July 14, 2014

To Sleep or Not to Sleep


I recently had a memorable discussion with a visitor at the Free Market. Before going into detail about what we discussed, I'd first like to say that sometimes the staff of the Free Market have to take the stories we hear at face value. We are not always able to validate the situations that are told to us, and I do not believe that it is up to us to do so. We have a certain level of trust and respect for our visitors and can be assured that there is some truth to the things that are told to us.

This guest asked me to look up the price for a round trip bus ticket. As I did so, I asked him if there was a situation. Due to his fourth citation and third time being arrested for trespassing, he was looking at the prospect of between 6 months and a year in jail. My first thought was, "ok….you were trespassing and were probably doing something you weren’t suppose to do." Why else would the police pick on him, right? He further explained that these citations were issued because of where he was sleeping. 

It turns out that he's homeless, and has no family or close friends to room with. He tells me the shelters are no safer than sleeping on the street, so he picks a spot that he considers to be safe enough to sleep and tries to steer clear of private property and inner city buildings. There are supposed to be green flyers posted in places where the homeless are prohibited from sleeping or hanging about, he tells me, and yet most of these flyers are no where to be seen. Even when no notice is posted, the first trespass is a written warning and other violations after that is 30 days in county jail. 

As I looked at his his face and listened to his story, I realized I had no words to respond. I consider myself an intelligent individual, and yet I could not find a good enough excuse to explain away what had happened to him. There simply wasn’t one. It’s absurd, it’s unfair, and it’s so hard to accept that stuff like this happens to people all the time. 

His public defender informed him, “Well at least when you're serving your jail time, you won’t be homeless.” Of course, his response was that even with guaranteed meals, clothing and a bed to sleep in, none of it was worth losing his freedom. For the crime of sleeping, the comfort of a jail cell could never justify having his rights taken away for something so natural - something that we all must do. 

I'm struck by the realization that he is only one such person. Can you imagine the amount of people who fall prey to similar situations such as this one? Are the homeless always going to be victims of this kind of tomfoolery?

I haven’t the slightest clue of what will become of this situation, but I am glad that this individual is not playing victim and plea bargaining out. There are many homeless people who think they have no voice and feel they have no rights. They think that no one cares or no one is going to want to hear their story, but they're wrong. I care. The staff of The Well care. Many people in ministry care. But is that enough? Is it enough to merely care and show some sympathy? 

I’m not going to offer a spiel of things that you who are reading must do or believe. What I will do is issue a challenge both to you and to myself to refuse to fall victim, whether minor or major, to this type of injustice. I challenge all of us to also help those around us to not fall victim either. 

I know it sounds cliché, but there is great truth to the saying that education is the key. By learning the local statutes, we are equipping ourselves to fight back when we're being taken advantage of. We're better prepared to ask questions. We are then able to object to both unfair treatment and unfair laws, and we know better how to make our voices heard. Because we do have a voice, and together our voices are powerful. 

11 comments:

  1. Yes jon, you are correct. We each have a voice. But unfortunately in our society in order for our voices to be heard, we must join together and speak (shout) as one. Until we all take a stand together, those with and without homes, this horse puckey will continue. Are we tired of it yet is the question to ask. If so ''lets roll''

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    1. Hi Steve, this post was shared by Kineci Jackson. She's among the most capable of The Well's community of leaders, and she started sharing some great observations and perspectives on the blog recently. We absolutely agree about the importance of our shared voice. :)

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  2. Kineci - Thanks for be a friend to our guests who really listens, and for making sure this story got told. For those without a roof over their heads, it seems like our society is hellbent on criminalizing every breath they take. We absolutely must do more, say more and demand better.

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  3. Ben,
    I agree wholeheartedly. Our friends who are homeless seem to always get the worst end of the stick. We all know better so we absolutely must do better.

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  4. Better yet Ben, since you are a board member, how about actually creating some housing for the homeless?
    Clothes and food are nice (and very much appreciated) but what homeless people really need is a home.

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    1. Steve, I don't disagree for a moment. Part of our job at The Well is to make hard choices about how to prioritize our time, effort and resources. While today we haven't yet been able to extend help in the form of housing, it's an area of need we're very aware of. For now, many of us at The Well must be content to extend that type of hospitality only on a personal level, but who knows what opportunities the future may bring. :)

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  5. hello my name is Eva and even though it's comforting to have someone to talk to when your homeless we have nowhere else to go it is a shame that homeless people get treated like no one I am legally blind with for younger children I will be homeless by October 1st the payments I get for disability is not enough to move anywhere else I've been looking for rental assistance but can't find any soon I will be in the streets with my younger children if I could find someone with a home with rent I could afford all I need is help with a deposit seems like everwhere I go they rather see us homeless than help . Is there anyine that can help with a home and deposit assistance my daughter helps me with things since losing my peripheral vision it is scary to think I would home less please if anyone can help me please contact me (813)764-7822 my faith in god is strong I pray thats what keeps me at peace my god is an awesome god and I know hes there for me thank you for having this forum and for being a light in someone's darkness

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