I’ve been following the saga of the removal of park benches in some areas of Ghent. The reason given by the city is that they need to combat crime; it appears, though, the real problem is homelessness in the city.
More than 30 years ago, I was involved with an organization that worked on behalf of the homeless. The problem is a persistent one. While there are places for night sheltering, the big challenge is what to do with the population during the day. I still remember when the bathrooms in the Federal Building, where I worked for the IRS, were fitted with locks; it was done to keep the homeless from using them.
Taking away the benches doesn’t take away the problem. Finding the money for a day center – especially when the city manages to find money for its economic development projects – is a step in the right direction, and one that should have been taken prior to the removal of the benches. The homeless population will find another location, but the residents will suffer.
Just makes no sense.
Besides, didn’t the mayor announce, in 2004, a plan to end homelessness in 10 years? From a 2006 editorial:
Back in 2004, when Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim set an audacious — maybe absurd — goal of wiping out homelessness in 10 years in the city, it sounded like just another politician writing a check he knew he couldn’t cash. Who would remember the boast in 2014, save critics, if hundreds of homeless men, women and even families still wandered about without a permanent roof over their heads? The problem was seemingly intractable.
Besides, many nonprofit organizations, social service agencies and churches had been a waging a thankless, inertia-laden task of sheltering the homeless for decades. Union Mission, the mega-shelter downtown, had even battled city leaders while trying to find a new headquarters.
So was Fraim being serious?
We are just months away from it being 2014. This latest action, sadly, gives us the answer to the editorial board’s question.
- Park bench removal gets mixed reaction (wavy.com)
- Ghent park benches removed to fight crime, homelessness (wtkr.com)
- Benches removed from Ghent parks to keep homeless from loitering (wvec.com)
- Being homeless soon a crime? (secretsofthefed.com)