same reason.

These are people who hold very liberal views, and would support inititiatives to assist the homeless, but they have genuine fears for their safety in what was once a safe, quiet, orderly place for people to learn.

I would probably laugh at what they are afraid of, as I don't fear most average sized folk, but I can see where they might have this problem.

Have you had a chance to take your children down to the Library lately?

To check conditions out in the evenings?


Dave said...

Sure I’ve been down there in the evening. And I’ve been there with my kids. I’m not saying people aren’t afraid, I know they are and that’s my point. I’m just saying those fears are largely irrational and based on how people look and smell. I too would like to see a better solution for the needs of the homeless than having them resort to staying at the city library and I suspect the homeless would like a better solution too.

ThirtyWhat said...

Hey, there guys ...

My fears of the homeless aren't based on the way they look or smell. My fears are based on personal experience and local news. For instance, in today's Police Beat: "A homeless woman who was among people hanging around outside Lincoln Library on Tuesday was arrested after she allegedly bit her husband on the finger during an argument."

Okay ... she didn't bite someone just walking into the Library, but that's not the point. The other day in the paper, they had an article about a fight that broke up among homeless people over money. There have been articles about people who are uncomfortable with the homeless people at the library because they shout at them ... not physically intimidating ... but verbally intimidating.

My personal experience ... one night coming back the riverboat, my Mom and I were driving across town. It's like 1 a.m. ... and we stopped at an intersection. Out of nowhere, there's this guy BANGING on our car window asking for money.

Okay ... that's scary. He didn't have a gun, but common! I think that's a pretty valid reason to be leary of my 64 year old mom going down to lincoln library at night with a wad of cash.

I mean, I'm open minded ... but honestly, every homeless person just wants to give me a hug? I guess I'm a horrible person. I'm not scared of the homeless. I generally don't have a problem with the homeless ... but am I going to walk downtown at night passing out cash? I'm afraid not. I'm a little too cynical for that.

:( It's just me? :( Now I feel worse ...

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of what the young woman I spoke to about this subject told me.

This might lose a few of you, but she mentioned the Maslow Hierarchy.

You have to feel safe first, before you can aspire to greater things - like reading books, art, etc.

The library is headed for major trouble unless they do something soon.

They can kick people out - I have that on authority from people in the know - whom I can't name.

Illinois is a state which doesn't fund libraries very well this far south, and if you lose community support it can only lead to bad things for the library.

Like being relocated on the far west of town with no way to get there using public transportation - thus eliminating the problem - but becoming a far less accessible institution (and probably far smaller too).

The library is not a homeless shelter, and no matter what our feelings are it is not the solution to homelessness.


Dave said...

The library is not a homeless shelter, and no matter what our feelings are it is not the solution to homelessness.

JP, I think we can all agree with that!