Paul Redstone: Time to study more effective way to help homeless

Published: 2/14/2020 10:10:56 AM
Modified: 2/14/2020 10:10:44 AM
Time to study a better way to help homeless

A homeless person downtown approached with an odd request. He wanted some money to obtain propane to use to heat his tent on the cold night ahead. Uncharacteristically, I gave him some money.

I asked him about using the shelter and he noted that you need to be there very early and the line is quite long. They are also not able to accommodate everyone on the line.

I usually refrain from responding to these street requests. My inner conversation involves my suspicion that the money given will be used for drugs and alcohol, not food and lodging. Perhaps it will and perhaps not. I know I can’t discern what will occur. Should I have warned him about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning when using propane in a tent?

Northampton generally seems a city with considerable social sensitivity. Sometimes we focus on helping refugees, victims of domestic violence, drug overdose and gender violence. In this environment, I am puzzled and distressed by the overall view of homeless street people and our response as a city.

How many share my reflex discomfort causing me to shy away from the street requests. This discomfort includes those widely held convictions that demonize the homeless as a group. The subtext for many includes laying blame on them for being parasites, lazy and con artists. The prevailing attitude toward the homeless is close to what President Ronald Reagan created with his referring to single mothers trying to raise a family as “welfare queens.” Of course there is drug use at times, as well as significant mental health problems, plus other personal tragedies that lead to homelessness.

Perhaps it is problematic to stand in a long line to hope you get shelter. Would we all stand in subzero weather for an uncertain bed? Why do we expect the homeless to have personal character traits of planning and patience that many of us lack? Does this reflect our own punitive attitude which includes laying blame and distancing ourselves from people who make us uncomfortable?

The reasons for homelessness are obviously many-layered. Since the city is currently facing a request for a financial override, is this a good time to include funds to study this issue and develop some realistic recommendations for a more effective, humane approach to those who are homeless?

Paul Redstone


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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