By G.W. Rolle
I read the article “City
Plans to Move the Homeless Out” [in a St. Petersburg, Fla. paper] with
great interest, though with a twinge of sadness. After all, we the
Homeless Leadership Network, are supposed to be leaders and intrinsic
in that term leadership, I would imagine, is the fact that we are
leading the homeless to a better situation—if not a life like ours, at
least a life off the streets, and into suitable housing. The fact that
more leaders are not more angry about the actions of the city council,
in their attempt to criminalize homelessness, is indicative of the
syndrome known as a fox in a henhouse or a wolf in sheep's clothing.
We draw funds—mostly unaccounted for—we meet countless hours a week, we make heartfelt quotes in the newspapers, but when the very thing we are supposed to be advocating against happens, and this is not a drill, where are the press conferences, the righteous indignation, the very actions that define what committee we are on?
Do you really believe the city has the right to seize a person's private property and destroy it? Do you really advocate that no one sleeps, lies, or reclines (huh?) on rights of way during daylight hours? The problem is, these rules were never meant to apply to everybody, because that would be foolish and untenable. But if these rules are only applied to some and not all, that equals discrimination.
The Interfaith Shelter Committee (ISC) voted to a person, that when Pinellas Hope opened, they would urge the mayor and his ilk not to criminalize the people who did not go to the tents at Pinellas Hope for one reason or another. I was disappointed that the ISC didn't hold a press conference to denounce these new draconian efforts to dehumanize a portion of humanity.
There is an evil argument making the rounds in various schools of thought. That argument says that those who do not go to Pinellas Hope are not trying to better themselves and are choosing to be comfortable in homelessness and should be ridden out of town on a rail. Hey—since when were tents deemed as suitable housing? I didn't get that memo.
All of you who work with the homeless day in and day out, tell me who chooses homelessness as a lifestyle? I know I didn't, but that fact didn't stop me from being out there for four years. Those with ears, let them hear.
Homelessness is a humiliating nightmare. You cannot even use the bathroom after certain hours without threat of arrest. For what everyone else does everyday without thinking about, you are held up to ridicule, and told they have had enough of you. Could one of our committees, in the five hundred hours of meetings a month, work to get twenty-four hour restroom access? I mean are we that lame, that toothless?
I think it is all going to boil down to what kind of people we and the rest of the citizens of St. Petersburg are. Are we compassionate shepherds, or are we the killer of sheep? Heaven or Hell perhaps lie in the balance
G.W. Rolle is a leader of the homeless community in St. Petersburg, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org