The New York Times has a story today about a controversy over feeding the homeless in Los Angeles. Raleigh is mentioned in the fifth paragraph.
“LOS ANGELES — They began showing up at dusk last week, wandering the streets, slumped in wheelchairs and sitting on sidewalks, paper plates perched on their knees. By 6:30 p.m., more than 100 homeless people had lined up at a barren corner in Hollywood, drawn by free meals handed out from the back of a truck every night by volunteers.
But these days, 27 years after the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition began feeding people in a county that has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, the charity is under fire, a flashpoint in the national debate over the homeless and the programs that serve them.
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Facing an uproar from homeowners, two members of the Los Angeles City Council have called for the city to follow the lead of dozens of other communities and ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces.”
Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable citizens. But homelessness is a complex problem. It is not simply an economic one. According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors study, families become homeless largely because of economic reasons - a lack of affordable housing, unemployment, etc.
These folks are probably the easiest to help get back on their feet and under a roof.
But then there are the folks who are homeless because they are substance abusers or mentally ill. The 40-year-old push to close down institutions and treat the addicted and mentally ill in communities has probably created a more or less permanent number of homeless who fall through the cracks and end on the streets. (I remember back in the ‘80s when people said President Reagan’s economic policies were responsible for the surge in homelessness. The deinstitutionalization push was usually not part of the conversation.)
Most homeless people live in urban areas, and the effort by charitable groups and churches to feed them necessarily must be down where they are. The homeless are not that mobile. So this leads to crowds of homeless people waiting for food, and this unsettles people who are vested in the gentrification of downtowns.
Raleigh is trying to deal with this by moving the feeding to a warehouse behind the old Salvation Army building, instead of Moore Square. But this is just a patch. There were, by one detailed census conducted last January, more than 12,000 homeless people in North Carolina. That included around 1,100 in Raleigh/Wake County. Nearly 60 percent of the adults were seriously mentally ill or chronic substance abusers.
Like I said, this is not just an economic problem.