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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Golden Pen winner Jama Smith

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 7:51 am

City's homeless can't be hidden away

Jama Smith

"Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.

"I lift my lamp beside the golden door ... Wait, not him. He looks too tired. Ugh, not that one either. WAY too poor; wouldn’t want the children to see her! And that one smells."

There’s a reason that some readers’ sentiments are not inscribed at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.

I have read a few letters to the editor concerning the homeless shelter situation in Fort Wayne and fears concerning the expansion.

As a mother of five, I completely understand the fears concerning the welfare of children. Also, as a social worker, I am well versed in the area of working with the homeless, the mentally ill, the poverty-stricken and downtrodden, so I truly do comprehend what people feel is a risk with expansion and location.

However, I would like your readers to ask themselves the following questions as well:

The worry of these homeless people "walking around the playgrounds" is certainly a concern. So, do tell – what, exactly, do you think homeless people do without a shelter? They magically stop wandering the streets and playgrounds? The homeless people simply disappear without a place to go? What exactly calms your mind about a homeless population scouring the city in the middle of the night?

If you’re so against homeless shelters, so concerned about the effect it will have upon our youth, perhaps you should contact your congressmen concerning the upcoming budget proposals and the massive cuts to emergency food and shelter funding that helps people stay in their homes instead of writing to the paper complaining about how we may have to encounter them.

Ah, but we like cutting funds, don’t we? Those system suckers! (Typical of the society stigma; we take away the assistance to keep them in their homes. Then we complain that they’re homeless.)

If only the people who we deem unworthy could simply disappear – and for many, that truly is a scary goal.

There was a letter saying something to the effect of "ugh, we spent all this money and now people will see a Senior Center AND a homeless shelter? Do we want Fort Wayne conveyed that way?" The answer should be: YES, actually.

Yes, I DO want my city conveyed that we take care of our seniors, of our poverty-stricken. Of homeless men who at one time went to war to fight for our freedom and came back to a world that had changed, one they could no longer adapt to. I do want to live in a city that covers a fellow soul with a blanket rather than sentencing him to freezing to death on a park bench. (By the way, exactly what kind of image does one like THAT give a city?)

Naturally, I want my children protected. I also want them volunteering at such charities, to gain an understanding and compassion about how people find themselves in such dire situations in their lives and most importantly, how they can be part of the solution. I want them to see that we are a society that fixes problems; we don’t just bury them away from sight.

As a hardened social worker, I truly believe that every person is responsible and accountable for their own choices. This is not a bleeding-heart liberal; this is someone who works in the system and more often than not, has to say, "I’m sorry. The choices you made brought you to this point, and there is nothing I can do."

However, as a Christian, I also know that Jesus said the poor will also always be among us. He wasn’t saying that those "dirty, smelly poor people" are not a simple issue to have to be endured. He instructed us to care for them.

They are humans. Every man was someone’s little boy. Every woman was someone’s baby girl. They are mothers, fathers, veterans, and – although we don’t like to talk about it in one of the wealthiest countries in the world – countless of the homeless are children. The same children whom readers are insisting must be considered are the ones they will label as "unworthy."

Bottom line: we can protect kids without sacrificing our integrity to treat others with dignity. But you have to stop seeing them simply as a problem and start seeing them first and foremost as human.

And to the Rescue Mission: Shake off the criticism. You are doing the work we promised when our country was founded. The efforts of your staff and supporters are both noble and necessary.

Jama Smith is a Fort Wayne resident.