Saturday, May 14, 2016

"It's the Neighbors that drive out the Unwanted."

The Future Trail From Salem to Minto-Brown Island

At the last meeting of the Budget Committee, on Councilor Bennett's motion to recommend the funding of addition of an additional officer to the Downtown Enforcement Team in connection with the opening of the bridge to Minto-Brown Island later in the year, the Mayor had this to say:

"It is an item that I have heard from the community again and again
and again that as we are preparing to open the bridge to Minto-Brown Island and also, even if we weren't building a bridge to Minto-Brown Island, the number of homeless people who are camping on Minto-Brown Island has increased, and the number of people from the community who have come to me and said, please do something, I don't feel safe -- we need more law enforcement to really manage what's happening in our parks, particularly Riverfront Park and Wallace Marine Park.  So, I strongly support this motion."  May 11, 2016 Budget Committee Meeting at ~3:05.

Councilor Lewis said he could not support the motion, saying, among other things,

"I just can't support the idea of a highly qualified, highly paid police officer babysitting people.  If we can't take care of ourselves, then we've got a lot more problems than police officers.  And so - it's neighborhoods that drive out the unwanted, not necessarily the police." [Emphasis added.]

Okaaaaaaay.  So, Councilor Lewis thinks people who fear homeless people (more precisely in this case, people living in tents) are babies.  That may be true, but the perception that people experiencing homelessness are inherently dangerous to the domiciled is common, and public safety has everything to do with perception, doesn't it?

What's dangerous, though, is not homeless people living in tents.  What's dangerous is a public official implying publicly that people experiencing homelessness are "unwanted", and the way to respond to their presence in our neighborhoods is to "drive them out."

It's dangerous to the homeless people.

Homeless people are far more likely to be the victims of violence than are the domiciled, so much so that Alaska, Washington, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland and Rhode Island have added the homeless to their hate crimes laws.  See here, here and here.

From Voices of Poverty by Rhea Cramer, M.S.
It's also dangerous to citizens who might feel encouraged to take it upon themselves to attempt to "drive out" of their neighborhoods people they assume do not belong there.

Encountering people who have been living rough requires tact and training.  The Salem police and Polk and Marion County Sheriff's deputies have that training.  Others do, too.  That's why officers and deputies bring them along when they go to talk to people on the streets or living in tents about engaging in services instead of continuing to live as they are.  Listen here and here.     

As discussed in an earlier blog, we really need to stop talking about homelessness as a public safety issue.  The fact that the Mayor as Co-Chair of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force continues to do this shows great ignorance and insensitivity.

As for Councilor Lewis, what can be said?  Do the neighbors of Ward 8 in fact drive out the homeless from their neighborhoods?  The neighbors of Ward 1/CANDO certainly don't, and we believe our neighbors over in Polk County are at least as humane as we are.  So, perhaps, Councilor Lewis was just very cranky after three hours of the last Budget Committee meeting, and regrets his words.  We would like to think so, anyway.       

In the end, the Committee did not recommend funding the police officer position, but instead recommended funding a one-half FTE park ranger position at a cost of $52,500.  They also recommended, among other things, allocating $20,000 for ivy removal, $20,000 for bocce ball courts, and $4,000 in the form of a grant to subsidize "arta-pottie" project costs.

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