Written by Stacy Oliver, Community Outreach Coordinator at One Roof
One Roof would like for our community consider a slightly more proactive and compassionate response to the complaints of (possibly) homeless people defecating and urinating in Caldwell Park.
Yesterday,Adam Ganucheau posted an article to AL.com about Highland Park residents seeing an increase in the number of people they think are experiencing homelessness in their parks. The chief complaint in the article is about these individuals publicly urinating and defecating in Highland’s Caldwell Park, with the added offense that residents’ dogs “are attracted to the waste and rolling in it.”
Generally speaking, watching (and smelling) anyone urinate or defecate in public is going to be offensiveand unpleasant. However,having access tothe privacy of a toilet behind a locked door – which is ideal for most of us to be comfortable and to protect others from having to watch us eliminating bodily waste – is a privilege that not everyone has. One particular quote stands out in this article and pretty poignantly highlights the sometimes subtle discrimination and sub-human treatment of people experiencing homelessness:
“It’s so unfortunate because we have such nice parks, but they’re attractive to everybody.”
In the article, the people experiencing homelessness whoare being seen in Caldwell Park are depicted as problems, criminals, and as the undeserving, undesirable “them.” The initial reaction to seeing these people in the Highland Park neighborhood is that “You don’t belong here,” despite the fact that Caldwell Park is public. While waste elimination in public is not appropriate, it is something that happens when there is literally nowhere else to go to perform thismost basic bodily function. These complaints of public pooping are certainlyvalid, but they also draw attention to an even bigger issue that’s valuable for the community to consider.
Homelessness can be difficult to understand for anyone who’s lived their whole lives securely (and even not-so-securely) housed. It can be difficult to understand why people stay homeless; it can be baffling to hear that there are systemic, identifiable barriers that hold people back from living in their own home.
But it’s important to recognize that homelessness is something that a person experiences when they don’t have an adequate support system. Support systems require different emotional, material, monetary, medical, and other resources in order to be successful. For someone experiencing homelessness, they may be missing resources like healthy relationships with friends or family; adequate mental health or substance abuse resources needed to live independently; access to money for efficient transportation, healthcare, rent, or legal help; or even something as simple as a state ID. Each of these hurdles is difficult to navigate, but any combination of two or more barriers becomes almost impossible to overcome without extensive assistance.
The article also mentions city ordinances that “prohibit sleeping or camping in the city’s parks after they close.” Legally, there are many measures in place that criminalize the existence of a homeless person. Where do you sleep when you don’t have a home, the shelters are full, you have no transportation, no money for a motel, and you need somewhere safe to lie down? Where do you use the bathroom when most establishments require that you purchase something in order to use the facility? Or what if your public restroom is a 45 minute walk from your current location?
While this may seem bleak, there are supportive and dignified ways to help people you see experiencing homelessness. One Roof advocates for our amazing member agencies, several of which have fantastic street outreach teams. If you see someone who you think might be homeless, a street outreach worker is trained to develop a rapport with that individual and put them in touch with shelters and other services in our community (typically by physically coming to the individual wherever they are in the community). Even if a neighborhood resident is uncomfortable with seeing individuals that do need help and care, the Firehouse Shelter is a great call to make for anyone who appears to be street homeless; Jefferson, Blount, Shelby Mental Health Authority (JBS)does fantastic work with people with severe mental illnesses; and Project HOPE is an excellent contact for anyone who appears to be a homeless youth. These outreach teams are made up of case managers who care deeply about offering comprehensive help and resources to people experiencing homelessness and helping them to live more empowered, dignified, and self-sufficient lives.
One Roof also suggests taking a look at the desperate need that exists in our state (and our country) for more affordable housing. If the condition of simply being homeless and having to perform very basic human functions (like sleeping and defecating in public) is virtually illegal, shouldn’t people without a home have some sort of access to a home? By finding ways to support organizations and efforts that can offer safe, decent, accessible, and affordable homes, we will certainly see a decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community (and more support for people who have chronic issues and who may be unable to advocate for themselves).
One way to do this is to learn more about the Alabama Housing Trust Fund(AHTF) and HB141. The AHTF is a flexible source of money that can be used to maintain, retain, and create homes for people who live in poverty in our state and who are struggling to pay rent and still put food on the table. The AHTF can also be used for homeless prevention purposes and help people who may need support to live stably.
Another way is to be supportive of One Roof member agencies within our Continuum of Care. Our compassionate network of service providers are skilled professionals committed to helping people get back on their feet and live more self-sufficient and healthier lives with a roof over their heads.
One Roof also provides education to the community about homelessness and systemic barriers to housing. Get in touch with One Roof to find out more about Homelessness 101 or ask about our homelessness simulation. For more information about ways to end homelessness in smart, dignified, and meaningful ways, feel free to contact our agency by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (205-254-8833).
One Roof is the homeless Continuum of Care for central Alabama, and is committed to equipping and empowering communities to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services. More information can be found at www.oneroofonline.org.
Learn how to support the Alabama Housing Trust Fund.
The most realistic, long-term way to end homelessness in central Alabama is to provide more safe, decent, accessible, and affordable homes where hardworking Alabamians, children, veterans, and people with disabilities can live.
The Alabama Housing Trust Fund is a flexible source of funding that can be used to maintain, retain, and create homes for Alabamians with the greatest need and who are most vulnerable to losing their homes. Take a look at this infographic from the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama about the economic impact of the AHTF:
You can also take a look at the following information (including a form letter) for how you can help end homelessnesss through the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF).
There is a devastating shortage of safe, decent, accessible, and affordable housing in our community. Hardworking Alabamians have an incredibly difficult time being able to afford rent AND put food on the table. AHTF will offer the dignified, compassionate, and cost-efficient response of giving vulnerable Alabamians a place to call home rather than live on the streets.
To learn more, visit the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama’s or check out their website dedicated to the AHTF.