From the Left



The Homeless Crisis Should Not Be Treated as Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

At a lunch meeting recently, I heard someone say they liked living downtown but moved to the suburbs because "the homelessness is just too much." This same person went on to say that unhoused people should be relocated out of downtown. To where? He didn't say.

I bristled. Someone else's homelessness is not something being done to you. Having to bear witness to their struggle does not make you a victim of a mismanaged city environment.

I work downtown. One afternoon, I took a break to walk over to a gift shop to buy a friend some chocolates. A woman stopped me and asked, "Will you buy me a sandwich?"

It was an easy yes. If I can afford fancy chocolates for my friend, I can afford $10 for a sandwich. We walked together into the sandwich shop next door to the gift shop I was headed to, and I asked her what she'd like. She ordered, I paid and I went on my way. It cost me $10 and five minutes and I'm glad she asked.

I was homeless for two years following high school. I know what it's like to walk through a city or neighborhood and ask strangers for help. I've gone into restaurants to ask for free food and though I was told no many times, I was also told yes enough times to help me make it through. It's overwhelming to need so much but have absolutely no idea where to go for that help. Where does someone begin? There is no social services welcome wagon to the streets. My day was not spent worrying about the city's image or how I might look to the fancy-clothed people out on the town for a night at the symphony, dining or dancing. I had two things on my mind: Where was I going to sleep and what was I going to eat? That's it.

I clawed my way out of homelessness and I'm in a much better place in my life now, but I didn't do it alone. I had help every step of the way. I see the homelessness crisis in our country every day. I know we desperately need affordable housing options as well as addiction services. If homelessness is hard for you to look at, good. It should be. But that difficulty should prompt acting to help our fellow human beings -- not expending energy to simply relocate the problem out of sight so people don't have to confront the emotions that bubble up when they see it.


Another concern I hear is that people are afraid that homeless people will hurt them. Sure, many of our unhoused population are not clean, and many have mental health issues. If a person doesn't struggle with their mental health before they become homeless, the experience alone will challenge anyone's sanity. Homelessness is traumatic. But people who are unhoused are not dangerous; they are human beings trying to survive their most difficult days. People experiencing homelessness are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrate violence.

My family shops at Costco where we buy snacks in bulk. We buy extra and keep a box of snacks and essentials such as hand warmers in our car to pass to the homeless people we see when we're out and about in our city. It's not much, but if it helps someone get through their day, it's the least we can do. We are all part of the same community, and we are all responsible for helping one another thrive. No one gets through this life without help.


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