I’m going to return to a Grand Junction issue, if only because it involves a topic that I’m very familiar with, in an area of town where I still have an interest.
The Sentinel’s Amy Hamilton wrote an excellent story for the Sunday edition about the efforts of a new community organization to rally support for addressing what they perceive as undesirables behaving badly, particularly in Hawthorne Park. Ms. Hamilton deftly balanced her story with the inclusion of background information on both the challenges and services available to both the transient and chronically homeless in the GJ area.
This group, calling itself Reclaim Grand Junction, states as its mission:
1. Safety for our children;
2. Compassion for our neighbors who need it most;
3. Balanced policies from our city.
Additionally, the group makes a point of saying that they are not “anti-homeless”. Well, most of us really aren’t. As citizens and/or Christians, we give of our time and/or bounty to aid those in need. Maybe what they meant was that they’re not anti-homeless; they just don’t want to see it everyday.
As a property owner and former resident in the immediate vicinity of Hawthorne Park, I would like to comment further:
First, I believe that the group should add the following to their site’s list of definitions:
Definition of RECLAIM
1. a : to recall from wrong or improper conduct : reform
b : tame, subdue
2. a : to rescue from an undesirable state; also : to restore to a previous natural state
b : to make available for human use by changing natural conditions
3. a: to obtain from a waste product or by-product : recover
4. a : to demand or obtain the return of
b : to regain possession of
It seems to me that the first and fourth definitions best describe the intent of Reclaim GJ’s efforts. Whether that intent remains just underneath the emotionally-charged labels of “Safety” and “Children” remains to be seen. As with many of our homeless, there’s more to the story than what’s on the outside. Whether people can get past their disdain and look at each other as human beings and citizens is where real change will come from.
While I’m thinking about it, the photo on the home page of Reclaim GJ’s website, depicting a small child standing next to a person laying on trash-strewn ground, bag-wrapped bottle in hand, is incredible, as in “lacks credibility”. The Sentinel reported that the photo was staged…well, duh.
I lived in the Hawthorne Park neighborhood for 12 years, and still have family there. We used the park for many purposes, and never felt that our safety was compromised by the presence of someone sleeping on the grass or congregating in the shelter. In fact, I had some enlightening conversations with some who dwelled in the park by day and at a shelter, a tent, or a camper shell at night.
I spoke with my son yesterday; he said that he hasn’t really noticed anything outside of what has been the norm at the park for the last several years. What really has changed?
The manner in which Reclaim GJ is putting their “campaign” before the public has generated some attention, and may even spur some action on the part of City Administration. However, Council has been down the “safety” road before, with mixed results.
I’ve also forwarded the Reclaim GJ site and the July 31 Sentinel story to the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU. Those concerned might want to read the letter that they wrote to City Council in 2009 regarding a proposed panhandling ordinance. That letter is available here.
Particular attention should be paid to the comments regarding officer discretion, due process of law, and the concept of safety. Quoting the letter from ACLU Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein:
“The council should question whether this ordinance is truly meant as a safety measure or whether, as in other communities, the safety rationale is a pretext for the proponents’ true motivation: to push the homeless and unemployed out of sight”.
I also have questions about having compassion for those “who need it most”. To me, that’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. Is someone capable of pulling themselves up with a little help deserving of such “compassion”, or is someone incapable of such action, as a consequence of their own infirmities, addictions, or choices, worthy of our attention? Can the law make a distinction, especially when, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “courts have found loitering and vagrancy laws unconstitutionally vague”?
I believe Reclaim GJ when they say they are not anti-homeless. Perhaps they’ll join the many groups that are already stakeholders in trying to address what is a daunting and escalating issue in many areas of the City and Mesa County. However, I do not believe that their stated mission will complement that of many charged with rendering assistance to what Christ called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45).
On its surface, Reclaim Grand Junction feels like just another attempt to address homelessness by moving it somewhere else where it can be conveniently ignored. I feel for those who have been affected by illicit activity near their private residences. I’m confident that government, working with the Coalition for the Homeless and other stakeholder groups, will continue to address those engaged in aberrant behavior, while respecting the rights of these less fortunate citizens accordingly.
“Safety” is not a euphemism for NIMBY; nor should it be camouflage for intolerance.
Have a great day.