When Fear Wins

Last night the city council of my community voted 9 – 0 to support an ordinance from the Mayor banning overnight camping and storage of personal effects on public land. In effect this ban criminalize the homeless in our community. In a city with a shortage of shelter beds for men and no beds for women, the question was asked of the Council and Mayor: “Where do you sleep and store your few possessions when you have nowhere to go?” They had no answer.

photo of homeless woman and police

The presenting issue seemed to be a small encampment near an elementary school. One parent who supported the ordinance spoke passionately of his fear of seeing homeless people near his child’s school. What he was afraid of went unstated and unchallenged. The implication was that the homeless are to be feared, especially near children. Neither the Mayor nor the Police Chief who spoke did anything to dissuade the parent of his fear.

One citizen who spoke in opposition to the ban suggested that the ban be limited to encampments near schools. This seemed like a reasonable accommodation but neither the Council nor the Mayor were interested in anything short of a total ban.

In my 30 years of walking with the homeless, in the vast number of instances, they have not wanted to draw attention to themselves. They simply want to have space to be. Surely I’ve had to set parameters with my homeless neighbors on occasion, but I’ve never thought of the homeless as a group to fear. Unfortunately this stereotype was reinforced by last night’s vote.

Over the years I’ve developed some close friendships with people who happen to be homeless. I’ve learned their names and stories and found that we have much in common. I’ve learned that a person doesn’t choose to be homeless but rather is the result of circumstances that could have the same result for any of us. I’ve come to admire their strength in living with challenges that would have completely broken many.

The vote of the Council was a sad day for our community. Yet I think of Dr. Martin Luther King who said: “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I’ve been on the losing end of many a vote over the years but as a follower in the way of Jesus, I hold onto the belief that love not fear will ultimately have the last word. Together let’s keep the faith.

Note: A hopeful sign is that the Mayor and Council are forming a task force to explore the causes that lead into and keep people homeless. The challenge is to work with and hold the task force accountable to provide for the most vulnerable of our neighbors. In whatever community you call home I encourage you to add your voice for the common good.

6 thoughts on “When Fear Wins

  1. How sad….no solution, just “not in my backyard.” Here in McMinnville we know we earned the problem….we offer a hot meal every single day of the week. An effort is being made to build a facility that will not only include temporary barrack-style overnight housing but small apartments (?) for people enrolled in training programs, offices of all the local programs in one place, and a day center for a place for the homeless to be in bad weather. IT will take a couple of years. Until then, the overnight emergency shelters at the 5 participatory churches, the public library and a few other places are it. At least this city has a heart.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I agree that McMinnville has taken leadership in this area. Interestingly in that community it is the faith community and partners from the non profit and concerned individuals that have taken leadership in a humane outreach to our neighbors who are homeless. Here in Beverly it seems to be government officials taking the lead at the moment…and not in a humane way. Time for those of us in the faith community with concerned individuals and non profits to step up and set a humane tone and agenda.

  2. Dear Kent ~ I was at the City Council meeting last evening, and was struck by your commitment to and your great compassion for the homeless. While the ordinance’s passage was disappointing in some respects, I found some encouragement in the ambivalence of many of the councillors toward it. I hope that the expressed intention to look deeply into Beverly’s homelessness problem will bear fruit. I think it’s up to those who care about our marginalized brothers and sisters to keep the city’s leadership accountable.

    All best,

    Jennie-Rebecca Falcetta

    1. Dear Jennie, thanks for your presence at the meeting. I look forward to meeting and working with you for the common good. The forming of the task force is an opportunity is an opportunity for all of us to let them know our thoughts and offer our support. I agree with your comments ‘it’s up to those of us who care for our marginalized brothers and sisters to keep the city’s leadership accountable’.

  3. I was unable to attend, but did send a letter explaining my opposition to this statute. It seems my reasons for not supporting it were, in part, similar to those that led to its passing: that we need to take the time to understand the needs of those among us without homes. The fear of those without seems to also need our attention as a community. Thanks for your review!

    1. Thank you for your response. My hope is that this disappointing vote by the Council will heighten the level of discussion here in Beverly as to what kind of community we want to be. Look forward to working with you and others for the common good of all particularly for those without a voice.

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