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Joel John Roberts

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Homeless Junk: One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

Posted: 11/12/11 12:29 PM ET

Sadly, the plight of homelessness in America is being reduced to a toxic battle over trash on the streets.

Communities used to struggle over the fact that people were sleeping in doorways of businesses and in parks where children played. Then, there were the clashes over old recreational vehicles being used as make-shift homes for people who were homeless.

Granted, complaints of people living on the sidewalk next to businesses and unsightly vehicles parked in front of homes are still prevalent. But now we can add the debate over undesirable piles of junk to community complaints.

In downtown Los Angeles' "skid row" area, where more than a thousand people live on the streets within a mere 50 square blocks, business leaders and homeowners are screaming about the fact that their homeless neighbors are piling up discarded items as if it were a central trash dump. Sidewalks are filled with lumpy old mattresses, discarded typewriters and computer equipment. There is even an old playpen.

Community leaders who have spent years trying to upgrade the neighborhood in order to encourage more businesses and residents to move in are crying foul. Keeping streets clean is part of the strategy to promote business, especially during this difficult economy.

Advocates for homeless persons would disagree. To ask the police and city services to cart away a homeless neighbor's belongings is just plain wrong, they say. This so-called "junk" could very well be a person's treasures - old family photos, furniture from when they used to be housed.

So advocates sued to stop law enforcement and the city from discarding people's belongings on the streets of "skid row." Now, the streets are looking more and more like a trash dump.

Homelessness is now becoming a battle over junk, or at least perceived junk. The community is responding to homelessness in the usual confrontational manner pitting housed persons and businesses against our un-housed homeless neighbors. It is never pretty. Political and community leaders shy away from any permanent solutions because one side or the other would feel they have lost.

Frankly, the issue is very basic. Allow the community to clean up their streets or allow people living on the streets to keep their belongings on the street.

It doesn't take King Solomon to realize that the only true solution to this junkyard issue is to permanently house our homeless neighbors so they can store their treasures in their own home, not on the streets.

What does it say about a society that argues over a hurting person's belongings rather than rallying its resources to find that person a true home?

 
 
 

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