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Why Homeless and Homeless-Ally Suppression Has to Stop if We Want Good Places

Prior to my father’s passing, he was in a state that I have come to term “functional homelessness.” He was often a fixture at the local soup kitchens and occasionally popped into the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), our local day center for those who are either homeless or in transition. He still had his home, intermittent work, and a working car.

A similar situation had befallen the young man who was also featured with me in the Sunday News & Record two weeks ago. Once gainfully employed and able to keep himself and his mother under a more stable roof, he’d been forced into a tent city after a stint of unemployment and losing his apartment. His mom eventually found more permanent shelter, but he continues to live in his tent, getting by on a temporary minimum wage job. People have reached out for help as a result of the publicity the article garnered and I hope that will mean that he’s free from living in a tent and intermittent employment.

But there’s no shame if he actually wants to live in a tent. There’s no shame if he wants to participate in an untraditional, but legal, economy such as bartering his skills and services. Why do we create these kinds of spaces and places of shame? Why do we not support simple economies, economies that allow for simple dwellings, bartering, and sharing food, tools, skills and other things in a marketplace as a major economic development strategy? Why must cities chase after luxury apartments, performing arts centers, multinational corporations and “young professionals” to feel successful? Why are we not concerned enough, at least in Greensboro, with the loss of a major health clinic, so much so that we’d pledge money to make sure it stays open, like the sudden pledging of money to ensure we have a major performing arts center and a brand new partially private park?

I do want to commend Greensboro for continuing to support initiatives around providing people with stable homes, jobs, and food such as the IRC, the Urban Ministry and Bicycling in Greensboro. Another shout out to the churches, including my home church, who support the homeless and those on the fringes of the traditional economy and middle and working class. Why can’t we be proud of those measures and make sure we support them  as an economic development strategy?

The Corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. A central point for homeless services and a congregation point for those in transition, outside of the IRC, here in Greensboro.

The Corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. A central point for homeless services and a congregation point for those in transition, outside of the IRC, here in Greensboro. Photo Credit: Kristen E. Jeffers

This is especially relevant after this weekend, where in my other hometown of Raleigh, the basic act of feeding the homeless out in the open became illegal. This is on top of Columbia, SC banning their homeless from their downtown and other cities enacting similar restrictions either downtown or in the city limits.

I don’t fault the minister in Raleigh for not wanting a criminal record of his own, since that’s problematic in itself. However, this man was forced to choose between feeding people and giving himself a record that could keep him from employment, therefore, putting himself in the same situation as many he was hoping to help. It makes those who have been arrested at the Moral Mondays even more courageous as many of them are risking respectability on one front to protest injustice on another front. There’s also the other issue of the high cost of obtaining a legal permit to serve food or hold an event in the park in Raleigh. If the park is for the public use, why such high user fees for an official assembly? What constitutes an “official assembly”? I understand helping pay for clean-up and security, but is there not a way to reduce the costs to use our open, completely public in this case, space?

Ultimately, the City of Raleigh has stepped up to apologize and work on a real solution to allow Moore Square to continue to be a place where those on the margins, whether by choice or by necessity, can come together and at least break bread. After all, we encourage those of greater means to eat in the parks during lunch and dinner hours, what’s so different about what this ministry and other ministries are doing for those of lesser means?

There are two major issues here that we need to address if we want to move forward in an inclusive manner. First, we need to continue to find ways to incorporate services and opportunities in centralized areas, namely our traditional main streets, downtowns, uptowns, CBD’s, lifestyle centers or whatever your city chooses to call these areas. Second, the criminalization of those who LOOK undesirable and of those who choose to help those who are “undesirable” has to stop.

The loss of public services like health clinics in centralized areas will push our most vulnerable further and further to the margins. The reason why areas of urban poverty were able to sustain some form of a civil society was due to their proximity to social services. When we shut down or push further out these services, then we create larger and more vast pockets of metro-area poverty. Areas that were built for people of decent to massive means to take care of themselves are now areas where the rent may be cheaper, but the other costs are far higher. If we re-centralize and continue to support centralization of all of our social services, much like we want our entertainment and luxury centralized, it brings up all the members of society, regardless of the level at which they choose to engage the greater economy.

The criminalization of people who LOOK threatening adds to the prison-industrial complex and lowers the morale of those who are on the margins of the city. The greater issue I’ve had with our youth curfew here in Greensboro has not been safety and positive activity of our youth, but of the idea that one bad apple spoils the whole lot. So you may have had one or two panhandlers that harass. What about the others that quietly beg or even better, are singing on the streets? So the singers can stay, as we have made provision for here in Greensboro with our new street busker program, but the person whose need we really can’t determine can’t? I’ve been victimized by people claiming to need help on the streets, but does that mean all people living on the streets are bad? I feel like my own black peers, from my teen years until now, don’t always respect or understand who I am, but does that mean I write them completely off, to the point where they could go to jail just because I THINK they are a threat? Absolutely not.

Cities really need to check their privilege and methods of advancing their cities, if they think criminalization of certain populations or the inhibition of servicing certain populations is going to aid in the continued economic growth or re-start economic growth in their cities.

I know we can all do better. Let’s keep doing better and keep making sure that just like I said in my last post, placemaking remains democratic and not a privilege. And even though there is evidence that homelessness has decreased, it doesn’t mean that it’s over or that a tent is less valuable than a house.

UPDATE 8/27 9:35 a.m.: Some community officials and advocates are speaking out against the closing of the Healthserve clinics here in Greensboro. H/T to the News and Record. Missed this before I went live this morning.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Billy Jones

    “Why do we not support simple economies, economies that allow for simple
    dwellings, bartering, and sharing food, tools, skills and other things
    in a marketplace as a major economic development strategy? Why must
    cities chase after luxury apartments, performing arts centers,
    multinational corporations and “young professionals” to feel successful?
    Why are we not concerned enough, at least in Greensboro, with the loss
    of a major health clinic, so much so that we’d pledge money to make sure
    it stays open, like the sudden pledging of money to ensure we have a
    major performing arts center and a brand new partially private park?”

    I have long advocated the model you speak of be openly allowed and supported… But to answer your questions: because such a model returns no profits to our local developer elites who pull the strings and run our local government.

    • kristenej

      True, but I don’t have to support that as a citizen and one considered to be part of the demographics that they want. But I rest my case. Something still had to be said for our community mixing up its priorities.

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