Compassion Needed

From the Dallas Chronicle, August 1, 2013

Last week we published a letter to the editor, titled “Send them on,” (see below) from a community member who complained about the “homeless, transients and panhandlers” in our town and asked why we don’t send them to another city. The letter elicited a spirited discussion on our website as well as a follow-up letter.

Some good points were brought out on both sides, but it is important to remember that the issue is a complex one. We can’t classify all “homeless, transients and panhandlers” in a single category.

As one commenter pointed out, there are people who are dishonest about how down on their luck they really are. They sit in a wheelchair with a sign saying “disabled and hungry” when in reality they are neither. Others falsely claim to be a veteran, to be stranded or to have a family to feed.

But the fact that there are some who are dishonest doesn’t mean every person who panhandles, asks for assistance from local charities or eats for free at Community Meals is not really disabled, hungry or struggling to feed their children. There are people in our community who are legitimately homeless and who struggle to get enough to eat each day.

It is also important to note that not everyone who causes trouble in our community is homeless and not everyone in our community who is homeless causes trouble. As several commented, “guy with the huge cart” is a friendly person who spends hours each day cleaning up the litter the supposedly constructive members of our community leave in our streets. Others quietly live out of their cars or in tents and never yell at anyone or pressure them for money.

On the other hand, some of the “transients” our letter writer complained about, who do the “meth ballet and crazy yoga” around town were actually born and raised in The Dalles. They have their own housing, are married or have family in town. Like it or not, this is their home too and we can’t just ship them off to another city because they have a mental illness.

It’s easy to look at the visible homeless in our community and say they should just get a job. But alcoholism, longtime drug addictions, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder from war or severe childhood abuse and other issues mean that holding a normal 8-5 job is not an option for some people in their current situation. The way our society has ruthlessly slashed mental health spending makes it difficult for those people to manage the factors that have lead to their homelessness and/or joblessness.

If we want to see fewer panhandlers, transients, homeless folks or disorderly conduct arrests around town we should combat the problem by trying to improve their situation, not just ship them off to another city.

Giving change to panhandlers isn’t the best way — the money might go for drugs and alcohol, the person might not actually be destitute and the change encourages people to hang out on street corners instead of going to an agency that could help them with more than just lunch money.

There are plenty of other ways we can help, though. We can volunteer for programs like Community Meals or donate to food banks and canned food drives, where we know our charitable effort is going toward feeding people. We can donate money to organizations like St. Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army, which can stretch our donation farther and make sure it’s going to someone truly in need.

How we care for the poor and needy says everything about the character of a community. The Dalles has earned a reputation for compassion, preferring to see the poor as human beings in difficult circumstances instead of just a blight to be swept under the rug.

In the end, many of us would rather err on the side of being too generous than not generous enough.

Letter To The Editor: Send Them On

The Dalles — To the editor:

When will everyone else in The Dalles get as fed up as I am with the homeless, transients and pan handlers that seem to continually multiply in our small town.

Going downtown is almost as bad as going to Portland anymore. If you go to the post office you are sure to see at least one passed out person charging their cell phone for free on one of the many outdoor outlets.

Yesterday, I was yelled at by three people on the bench out front of the post office whom I am positive are constructive members of our community. The guy with the huge cart plugs up the roundabout about once a day. He is a danger to motorists and himself, I would assume.

We have the punk kid with a guitar at the liquor store drinking Starbucks and begging all day. The intersection by Fred Meyers is always occupied by someone stranded, out of work, hungry, has kids to feed, etc. Another good place to dump off your change is by the skate park.

I have noticed that the parking lot by the new Verizon, yogurt, and hair salon is also a good spot to camp. Why can’t we seem to move these people along. They came from somewhere else so why can’t we send them somewhere else.

I can’t imagine it’s hard to pass a law against vagrancy or pan handling. They do in other places.

If we truly want to renew our downtown, we should start with getting rid of the people yelling to themselves or passersby, and the multiple people that you always see downtown doing some form of meth ballet or crazy yoga.

Ryan Bond
The Dalles