Dave Kempa raised some important but highly generalized points about the rights of homeless people in his commentary, “It’s beyond time to allow homeless to sleep in peace” (Forum, Jan. 29).
He bemoans the lack of municipal programs to house homeless folks. His solution is to allow them to camp out legally, unmolested. This perspective is naive and suggests overgeneralized conclusions. City Councilman Steve Hansen says the city wants to solve this problem, but we cannot allow homeless people to camp in alleys and defecate wherever they want to. I agree with my council member but was floored with Kempa’s response when he asked, “What can they do?” Then, he referred to them as my neighbors.
I have lived downtown since 1978 and have interacted with homeless people for nearly 40 years. They sleep in my alley, they leave trash, they urinate and defecate, and I clean it up. Not all of them do this, however, they generally are not motivated to keep the alley clean, do not care to live the way I or my neighbors do, and tend (again, not all of them) to drink alcohol and take drugs.
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Now, you could say I am making generalizations about the problem and I am not fair about my assessment. However, I am the one who cleans up the poop, the empty bottles of cheap booze and NyQuil, and the used hypodermic syringes. Please do not call them my neighbors. They don’t act like this is their neighborhood.
While they have reasons for their plight in life, they could make the same choices that I and my neighbors make and not trash the alleys. Am I unfair? Should my neighbors and I do more for a homeless person than they would do for themselves? If I can be responsible for cleaning up their messes in my alley, shouldn’t they be responsible to clean up themselves? Kempa should come over to my neighborhood once a week and help clean up the alley with me.
Solutions are clearly not simple. However, allowing homeless people to peacefully “rest” amongst us is not acceptable. This is sad, but we should not allow ourselves to be extorted by those who appeal to our humanity while not holding those who exhibit no humanity toward themselves accountable for their self-abuse and abuse of our neighborhoods.
Steven Kasower has lived in midtown Sacramento for nearly 40 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.