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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Exiled destitute deserve visibility

    After “complaints of aggressive panhandling and unruliness” drew police attention to Veinte de Agosto Park in downtown Tucson, authorities altered laws pertaining to where in the park homeless people are permitted to sleep.

    According to an article in the Arizona Daily Star, sleeping in the picnic table area or on the steps at the east end of the park is now off limits. The homeless will also no longer be able to bring more than a sleeping bag or water bottle to the park at night.

    I felt my stomach turn when I read this article, but not because the law is shocking or unprecedented. In fact, it is repulsively unsurprising.

    This probably isn’t the first time the homeless have faced restrictions in a Tucson park, and I doubt these regulations will drastically affect the lives of this marginalized community. But that’s the most disturbing part of this situation: This law changes absolutely nothing and simply hides a problem instead of fixing it.

    Many mainstream members of society are uncomfortable with those “below” them visibly reaching out. Plus, apparent homelessness is bad for business, so let’s just pass a law to keep them out of the way, right? The current stigma that surrounds the homeless suggests that this is an appropriate response.

    So these men and women will pick up their few belongings and drift to a new location until a new law is enforced and the cycle repeats itself, forcing many to continue living in unsanitary and dangerous conditions.

    The Center for Problem-Oriented Policies reported that the spread of food-borne diseases, along with dental and skin problems, occur because of the poor conditions in these encampments. The report also states that there are high rates of childhood and past sexual abuse among the homeless.

    Worse, the homeless experience heightened levels of violent crime compared to the general population, and the violence will only increase as time goes on.

    Thus, the passing of this new law barely touches on a much larger social problem and further confirms society’s unwillingness to acknowledge physical, emotional and mental health care needs that are not being met.

    In the article, Tucson Police Department Captain Jim Webb states that the sleeping homeless will be left alone as long as they leave a 5-foot-wide path on the sidewalk.

    Webb wants to make sure that non-homeless people have room to pass, and pass by they will.

    The nature of this new law reflects a “look the other way” mentality that is all too common in society. If rights of the homeless are truly a concern, perhaps we should be discussing the basic human rights that many homeless people are without, instead of shuffling them around and telling them which pavement is acceptable for them to sleep on.

    Zach Young, a student majoring in French and pre-neuroscience and cognitive science, said he recognizes this is a major flaw in our society.

    “You can lose your job and have to eat out of a dumpster and sleep in an alley way. I don’t feel that it’s right that this can even be an option … that this can be a thing that happens. That is a failure,” Young said.

    While Arizona, and the entire nation for that matter, still has a long way to go in reclaiming its lost sense of human compassion, Phoenix recently made significant improvement. The city has eliminated all chronically homeless veterans from the streets through the construction of temporary residences and the promise of permanent housing for these individuals, according to the New York Times.

    This accomplishment has brought the U.S. one step closer to the White House’s nationwide goal of ending homelessness by 2020. But the success story can’t end here.

    Whether by reaching out through volunteer organizations or just by offering up a sandwich, we must stop ignoring the issue. Somehow, society has reached a point where seeing a person — a human being — begging for food, streaked with dirt and down on their luck is OK, normal, acceptable. Let’s not forget the qualities that make us unique as humans: compassion, sympathy and love. No one should be invisible.

    — Shelby Thomas is a sophomore studying family studies and human development and Spanish. Follow her @shelbyalayne

    For further reading on Tucson homelessness and the UA, check out 12-month housing valuable option for otherwise homeless students

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