“Why did you go to jail?” I asked Miss Deborah recently when discussing an arrest a few years back.
“I was sleeping on the street in Arizona,” she replied.
“And what happened?”
“That’s it. It’s illegal to be homeless where I was so they arrested me. I had no choice; I very literally had nowhere to go, the shelter was full.”
Sadly this is not the first time I have heard this type of story, but to be honest, I thought these laws were being proven ineffective and would soon go the way of the dinosaur. It looks like I was wrong. This afternoon I learned that there will be another new law put in effect in Columbia, South Carolina that will make it illegal for one to be homeless in their town. They’ll shuttle, jail and hide them, but they will not tolerate a person living without a home. I am, once again left speechless and appalled. The efforts some will make to hide, silence and oppress by making others’ lives illegal leaves my heart downtrodden and wondering when, if and how the revolution will come. I think we need it.
Along with the insensitive and inhumane approach of this hide-or-be-jailed method, it’s irresponsible stewardship on behalf of the lawmakers. This law will not save tax payers money in fact it’s quite possible it will do the opposite as jails and hospital emergency rooms (where many homeless people find a safe warm place to sleep) are far more damaging to our city, state and nation’s wallet.
For 4 ½ years I was given the distinct privilege to work for a pilot project through the Los Angeles County Department called Project 50. This new program served to identify and house the 50 most vulnerable people living on the streets of Skid Row.
It was mocked, ridiculed and scoffed at. We were told we’d simply become an expensive drug den, paid for by the tax payers. Why after all would we choose to house people that “chose” to be lazy and homeless?
Our answer: Housing is a right, not a privilege.
And guess what? It worked. By the end of the first 2 years the numbers were crunched and our point was proved. With $3.045 million invested in the program resulting in savings of $3.284 million. Simply put; each permanent supportive housing unit we provided over those two years saved the taxpayers $4,774.
AND 50 people who had spent anywhere from 5-30 years living on the streets now had a place to call home.
At present time the program has expanded with this same housing first model. More than 600 lives have been changed as people have been handed keys to their new residency. It’s been incredible to watch lives transform when handed tangible grace.
This information then begs the question, “who is this even benefiting?”
So today, as I learn that once again a piece of our nation is choosing to tyrannize a population of people they fear, I can’t help but wonder if it will ever stop. Will we ever get to a place in which we permit people to truly live freely as we claim? Or will we continue to deny, ignore and fight, allowing the other to live a life of dignity? And when will we learn that until we change, until we accept, until we fully love and embrace one another we are hurting every single one of us?