Credit: Homeless Solution by Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune, UT

Every day in the United States, people are threatened by law enforcement, ticketed, and even abused both mentally and physically by our local police departments.

As fractions turn into misdemeanors, those who cannot pay their fines must spend some time in jail. Many citizens of this country lack access to decent and stable housing that they can afford.

I must inject here that it really is the fault of everyone. It is our fault that we have let housing costs get so out of hand. We have turned what should be a necessity into speculation and commodity. And as the rents increase, so too does the proliferation of people having to live on our streets.

Unable to figure out how to compensate, our representatives, with the backing of some stereotypical, entitled, elitist, bigots in our city, turn toward criminalization as the answer to the housing crisis. Well, we too have the ability to label. The victims of the housing markets are turned into outlaws, separating them from the rest of society. We are labeled with such names as “crackheads,” bums, druggies, and transients, to minimize the humanity of some really nice people who are the victims of street life. We also see the fear that rises up to blame the homeless for everything that the others feel is necessary to blame on the poorest among us.

Education is lacking in what is actually out there. One only sees the physical side but really does not know the story of how or why a person sits out there going through their possessions in front of us all.

It is okay to punish the victims of the housing industry as Americans seem to be stained by the influence of exile, and deeply ingrained class and status conditions. This is what guides us to create and enforce laws that restrict the visibility of poverty. It seems that people react to homelessness with higher rates of negativity than to any other marginalized group in our city. They react with fear, annoyance, disgust, or anger about the people who are out there. They attack the person and not the reasons for homelessness.

Too often homeless citizens experience forced evictions or “sweeps” of our encampments usually with little notice and no provisions for alternative housing.  This means the destruction of important documents, medicines, and what little shelter we have made for ourselves.

Criminalization policies are ineffective and make it harder for us to exit. Because we are unable to reach for and obtain conventional choices, criminal and civil punishment serves no constructive purpose. We know that it is the most expensive and least effective way of dressing our issues. And it wastes scarce public resources on policies that do not work. Over 25-50 percent of our population has a criminal history. Arrests sparked for non-violent offenses such as sitting, camping, or begging for help.

Golly! People who are lucky enough to still have a conventional house should be aware that being out on the streets in and of itself, is punishment. We experience trauma, poor physical and mental health, abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, and mood disorders. Most of which is caused by selected coping measures dealing with the stress of living on the streets. We, who face homelessness, are no more likely to be a criminal than housed persons, with one legal exception. We call it Camping Ordinances.

We are no more likely to perpetuate a violent crime than a housed person. We are more likely to be victims of violent crime than those who live in conventional dwellings. Murder, rape, assault, and theft. We remember the murder of Kenneth Burr, asleep in his sleeping bag, a .357 magnum bullet put in the middle of his forehead. We remember Michael Stephensen, a homeless house painter who was stabbed 16 times, his throat sliced with such fury it severed his spinal cord. We remember Nancy Jean Croombs, a mental person on the streets raped and stabbed to death by a serial killer. Even more victims than we can mention here.

We felt the need to write this letter to help educate our community. We want to praise the people who spend so much time volunteering or seeking job placements that work to solve our crisis. We watch as our city slowly starts to get together some of the solutions to resolve this disability of ours. Why not reach out to each other to help solve it?

Most important of all we find it abhorrent that we still read about ourselves in the local media. Stories about bums, transients, who piss all over our streets or chase our businesses away. How do these stories help to resolve the homeless issue? It only perpetuates the problem, right?

The media might be the only education that some of our citizens receive in our community. Why make heroic connotations out of the hatred that spews out of some people’s mouths the story of the day? Let us all grow up to learn, listen, and work alongside the others who try to work for all the people in our city. Let us enlist the media’s help to quell the fears and hatred of our issue, not perpetuate it.


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