You’re walking down the street in a downtown shopping area and you come upon someone who claims to be homeless. (You never really know.)
What do you do?
A. Look away as if they are invisible?
B. Look and shake your head?
C. Walk clear of them?
D. Nervously walk right pass?
E. Do all of the above and wish they would disappear?
Or, F., do you try to help?
Baton Rouge, like many cities across country, is dealing with the growing number of homeless people. Some people see them as human eyesores, hurting cities seeking to attract tourists and the millions of dollars they bring. Others see them as a chance to improve society.
The Metro Council is supporting an occasionally used concept of offering the homeless a bus ticket out of the Red Stick. Hasta la vista, baby!
These initiatives need catchy names, and the first one the city developed was “Clean Sweep.” But wiser heads realized we are talking about human beings, not bent soda cans or old oily rags. A more-palatable name was born: Homeless Outreach Prevent Efforts or HOPE. Get it. It’s like “HOPE we don’t see you anymore.”
Here are a couple local statements from the Internet about bus ticket issue. From Emteein: “I saw an article about the city allocating money to buy homeless people one-way bus tickets to wherever they want to go. This is the best damn idea I’ve seen come out of BR in a while.”
This came from Bubbz: “I feel like it’s the episode of South Park where they ship the homeless off to another city.”
Councilman John Delgado, who proposed the program, spoke for a lot of people when he said “They have no home, no job, no prospects, and if they want to go, quite honestly, I’m happy to send them.” He went on to say, “At the end of the day we did not spend millions of taxpayer dollars on refurbishing downtown to make it nice as it is just to have it flooded with homeless people.”
While his statements may seem harsh, his amen corner is deep and wide with supporters who think the same way. And, there is nothing wrong with that.
But others believe shipping the homeless to a new address is not the right answer. Why can’t we rehabilitate them? What about a job-training program for them? What about, what about?
In a newspaper article, a couple of people characterized as homeless said they could return home to parents and others who would set them up with jobs if they had a ticket. Really?
It’s difficult to imagine that their parents want them or that they have a great relationship with family members.
Here’s something the bus trip doesn’t address. Some have mental and emotional issues that should be treated rather than bused. Others are indeed down on their luck and want to do better, but don’t have wherewithal to do better.
And, of course there are some homeless people who know how to manipulate the system. My uneducated guess is that is just a fraction of the number.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said HOPE is just part of addressing the problem. She suggested that a larger strategy to reduce homelessness needs to be considered.
“Just loading up all the homeless and shipping them from one town to the other is a bad idea,” she said.
The problem is Wicker is partly right and so is Delgado. The answer is somewhere in the middle and that’s what we, as a caring society, have to figure out.
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.