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“Dumping” the Homeless In America

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“Dumping” the homeless – the new craze in America?  The way we treat and view those who are homeless in this country is unsettling.  When I came across the story about those within the Detroit Police Department “dumping” the homeless in areas that were unfamiliar to them in order to “clean up” the image in a popular tourist area, I was angered as a social worker and a human being.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint against the Detroit Police Department this month.  The ACLU has been investigating these inhumane indignities since 2012, after receiving complaints from several individuals who had experienced such injustices.

The ACLU’s complaint describes the dumping “tactics.”   The officers would approach those who they perceived to be homeless, and in some instances, would coerced the person to get into a van.  Once in the van, the officer would drive to a remote area far away from the familiar surroundings the homeless individual was accustomed to.  The officers would leave the individual stranded, and in some cases, penniless.  (Several reported that the police specifically asked for whatever monies they had on them, and would confiscate it.)  Without a means to pay for transportation, some individuals would have no choice but to walk several miles back to their original location, sometimes having to travel at night and through unsafe neighborhoods.

Though this story is unbelievable in how those who are expected to uphold and enforce the law treat those who are most vulnerable in our society, it is sadly another example of how we view those who call our streets “home.”

When it comes to the homeless, we have the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) complex.  On one hand, we see countless organizations discuss the increase numbers of those without homes in our cities, states, and country.  We go out of our way during the holiday season to donate to these organizations so that they will have adequate food, clothing, and monetary resources to provide for those who have fallen on hard times and have no place to lay their heads.

On the other hand, we do not want these individuals in our backyards/neighborhoods.  We look at these individuals as being “lazy,” “unclean,” “dangerous/menaces” to society, and “unwilling” to better themselves.  Being homeless is their “fault” – they should not have made bad life choices (e.g., being addicted to drugs and alcohol, battling emotional/mental illnesses, and/or not trying hard enough to be productive members of society).  We protest against having homeless shelters and centers in our communities; an issue that has made headlines in my own home state concerning the location of a new homeless shelter.  We want the homeless to receive help… just not on Earth, apparently.

What do these disturbing mistreatment stories and ill  opinions surrounding the homeless reveal about our level of sensitivity and sense of community in helping those who are in need?  “Dumping the “homeless is absolutely not the answer to eradicating this growing life circumstance that has been exacerbated due to our economic state  in this country.  In 2012, the Housing and Urban Development Department reported that 633,782 individuals were homeless in the United States.  Those this figure is slightly less than what was reported the previous year (636,000).  Though there was a slight decline, the numbers show that this country has not effectively extirpated the issues that places individuals and families at risk of homelessness.

If we were to focus more on helping people and families appropriately cope with the issues that put them at great risk of becoming homeless instead of moving the “undesirables” from the “money-making” tourist areas so they will not “disturb” residents and tourists or “tarnish” the look of the city, we may be able to get the homeless numbers down to 0.

Allowing people to call our streets and parks “home” is shameful.  When one person or family becomes homeless, it affects us all.  We cannot sit around and allow people to exploit or dehumanize the homeless in any matter, whether they wear a uniform or not.  This injustice cannot, and most importantly, should not become the “norm” in America in how we address the issue of homelessness.

What steps will you take to ensure that the homeless are treated justly by law enforcement and other members in our communities?  Do you donate resources or volunteer your time to help those less fortunate?  If you presently do not, I hope that this article will prompt you to take some form of action, whether small or large, to find out what organizations are serving the homeless in your community, whether these organizations are upholding the mission and values for which they were founded, and learn more how you can become an advocate in addressing the abuses to human rights that may exist for this population.

We cannot stomp out the issue of homelessness by staying quiet or looking for others to step up – sometimes we have to be the change we want to see.  Writing this article is my way to bring forth awareness and hopefully activism to this problem – what will be your course of action?

If you walk down the street and see someone in a box, you have a choice. That person is either the other and you’re fearful of them, or that person is an extension of your family.
Susan Sarandon

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW is the Disability and Advocacy Staff Writer for Social Work Helper, and she is also the Founder of Ramp Your Voice! In addition to being a Disability Rights Consultant and Advocate, Vilissa seeks to propel the faces and voices of people of color with disabilities both within the disability community and in the general public. Vilissa can be contacted via email at Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com, or by visiting the Ramp Your Voice! website at http://www.rampyourvoice.com/.

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