There is a very important statement made by a high up leader in homeless services here in Akron Ohio.
It's stated in this article in the Akron Beacon Journal made by Keith Stahl Director of Operations and Residential Services at Community Support Services. He states:
There is a philosophical debate at the heart of this, Stahl said. If people chose to continue to engage in negative behavior or not live in housing or take advantage of shelters, what do we want to do with that as a society? Are we OK with them just being? And if we are, where do they go?
He's talking about whether it is acceptable for people to live in tents.
This is critically important because this is the position of the entire Summit County Continuum of Care.
They aren't so blatant about the message on their web site. But the sentiment is still clearly there. It's a dog whistle to let homeless service providers know what they are doing to homeless people in Summit County.
The picture on their home page has a sub heading that states "Each person is a branch of strength within the community. Strong branches make a strong community!"
On their purpose page they declare that they are here to "optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness."
They are clearly here to make "strong branches" and "optimize" people. This is their solution to homelessness.
This is crucial to understand because of what it represents.
It is wealthy white people dictating a moral agenda on extremely poor people.
This is troubling because it doesn't appear that they have a single person of color on their board of directors. If I'm mistaken about this please let me know. While I know many people on their board of directors, I don't know all of them. In doing a quick Google search it appears to me that the people I don't know all look white to me.
Has any one of those people come from a background of poverty and homelessness?
Has any one of them experienced generational poverty and are currently living in extreme poverty? Have any of them experienced the ravages of an opiate addiction? Do they know what it feels like to try to claw your way out of an existence that is the only way of life you have ever known? Do they know what it's like to be chastised and ridiculed by the very service providers that are supposed to be helping you? Do they know what its like living on the street with schizophrenia, an opiate addiction and nowhere to sleep?
Then how do you impose draconian, cruel policy on people who you don't actually represent?
It becomes the wealthy white moral agenda imposed on extremely poor people that have never once been asked what they want.
It is an iron fist moral agenda of wealthy white people imposed on extremely poor people. It is, once again, the age old American trope of: Wealthy white people taking freedoms away from people that aren't them.
The most recent comparison is the gay rights movement.
I would think most of us can vividly remember when old white men dictated the morals and laws of the land in regards to gay rights.
Being gay was considered (and still is by many) to be immoral, gross, ungodly and it was illegal to marry someone who was the same sex as you.
It's quite easy for me to replace Keith Stahl's statement on gay people:
"If people choose to continue to engage in negative behavior... what do we want to do with that as a society? Are we OK with them just being?"
I'm sure Mr. Stahl is probably a politically correct liberal that would quickly say we should never say such a thing about gay people.
(He would probably be against the exact same wealthy old white men that are currently creating laws that take away the rights of women and their bodies.)
But where he comes from it is very acceptable to say it about homeless people.
It is a hate statement. Plain and simple. But the dangerous tragedy of it all is: HE'S THE GUY IN CHARGE OF HOMELESS PEOPLE IN AKRON.
It would be like Harvey Milk being the mayor of San Francisco and saying "I speak for gay people. Are we actually going to just be OK with them engaging in this negative behavior?"
Has the United States of America really become that place where we have "negative behavior" police? Because that's what Keith Stahl is for the homeless people he oversees.
We all are participating in negative behaviors. Each one of us. And significant negative behaviors that are completely legal and hurting ourselves and our society as a whole.
Are we now the country where we have a Keith Stahl Negative Behavior police officer coming into your home and telling you that your negative behavior is next on the list of things that are now unacceptable in America?
Homeless people are not bothering anyone. The only reason they have a trash issue is because the negative behavior police believe it would only encourage them more if we gave them trash service.
Not only is this stealing American's freedoms it also is absolutely at odds with how to actually help homeless people.
The Housing First movement, which is the only thing anyone ever talks about in homeless services, is all about accepting negative behavior. Get the addict in a house and then work on the addiction.
So, it's not even the addiction these people have a problem with. It's the tents. They HATE tents.
But if you take away the tents then how in the hell is anyone ever going to work on getting into housing when all they can think about is food, water, shelter, warmth and safety?
I mean, have these people ever even read about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?
It is psychology 101: Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.
When you take away their tent you instantly pull the rug out from under them. Both "Basic needs" tiers are instantly stolen from them.
I mean why am I the guy that has to say these things? Why are they not getting this?
The answer is simple:
They don't like tents. They think they're yucky. The mayor himself has said it is "beneath human dignity" to live in a tent. (I'm sure Native Americans would find this not a little insulting.)
Because the rich people don't like tents they are willing to take away the basic human rights of survival from American citizens that have nothing.
This is abhorrent. This is cruel. This is shameful. This is the great American disgrace.
The homeless service providers are waging a war on homeless people. It's madness.
Let these American citizens live in peace.
When we become "OK with them just being", which seems like a radical idea to Keith Stahl, homeless people will finally be able to think about where they are going next. We can work with them in the woods and help them, when they are ready, to move to the next phase of their lives. This is the only way we can help these people. This is the only way to solve homelessness in America.
We must meet them where they are today and be accepting of them.