Cities have been trying to figure out how to handle the issue of homelessness for years. Rightly, people want our society to be compassionate. Equally appropriate, we don’t want people harassed and property damaged or made filthy. So, what to do?
It’s also well known that a large percentage of homeless people have mental illness issues. The person who falls on financial hard times and finds themselves living in a park does happen, but not frequently. In any solution, you address the majority situation not the exception.
Given all of the above, how do we create a compassionate, just and workable solution that benefits society and homeless people alike?
One, it will cost money. I’m the first to save Government overspends and tends to throw cash at problems to little effect fart too often. But it will cost money – whatever the outcome.
What if we take that money and ensure that homeless shelters have sufficient basic capacity for sleeping, bathing and eating? Not a pleasant place, but a place to survive. “There are too many homeless and many won’t stay”, you say. Agreed, so part two of the plan is for Government to make it much easier for Police to commit a person to a mental institution for short term evaluation and make it easier for those institutions to keep folks there long term if their condition warrants it. For that, we’d need more mental hospitals. More money. But what else would you do with mentally ill people? It’s foolish and cruel to let them live under bridges, even if they want to. Compassion must take a strong hand here.
Next, these shelters that I’m speaking of should have a hard and fast set of rules. You go there because you need to, but when you do you do not fight with others, you don’t drink, you obey curfew – you’re there to survive not act out or get drunk or high. If you don’t obey, you need to spend the night in a harsher place – jail. Or if you are mentally ill – and police need training to identify that as best they can – you need to go to the aforementioned mental hospital.
Finally, with places to go and services available for room and board for those who need it and medical help for the mentally ill, we need to close down the option for sleeping in public places, urinating in public places, defacing public places and tent cities. Once the problem “where will they go” has been addressed, there is no excuse for letting people live in public places.
Will there be people who refuse the rules at the shelter because they want to drink? Will there be people who want to be out of society altogether except to sleep in a park? Yes, to both of the preceding. And other issues will cause people to want to opt-out of the system. But a society that is compassionate and just is built on rules. Without rules, compassion is gone, as is justice. Why? Because you are causing pain to one person or group by allowing another person or group to operate lawlessly.
A generally better situation for all involved would be established if the above protections were enacted. Few people on the streets. Less crime. More help for those who need it. And a structure for society that allows people to be more comfortable on the roads, in the parks and on the sidewalks that they fund through tax dollars.
It’s hard to do on many levels, but a just and compassionate society would make those difficult choices – for the best future for everyone!