Out of Sight, Please, So We Can Keep Ignoring You

Local Issues, Social Justice

A friend on Facebook posted the Sun’s article (you don’t have to click through to it, but I ethically have to put the link) on the latest City Council motion addressing homelessness. Was it a compassionate look at what initiatives Lowell could produce to reduce homelessness, address addiction, or support those in need at this time of year?

Hah. No, of course not, silly readers! No, it was a motion to “Req. City Mgr. investigate and report on any problem activities in the vicinity of Kirk and Merrimack Streets as well as Merrimack and Central Streets.” What does this have to do with homelessness you ask? Well, it appears that these areas are where several nonprofits serve the homeless meals or provide other services, after which, having nowhere to go because they’re homeless, they congregate, and even when there aren’t “serious” incidents like conflict or fighting, there’s yelling or swearing and it’s bad for business and downtown.

As the Sun quotes Councilor Leary, “This group of people comes out and crosses the street without looking. They seem intoxicated and they’re all over the place. It’s not good for the businesses and it’s not good for the city.”

I’d argue that it’s worse for people who are homeless, some of whom have unaddressed mental health issues, additions, or just terrible luck, than it is to walk by the homeless any day of the week, but hey, who are we kidding? We just want the homeless to be unseen and unheard, amiright? It’s bad for business.

While Lowell has many great nonprofits (please, support them with your dollars and donations! I’ll list the ones I can remember/find at the end) doing amazing daily work on supporting those who are less fortunate, and trying to solve the underlying causes, I feel like every few years, the Lowell City Council looks up, notices that there are homeless around, and then looks to address the appearance of homelessness in the public square. Whether they go after panhandling downtown (illegally), people sleeping on benches, breaking up homeless camps, or what have you, it’s never really about solving the problems for homeless folks and it’s pretty much never done with much or any compassion. Indeed, it often elicits comments like the one from Leary, which is at best tone deaf, and useless for solving the problem at hand.

Of course, the best outcome would be to home the homeless, thus giving them a place to go. It’s not cheap, but it’s a damn sight cheaper than the costs of policing, emergency room health care, and other expenses that the state bears when someone is homeless.

Is this an issue Lowell can address alone? Of course not. It needs to be statewide, nationwide, to be the most effective. But cities large and small across the US are taking matters into their own hands and addressing the actual problem—with measurable results. Maybe the next City Council will be more innovative in how it addresses the underlying causes of homelessness instead of trying to sweep it under a rug for appearance’s sake—because honestly, I think this lame duck Council is a bust.

If you want to help the homeless, instead of bluster, I highly suggest giving the gift of time, goods, or money to these fine organizations:

Lowell Transitional Living Center
House of Hope
Community Teamwork
Coalition for a Better Acre
Lowell Community Health Center
Lowell House, Inc.
Merrimack Valley Food Bank
Open Pantry of Greater Lowell
The Wish Project
Edit: adding…
Living Waters

If you know ones I missed that should be here, let me know! And, please tell your City Councilors that you don’t want homelessness to be unseen and unheard. We need to support real initiatives to address the root causes, not worry about how it looks to have homelessness in our city. If you reduce the homeless rate in our city, you get that outcome anyway, but while actually doing the right thing.

Addendum: Let’s be clear. Specifically, orgs like Living Waters are the ones under attack here. (Though at other times, places the Lowell Transitional Living Center were the focus of this kind of unintentionally hostile interest.)

I visited Living Waters quite some time back. They do amazing work. They open their doors compassionately for those who have no other place to go, or to eat. They have programs for the homeless and underserved. Look at their website: their programs include a makerspace, recreation, a street paper, and housing initiatives.

I would challenge the City Councilors to drop in for a visit some time. Just go; no fanfare, no credit for doing what you should be; just go see, go volunteer. Talk to both the program’s administrators and to the clients.

It’s so easy to be cavalier about appearances when it comes to the homeless. It takes guts, compassion and thoughtfulness to actually see what it is these organizations do. Not just handing out soup before Christmas, but really see what they do on a day to day basis, how they form relationships, learn about the humanity of their clients, see how they struggle, strive, sometimes fail and sometimes succeed. It would be the least some of our community’s political leaders could do.