Living with homelessness

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When does a homeless veteran become a homeless person first and a veteran second?

While researching the issue of homelessness in North Carolina, I came across this article in the Fayetteville Observer. In short, plans to open a 24-bed shelter for veterans were abandoned after homeowners complained that the shelter’s residents would endanger their neighborhood.

Fayetteville is a city that genuinely cares about veterans. Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division, is located nearby. Many ex-soldiers call Cumberland County home. Fayetteville even adopted the slogan “World’s first sanctuary for soldiers.” Yet, residents in arguably the most pro-veteran city in the United States did not want homeless veterans in their neighborhood.

Most people recognize that there is poverty in our communities, and, as my travels this summer have shown me, there are a lot of North Carolinians working to alleviate it. I’ve met a couple trying to convert an abandoned jailhouse into a shelter, a police officer who is on a first-name basis with many of her city’s homeless residents, a Veterans Administration social worker helping veterans get off the streets, and volunteers who serve breakfast to the poor almost every day.

But, living with poverty seems to be something quite different. During the course of my research, I heard about neighborhoods (both rich and poor) that have petitioned against shelters being set up in their vicinity. I also learned of government officials concerned that public facilities would attract homeless people to the touristy part of town. We’ll drive to an out-of-the-way neighborhood to try to help the homeless, but we refuse live with them.

I think there are several reasons why we insist on this separation between us and the homeless. There are practical concerns about safety and property values. There is also the difficulty of squaring our belief in the greatness of the United States with the fact that many of our fellow Americans live in abject poverty.

Whatever the reason, the answer to the question posed in the beginning of this post seems to be that a homeless veteran becomes simply another homeless person when there is a possibility that he or she may move in down the street.

Posted by Galo V. Centenera on Wed. August 8, 2012 2:57 PM
Categories: Student Research

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