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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Opinion

Efforts to combat homelessness are more common than you might think


Homeless shelters are trying to improve their conditions. | Trevor Nolley/ The Cougar

Homeless shelters are trying to improve their conditions. | Trevor Nolley/ The Cougar

There are over 500,000 homeless people living in the United States. Many of them are being relocated, pushed out of public spaces and not receiving proper support from their cities. It seems like very few people are actually aware of how prevalent this serious problem is.

Recently, officials from West Palm Beach, Florida have found a unique way to keep their homeless off a piece of city property. They’ve begun playing the notoriously annoying songs “Baby Shark”and “Raining Tacos” on loop throughout the night. While their efforts have been somewhat successful, several people have voiced their issues with the practice.

Of course, this is not the first time a city has made an effort to keep their homeless out of public areas. While it’s easy to chuckle about the use of these songs for this purpose, many practices implemented to fight the problem of homelessness are either far more subtle or egregious.

A shockingly common example of these subtle practices is hostile architecture, which are structures such as benches and rails built in such a way that they prevent unintended uses. One of the more frequently used structures is a bench that’s impossible to lay on comfortably and is specifically designed to keep the homeless from sleeping or resting on them.

If you need an example of this, look around the next time you’re on campus. Many of the benches have handrails in their centers.

On an even more serious note, several cities don’t stop at hostile architecture and will go so far as to shut down homeless camps entirely, and it happens all the time. These cities are legally required to provide alternative locations for their newly displaced. Sometimes, however, too little is put into these alternatives, causing people to sleep on sidewalks or overcrowd shelters throughout their cities.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Houston is treating its homeless population very well. The systems are excellently organized, and the workers involved are acute and attentive to what they need to do.

Much of the funding Houston receives, however, is from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Alarmingly, this money is awarded through grants rather than budgets. This means cities have to compete for a limited number of funds, and the ones that already have the means to help their homeless will be given the money, leading to a rich-get-richer situation.

This system is obviously flawed and is likely a large contributor to the lackadaisical and callous treatment of the homeless all across the country. Perhaps more cities would be as well off as Houston if they received the same level of support. But as is, the system comes off as yet another entry on the long list of slights against some of the country’s most disenfranchised citizens.

These attempts to ignore or sweep the homeless out of sight, in an effort to prevent excess spending or decreasing property values, are bizarrely inhumane. One wouldn’t be wrong for pointing out the situation’s similarities to that of a leper colony. Homeless people are treated like a blight, the areas they inhabit are viewed as infected or tarnished and helping them is often viewed as throwing money down the drain.

Perhaps a change in attitude would help the homeless situation, but current conditions don’t inspire hope for an expedient change. A huge number of people would need to rise up and take a stand, calling for expensive, systemic changes. Unfortunately, too few people seem to even be aware of how deep-seated these problems are, or they simply don’t care enough to want to make a difference.

For non-politicians, however, there are some ways to help on a street level. One could find out what shelters in their area are accepting help and make some donations, or they could contribute to campaigns and fundraisers that intend to aid the homeless. Even doing something as simple as spreading the word about their plight can go a long way to making a difference.

Hopefully some eyes have been opened by this. Good changes have been made in these regards, but the system is still broken. As is, it’s another unfortunate example of greed taking precedence over human decency.

Opinion columnist Kyle Dishongh is a sophomore finance major and can be reached at [email protected]

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