“Why Can’t the Homeless Stay Out of our Parks and Streets?”

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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.

  1. September 13, 2012

    Steve Kimes

    This may seem 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 question, as always, is: where are they supposed to go? How can you tell people NOT to be somewhere if there is no place for them to BE? Are you just saying they shouldn’t exist at all?

    Needless to say, I get heated at this issue.

  2. September 13, 2012

    Megan Brown Sutker

    I get so frustrated with this, too. It is such a stupid question (in all it’s variations), it almost cannot be answered. I remember getting so flustered at one meeting and blurting out “Because the Ritz won’t let them sleep THERE!” the level of intentional ignorance and outright indifference is maddening. I know you work in it every day. Blessings…

  3. September 13, 2012

    Mike Furches

    In Wichita we have a local officer, Our Community Policing Officer, starting up what is called a HOT program that educates the homeless as to their rights. One of which is their right to access public property. In some situations the homeless have taken legal action against those who would deny them their rights and they have won those cases. I am not sure if you guys have a HOT program or not, but well worth checking out and advocating being established in your city. I personally wrote and our church voted unanimously to support the program with letters of support. Wichita is basing its program on the program in Colorado Springs, a link to their program follows: (don’t know why the trouble with the link, but use this one, go down to the 3rd link) – https://www.google.com/search?q=homeless+hot+program&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

  4. September 13, 2012

    Steve Kimes

    That’s great. We should definitely have something like this.

  5. September 13, 2012

    Mike Furches

    there are a number of cities now that have it, a key is in finding a local officer who will be wiling to get it going. I know our officer quite well. I know that Colorado Springs was our training site as we are about the same size and all

  6. September 13, 2012

    Steve Kimes

    In Gresham, the officers don’t like talking to us very much. But the Sheriff’s Dept might be a different story.

  7. September 13, 2012

    Mike Furches

    What makes a difference and one of the ways HOT helps is it educates as to the rights of the homeless, and the ways they can actually sue if need be to protect their rights. I am not per say encouraging law suits, but when it comes to standing up for the rights of the homeless, there has been national precedent as to Human Rights and Civil Charges against various municipalities that has helped them. It is amazing at how some cities will change their precedent if they run the risk of loosing millions of dollars.


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