Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has evicted a group known as the "bridge people" from their homeless encampment underneath an overpass. Not only has he evicted them, he hired contractors to put up a wall to ensure that they do not return. A wall has been built for sure -- between the city and its homeless population, and Ballard is their Elmer Fuddian antagonist.
Yes, local homeless services providers like the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention did what they could to help the 30 or so residents move out, including offering them social services and shelter. Yes, the mayor felt that the encampment had become a squalid and dangerous shanty town, especially in freezing temperatures. But this is no way to address the problem. And to be clear, the problem is that people have no access to a home, so they live in unhealthy conditions under a bridge. This runs contrary to the opinion of local businesses and residents who think the problem is that these homeless people are a big, irritating, frightening nuisance.
And what's worse is that the Coalition and the mayor are both blaming the good will of sympathetic locals who regularly provided food and supplies to the encampment, which supposedly enabled the homeless by luring them under the bridge and thus deterring them from seeking services. Can you imagine? They are actually blaming people for helping their homeless meet a few basic needs when no other enduring help has been given and then comparing their homeless to feral cats -- they will keep coming back if you keep feeding them.
Sorry, come again? Let me make something very clear: feeding and clothing unsheltered homeless is never going to hinder any real efforts for social change. It will never seriously compete with efforts to end homelessness. It will, however, make sure bellies are full and bodies are warm.
Plus, shame on the homeless services providers and city officials who condone this eviction, freely tossing around ignorant phrases like, "What they need is ... " and "What they need to do is ...." Since when did self-determination take a back seat? Apparently not having a home, a meal or a shower means your right to make your own decisions is automatically revoked.
After the eviction, those who lived in this encampment moved to another outdoor location (gee, we couldn't see that coming), which the Coalition and the mayor's office expected. If this was expected, then why were they forced to move? This only proves whose side the mayor is on. If he were for the homeless, this never would have happened.
This encampment has been around for a while, which means the mayor had plenty of opportunities to intervene in more appropriate ways, and sooner. Tell the mayor how wrong he was to evict those people. Tell him that he is responsible for providing housing for Indianapolis's homeless, not just catering to the whining of pampered citizens. Has it not occurred to you, Mayor Ballard, that providing real housing for the homeless, not just shelter beds, will make everyone happy?
On a more positive note, Indianapolis is doing something for its homeless, even if it's aimed at the more socially-accepted kind. On March 23, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, along with the mayor's office, is hosting 2010 Indy Homelessness Connect, where people who are homeless or near-homeless can connect to services, from haircuts to housing. Hopefully the "bridge people" make it to the convention center -- and don't get thrown out again.
Photo credit: canada.poverty