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HOMELESSNESS: A RIGHTS-BASED PERSPECTIVE

near communities are that it will lower property values, that it will increase traffic and crime, and that it is an unfair distribution of resources. Wynne-Edward’s (2003) proposal suggests that most of these fears are unfounded and that housing project organizers might placate these fears simply by educating residents about prospective outcomes. Having an open dialogue with community members and including them in the process is essential to successfully integrating the homeless into these communities. Local governments must explain to residents that housing the homeless in or close to their community is preferable to having homeless individuals roaming the streets (Wynne-Edwards, 2003). Additionally, they must convince community members that providing the homeless with secure resources, such as a home, would reduce the “need” to commit crimes, and therefore make their communities safer (Wynne-Edwards, 2003). Lastly, they must invite residents to planning sessions and demonstrate that housing the homeless long-term actually reduces the amount of resources used, leaving more resources to address other issues (Wynne-Edwards, 2003). NIMBY opposition has played a key role in preventing the expansion of shelter services in Salt Lake City recently. In an effort to decentralize the resources available to the homeless population, the City and County of Salt Lake unveiled a plan to build four new resource centers in place of the existing shelter facility whose location had become an open-air drug market (Piper, 2017). The idea was to spread out the shelter locations, thereby eliminating the drug market around the existing location. The problem is that city and county leaders did not involve community members in the site selection process, so that when the sites were unveiled, community members were appalled to discover that they would soon be hosting a homeless shelter (Piper, 2017). Fierce opposition erupted in the community over the location and the price of two of the four sites (one of the sites was in an affluent community and carried a price tag larger than the other three sites combined), leading to heated town hall debates and eventually forcing the plan to move forward without these sites. This example exposes a number of flaws in the Salt Lake City plan to end homelessness. First, the city seems more concerned with appearance and profit than with actually helping people. The reasoning behind de-centralizing the homeless resource centers was not to reach more of the target population (which would be reasonable), but rather to defuse the burden from one community to four others, to free up prime downtown real-estate. The locations were almost arbitrary to the planners, so long as they were not the current location, which is why local communities so easily defeated the plan. Second, had the city had planning requirements such as the inclusion of local communities in the site selection process, they could have avoided the appearance of acting unilaterally. The main contention of the communities that resisted the proposed sites was not necessarily that they would be hosting a homeless shelter, but rather that they had no say in the matter. As one concerned resident notes: "We are very disappointed and feel it was derelict of the city to make this announcement without contacting us and blindsiding our business and our families” (Smart & Wood, 2016, para. 14). Lastly, because there is no legal mandate to provide the homeless with shelters, the city had no incentive to go through with the project despite the communities’ objections. The homeless are members of these communities as well but lack the social capital to advocate effectively for their needs. Legal guidelines must hold the government accountable to ensure that reasonable effort is being put

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Alexander Mayer

forth on behalf of the homeless. Conclusion Although they are not often thought of as such, the homeless are members of our communities, worthy of the kindness and compassion we would give to our neighbor. Some might have us believe that the homeless are pariahs or parasites, but how many unfortunate events are most of us from experiencing homelessness ourselves? The death of our primary wage earner? Two costly hospital bills? A car accident? I experienced one such unfortunate event, mental illness, four years ago that rendered me homeless. I spent most of 2013 couch surfing and living out of my car, but eventually I slept on the street. Too ashamed to beg for money, I collected recyclables every day to earn enough money ($20/day) to survive. Fortunately, my family had the resources to provide me with treatment for my illness. When I arrived at the treatment center I was grateful to simply have a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in that putting in the work to overcome my mental illness seemed like a bargain. To know there was a safe place for me to work on myself where others accepted me at my sickest was very powerful and instrumental in my recovery. Very few in the homeless population have the resources available to afford the accommodations that aided in my recovery; however, that does not mean that they are unworthy of them nor that they should be denied them. Taking a rights-based approach to housing means recognizing this inequity, and legislation like the Scottish model begins to address it. While the Scottish model is not without its difficulties, there are many aspects of the model that the U.S. would be wise to consider when drafting future policy on homelessness. These include embracing a more inclusive definition of homelessness, making it the affirmative duty of local governments to house their residents, and shifting to a rights-based approach to housing. While fully embracing a rights-based approach might seem far-fetched for the U.S., adopting a more comprehensive definition of what it means to be homeless certainly is not. A homeless person is not just “an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” (Tars & Egleson, 2009, p. 207), because a home is not simply a roof over one’s head. A home is a place where people feel safe; a place where at the end of the day people retire to, not just to sleep, but to center themselves, removed from the tragedies of the world; it is a place so intertwined with a person’s identity that they can be a thousand miles away, never having left it. Surely to deny any individual any of these things for any reason would be inhumane. That is why it is a human right, and that is why, until declared flatly, that every man, woman, and child need not worry about having a place to call home, the problem of homelessness will continue. References Hansan, J.E. (2011). Poor relief in early America. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/poor-relief-early-amer/ National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). (2000). A plan: Not a dream how to end homelessness in ten years. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/page/-/files/585_file_TYP_pdf.pdf National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (2011). Homelessness. Social work speaks: National Association of Social Workers policy statements, 2009-2012(8thed.). Washington, DC: NASW press. Retrieved from

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Hinckley Journal 2017  

The Hinckley Journal of Politics is the only undergraduate-run journal of politics in the nation and strives to publish scholarly papers of...

Hinckley Journal 2017  

The Hinckley Journal of Politics is the only undergraduate-run journal of politics in the nation and strives to publish scholarly papers of...

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