This is a part of a series of questions asked Anawim about the homeless by our neighbors in Gresham.
This may seem on the surface like a ridiculous question, but it is a very real issue in cities throughout the U.S. Not only are neighbors asking this question, but cities are making sit/lie policies to move the homeless off of public sidewalks, parks and benches.
The funny thing about public spaces is that they are for… the public. That’s pretty much anyone.
Sure, a person involved in a criminal act can be arrested.
And there are some activities that aren’t acceptable in public spaces, like having sex, drinking alcohol, fighting. And the police can be called if these activities are happening in public spaces.
I hate to inform you of this, but the homeless are part of the public. Almost all of them are citizens. This means that they have the same rights as any other citizens: innocent until proven guilty; freedom of speech; life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. The whole works.
So asking the homeless to remain out of sight, to stay only in certain areas, to remain out of sight where families might see them… well that smacks of segregation talk. Do you really want to go there?
The real issue is, most people in their comfortable homes don’t want to be reminded that poverty exists, and that it is uncomfortable. Those who have their needs met don’t want their children exposed to those who are in desperate need. Those who are secure don’t want the poor around for it makes them insecure.
But to say that the poor shouldn’t be in public is tantamount to saying that poor people just shouldn’t exist. They should just disappear. They are uncomfortable, so they don’t belong where we can see them.
Not every displeasing part of life can be hidden from view. If you think it is uncomfortable looking at a homeless person, just think what it means to BE a homeless person. Oh, perhaps that’s why you don’t want them there. If you see them, you can see yourself in their place. If your children see them, they can be made as uncomfortable as you. Or worse, they can ask you uncomfortable questions like: “Why is that person digging through the trash?” Or, “Why don’t we help that poor person over there?”
The uncomfortable parts of life are there to stir our compassion. If we chose to let it stir our anger at the poor, we are using the wrong emotional tool.