There are times in my life when I feel as though I slide and shift from being as appreciative and grateful as I expect my children to be and take things for granted left and right. Like training to run a half marathon: I get so caught up in the music playing, keeping pace, and guiding myself with each breath left foot, right foot, left foot etc. that before I know what is happening it is 5:30am and I’m smack dab in the middle of the park, in the dark.
I live in a small town outside of the “city” so a park in the dark isn’t a big deal right?
You see, even in my small town homelessness is a growing issue. In the ten years I have called El Dorado my home I haven’t ever felt as though the homeless in our community were an issue…until the past two years (naïve I know-hear me out on this). It wasn’t till I became aware and chose to see the epidemic that is spreading throughout our society that I acknowledged an ever-present crisis. And as I ran to music seamlessly streamed via Bluetooth to my ears, to help motivate me as I train to run in a race that I will PAY to be in, I hit a brick wall. Suddenly I was painfully aware of the lack of compassion that accompanies the crisis these people face every day.
Wait, did you catch that?
The homeless are people. They are humans.
But seeing them as people wasn’t my first instinct. Sadly, my reaction to the man and woman sleeping in the park gazebo alongside all of their possessions and another on the rock wall a few yards away was disgust. “What on earth are they doing here? With all their junk laying around where children play?!” It pains me to admit those harsh thoughts sprung into action laying seeds of frustration and disdain on my heart before compassion and kindness had a chance. What breaks my heart is knowing that each of these people taking shelter in a park, for whatever reason, are viewed more times a day as a burden or a problem to be solved than as the beautiful souls they are – like each and every person on this earth.
As if to reiterate the importance of this topic, a few days later I read a post that was written by our local El Dorado Police Department that reinforced the things I had been feeling. Parks are for people, and everyone should be able to use and appreciate them.
“…being homeless is not a crime. We have received calls regarding the homeless in our parks. Occasionally people ask us to run them off. We cannot, and will not, force any law-abiding citizen to leave a park just because someone else does not want them there or feels uncomfortable around them. The protections of the United States Constitution cover every citizen, and we will not take part in violating an individual’s rights solely because of their economic status…”
-El Dorado Police Department
Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime. In a 2014 survey of 187 cities by the NLCHP (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty) found that 43 percent of cities make it illegal to sleep in your car, 53 percent make it illegal to sit or lie down in particular public places, and 24 percent make it a city-wide crime to beg in public.
This. Is. Ludicrous.
It’s time that we slow down and make a change. It’s time to stop seeing the homeless as a hazard and start seeing them as humans. Instead of passing judgment and frustration we should pass on a smile or two and some kindness. I know that there is truly so much more that needs to be done, and resource gaps that need to be bridged, but the first step is caring.
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