Monday, June 20, 2011

Calling the Police on the Homeless is NOT helping them

 RIP Homeless personphoto © 2008 Matt Brown | more info (via: Wylio)

As I have mentioned many times, I live across the street from a park.  Currently, a homeless man has taken up residence in the park.  He has been there for five days. I first became aware of him when my neighbour told me that he had chased him off my property for attempting to use my outdoor tap. He has already been chased out of the park once, and some of my neighbours are talking about calling the police on him.  I know that in this situation, the police will not help him and in fact will most likely exacerbate the situation.

I have called all the services in the area, only to discover that there is no shelter that helps homeless men in Niagara Falls.  The only shelter is in St.Catherines which is 20 mins away by car, if you take the highway. Obviously, this is too far of a distance for a man to walk with his meager possessions.  It is my belief that he has taken up residence in the park, because it is close to the local soup kitchen. Today, I plan to take him some lunch and talk to him about moving into a mens shelter that I have found after an hour or so of research. Should he agree, I will buy him a bus ticket to help him get there. Even as I made the calls today, I was fully aware that he may choose to reject my offer which is right but I know that taking a proactive positive approach well have a better end result than simply calling the cops.

What bothers me about this situation is that in all of the neighbourhood discussion about how to get rid of this man, not a single person has thought about how to help him. Obviously, living in a park is not ideal because this is where children come to play.  My children often play there unsupervised.  He has not been violent, or threatening in anyway and therefore to me, this screams of a situation that requires outreach rather than plain and simple disgust.

I am where I am because I have been fortunate in many ways, and I don't take it for granted that I have a place to live and food to eat.  As a homeless man, he is particularly stigmatized and denied the right to take up space. He is perceived instantly as a threat, though all he is trying to do is survive, just like anyone else.  It troubles me that not a single person has seen fit to help him, and yet we readily look out for each other on my block. If we cannot have empathy for the least amongst us, then who can we have empathy for?

One shelter that I called in Welland, told me to just call the cops when I mentioned that he has a shopping cart filled with his possessions, and might need help to get there.  I was absolutely flabbergasted, because I was very clear that I was calling them to avoid calling the police.  Working closely with the police, they must be aware of the tendency to be abusive and rough with homeless people, simply because as members of the under class, though the law is supposed to apply to the equally, often it does not because justice is a rich man's game.  We have an ongoing war on poverty in a system that is designed to create poverty, and still yet few will recognize the ways in which this upside down system makes us all vulnerable to a degree.

I am not writing this in search of a cookie, but in  reaction to what I perceive as outright hostility within my community.  Last Friday, when Dan wrote his tips about how to negotiate poverty, many of you got on your pedestal to preach at him.  I think it takes a great amount of privilege given the capitalist state that we live in to wag our finger at the poor, as though whatever minor theft the perpetrate even comes close to that engaged in by the bourgeoisie. Just as Dan was attacked in the comment thread, this homeless man has been attacked for using our outdoor taps to have access to water.  The embrace of individualism has led directly to anomie, and if we do not learn to believe that no one should have to scrounge for the necessities of life, we will continue to live in a world with two categories of human beings to justify oppression.