the fun of living in a truly urban neighborhood

Ah! Proximity to downtown! We can walk to festivals! Shop at the Food Coop! Eat at godo restaurants just a few blocks away! Chase away the homeless from our yard!!!

Yes, in our new house, for the first time in my life, I have a significant number of homeless men living IN AND AROUND OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

These men make me very nervous and make my dogs VERY nervous. I don't like the idea of them being so close to my yard when my children are playing. The neighborhood association is actively at work on the issue, but I've been thinking a lot about the idea of solutions to this problem. What are they?

Clearly, most of these guys are mentally ill and/or suffer from addiction. So earlier/better treatment for mental illness is definitely one part of the solution.

But I am wondering if it's unrealistic to expect that we won't always have some sort of transient subculture in this country. Some of what is going on here is that certain individuals WANT to sleep in the park at night. They want to be free to move from place to place without being tied down.

I am really torn on how to be compassionate about this while still being really clear that these guys cannot camp out on the fringes of my yard.

(And let me be clear that I love living in a historic, downtown neighborhood. I'd far rather have a few homeless guys hanging around than live in a McMansion in a cookie-cutter suburb where there are no sidewalks.)

Your thoughts?


Mr. Booni said...

Maybe this was something you guys should have taken into account beforehand? The absence of crazy homeless people is one of the nice things about living a few miles farther from downtown.

katie allison granju said...

Well, I'll admit I wasn't clear on just how many there are, but I still wouldn't change a thing. We love where we live :-)

karrie said...

I'm a city girl.The more I can walk to, the happier I am. Although our new neighborhood is a little more residential than our last.

karrie said...

On the solving the issue of homelessness, I think you may be right. There is a small percentage who are very upfront about preferring to sleep outside, especially when the weather is nice. And knowing what I do about shelters, I cannot say I blame them. They're may well be safer out in a park, and certainly have more freedom.

Our social programs are a mess, but even when I lived in Stockholm, there were a few homeless people who had fallen through the cracks (and you really have to try to do that there) and seemed to prefer living outside.

Btw, did you see this recent NYTimes article about apartments in Seattle for homeless alcoholics? Its an interesting idea.

Click here to read

Elizabeth said...

Hm...I suppose I have a very different view of the homeless and other "scary people." But it took awhile to get out of the rut of being afraid of the unknown, the different.

We lived in a very urban area of San Francisco for a year and a half. On the second day we lived there, my husband walked up to the homeless woman panhandling on the corner, and said "Hi, I'm Paul. What's your name?" and from there we established a relationship with Sheri and her partner Mark, with Bart, and many others who drifted through. When we had enough to spare for dinner, I'd package a plate or two up and Paul would take it down to them, if they were still out when it was ready. He'd see them every day as he passed by to get on the train. And we crossed the threshold of scariness--we invited Mark and Sheri into our home to take showers, to eat dinner with us, and on three occasions, to sleep at our house, when there was need beyond the usual "they're homeless, of course."

If you are interested to see how this relationship developed, just go to my blog and do a search for "Mark" or "Sheri" and you'll see many entries. Was it scary sometimes? Yes. But as Indigo Girls sang: "we're better off for all that we let in."

mamalife said...

Years ago I lived in Columbus, OH near downtown and regulary encountered homeless people in my neighborhood. I never felt threatened or afraid of them. Years after that I volunteered at a homeless shelter and got to know many homeless people, some of whom were "regulars". Most were just good, kind folks who'd had crappy circumstances in life. Moms and kids who'd left abusive men and had nowhere else to go or resources to fall back on. Men who'd had families and good jobs but who lost the struggle with alcoholism and lost it all. I recently heard about the apts. for alcoholics on NPR that Karrie writes about and found it an interesting idea. I love Elizabeth's approach - how incredibly awesome.

Laura Linger said...

I think that the truly awful part is that those homeless men are most likely to be veterans.

Support our troops, American-style.

And yes, Katie...many of them are mentally ill and without their meds. I don't mean to scare you further, but as a bipolar adult myself and a mental health activist, I can safely say that you are dealing with, at the very least, manic depressives. Probably some schizophrenics, too, with healthy doses of PTSD.

dedanaan said...

When I lived in the Ft. Sanders area of Knoxville, there were a lot of homeless people. Most were nice, kept to themselves, and caused no trouble.

I would be more worried about the rednecks in the neighborhoods surrounding yours. And some of the crazies at the nearby Fellini Kroger.

dewi said...

NYC has a huge homeless population and the ones that wander the streets and look threatening are unmediated mentally ill drug addicts who refuse all treatment and housing that is available, I'm assuming it is the same in your city.

When the homeless men are on your property they are trespassing, so call the police, they will remember not to visit your yard again! Make sure you learn to lock your door and windows when not home.

Laura Linger said...

dewi, the facts are that if medical treatment were available to these homeless individuals, they most certainly would take the help.

Or can you come up with a good reason why someone would CHOOSE to be sick, miserable, and sleep out in the cold and the rain?

Also, if you call the cops every time one of these poor homeless men looks at you funny, you will get a reputation among local law enforcement, believe me. The police are there to protect citizens from REAL criminals...not those whose only crime is to be poor, mentally ill, and tossed away by a society who believes "supporting our troops" can be done via a magnet on the Hummer.

And you are a mother? Because your lack of compassion, coupled with your lack of knowledge about this situation, is stunning.

Elizabeth said...

Homeless folks often do refuse the shelter beds that are available. That's because the shelters are dangerous. They all get shoved together and there is violence and theft. Homeless people often prefer to be on the streets--some wander all night, when it's more dangerous to be asleep on the streets, and then sleep during the day.

There's one church in San Francisco that lets homeless people sleep in the church. Inside the actual church, on the pews, even while a service is going on! Is that cool, or what?

There are many problems associated with the homeless--we have much work to do in this area. But calling the police on them often and counting on punitive punishment will not solve this. Neither will "cleaning up the homeless problem"--just requiring them to move from a certain area--where are they to go? They have to move to another area in that case. Just moving them from one area to another won't do it.