Bob Ellenberg: Where will the homeless go?


Published: Monday, October 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Letters to the editor regularly complain about the problems of the homeless. Most are written by people who have no clue about the lives of most of those who are living without the basics most of us are blessed to have.

I feel embarrassed for them; for their naivete in thinking that the problems are so easily solved. This applies to city commissioners also, who seem to believe that they can move folks out of Tent City into St. Francis House and then ... to where?

There is no housing for them to go to; there are no jobs many of them can work; little income to spend on unaffordable housing; no wooded area they can set up tents.

If everyone only knew the extent of medical and mental problems many these people are dealing with maybe they could see why allowing them to live in the woods is not such a bad idea. When the $75,000 chain link fence goes around Tent City, making that area off-limits for camping, we're going to have many of those folks wandering around downtown, looking for a place to sleep and wondering how to get their community back.

After all, Tent City is a community of people, just like the rest of us. But for whatever their reasons, they don't fit neatly into the package of being part of the approved social milieu.

It's too bad the city commissioners and others don't see the sad, really sad circumstance that many of these folks endure on a daily basis, especially, those with mental illness. Many of the homeless can't function enough to know where their next meal is coming from. Does anyone really believe they are choosing to live this way because the want to? For some, whatever the reason, it's sad and unfortunate but it seems like it's too late for them to turn back.

Many of the homeless had little education, poor nutrition, suffered severe childhood abuse, (I heard stories I couldn't believe) or had experienced problems, one after the other, which has led to their inability to lead functional lives. Society has ostracized them as lepers. It's called "Blaming the victim."

We don't have a perfect world, and maybe it is the responsibility of society to care for them in the same way that we have established medical insurance, including Medicare, to care for victims of cancer, heart attack, high blood pressure, etc. People who smoked or ate high cholesterol, fast food, stressed out diets are costing society billions of dollars in lost wages and hospital bills. Much of that would not have been necessary if they had avoided the bad habits that caused their disease. Maybe insurance shouldn't pay for their care, since these people didn't take care of themselves.

There was a large front page article in The Sun recently about the abusive lives millions of "average" Americans live; taking prescriptions tranquilizers, sleeping pills, pain medications and other harmful substances. But somehow that's deemed acceptable.

We are a hypocritical society. We spend billions a month on a senseless war while hungry children beg and die in streets around the world. This country could be a leader and do something about it; we espouse that ethic, but we choose not to act.

Instead we shop in our malls and drive our SUVs and, as the skies get darker and darker, allow our president to get away with crimes against humanity.

Bob Sha­mal Ellenberg is a Gainesville social worker.

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