Sunday, March 29, 2015

You Shouldn't Be Scared of Homeless People, Homeless People Should Be Scared of You

If anyone in America should be paranoid about crime, it's not white people in the suburbs -- it's the homeless.

By Tana Ganeva / AlterNet

Sometimes, a valiant public servant must take action to protect his constituents, grab a sledgehammer and parade around town smashing homeless people's shopping carts, as Hawaii's State Rep. Tom Brower did two years ago. Others might favor a softer touch. Councilman Cameron Runyan of Columbia, South Carolina, suggested the city ship homeless people to a privately operated "Retreat" 15 miles out of the city. This helpful service would be no free ride though; the homeless people placed there would be expected to hand over their disability checks to help pay for the facility, local media reported.

Shocking official responses to homelessness are in no short supply, although the really outrageous cases can backfire. A backlash forced Runyan to scale back his plans; perhaps he was made aware of the unfortunate historical precedent for rounding up and disappearing undesirables. But the savvy lawmaker looking to spruce up a neighborhood knows there's a better way to sell a crackdown: you need to paint it as essential to public safety, reluctantly undertaken, with plenty of hand-wringing about balancing the rights of homeless people with everyone else's security. That's key, because open antipathy towards the homeless is for mean cops, Wall Street jerks or local politicians who haven't mastered political optics. Everyone else is deeply troubled by homeless people's plight, but at the same time: what about the mom or the tourist who doesn't feel safe walking down a street lined with panhandlers?

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