Wednesday, March 3, 2010


A few responses after the Davidson Street bridge "clean up"
I have submitted the following as a Letter to the Editor of the Indianapolis Star (Update: it was published on Monday, March 8, 2010) 

Grappling with homelessness in our communities is gut-wrenching.  The angst felt by many in the recent Davidson Street bridge ordeal isn’t isolated.  Homeless issues are complex and answers aren’t one-dimensional, easy, or final.  As a long-time resident of Indianapolis, as well as having served as an urban pastor, Executive Director of the John H. Boner Community Center and Horizon House homeless day center, I’ve felt the full range of concerns.

Here are a few things I hope our city’s current decision makers take to heart as they continue to address homelessness in our city:

1. Housed or homeless, we are all neighbors.  Labeling people without addresses as “the homeless,” “homeless people,” or worse is neither accurate nor helpful.  A person without a permanent dwelling (for whatever reason) is still our neighbor.  Neighbors without houses are usually taxpaying, law-abiding, and desire to contribute to the common good.  How we conceive of the other is decisive for where we go in our responses.

2. As a city, we have not yet filled critical gaps in the Indianapolis “Blueprint to End Homelessness.”  Most glaringly missing is an engagement center.  The most vulnerable of our homeless neighbors do not stay in rescue missions because of chronic alcoholism or drug addictions.  Every year, many of these neighbors die unnecessarily on our streets.  Homeless neighbors who are publicly intoxicated, chronically addicted, and without other recourse can find life-preserving shelter and first-response professional care at an engagement center.  City after city has saved taxpayer dollars in public safety, jail, and emergency room expenditures--not to mention saving many lives--by robustly supporting this.  It’s time for Indianapolis leadership to step up and make an engagement center a local reality.

3. Individuals and families who are homeless deserve and require our best resources because their future and the region’s are tied together. The vast majority of the homeless neighbors residing in Indianapolis and across Central Indiana are not single adult males, but women and children.  But single adult males cannot be relegated as less significant or worthy of our caring, thoughtful responses.  Difficulties and complexity notwithstanding, our commitment to help our neighbors end their homelessness is part of what will make this the shining city that our forebears envisioned so long ago.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

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Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.