Would You Want a Homeless Shelter to Open on Your Street?

You want to start a new homeless shelter? That’s a great idea that I fully support; we need extra services for the poor people in our city… Oh wait, you want to put it near my neighborhood? No, no, no, that’s not a good spot at all. You know what a better location for a homeless shelter would be? ANYWHERE ELSE.

These words may seem amusingly hypocritical, but it’s a surprisingly common refrain heard all around the country. While most people are in favor of adding homeless shelters to assist some of our most at-risk citizens, as SCPR reports, they draw the line at putting them in and around their own neighborhoods.

I hate to say I empathize with the complainers, but I can probably relate more than I care to admit. Many weeks ago, several homeless people set up residency about 200 feet from my yard in Los Angeles. In past years, the police have shooed people away from this area, but this latest group has managed to sleep in their cars and set up tents without apparent intervention from the city for months.

I consider myself a compassionate person, particularly when it comes to issues of homelessness, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that wished these people weren’t so close to the house I rent. The neighborhood looked nicer and had a lot less litter before they moved onto the street. It was quieter, too.

These are just some of the worries city officials have to listen to from homeowners after a new shelter site is proposed. “I don’t want my family exposed to the danger, the drugs and the Skid Row feeling that this place will bring to our community,” said Angie Armenta at a community meeting for the new shelter proposed in Anaheim.

Her complaints have been echoed in four places around Orange County. While the area has earmarked the money to provide services to needy citizens, so far the real challenge has been finding a neighborhood that will accept it. Two places in Anaheim, one in Fullerton and one in Santa Ana have all objected to having the shelter in their immediate area in order to protect its reputation.

This phenomenon, better known as NIMBY (or Not In My BackYard,) is happening all around the country. Browsing through news stories, I found residents protesting proposed shelters in Columbia, Missouri, Olympia, Washington, Auburn, California and San Francisco as well.

Larry Hanes, a homeless advocate turns to research to support the idea that residents’ fears are mainly unfounded. He says there is no evidence to suggest that homeless shelters are counterproductive to a neighborhood. “What the data does support is that shelter linked to housing ends homelessness,” said Hanes.

As for me, my feelings on the transients in my neighborhood have evolved. Over time, they’ve proven that they pose no danger to me and that we can coexist on the same block without many problems. Sure, they’re occasionally noisy, but certainly not more than the guy two doors down who blares techno music late on Saturday nights. And while there’s still more garbage on the street, the multiple homeowners who never bother to clean up their dogs’ defecation from the sidewalk show an even more flagrant disregard.

After some soul-searching, I’ve realized that my real problem with having homeless neighbors was the overwhelming sadness I experienced. Homelessness is always sad, yet far easier to overlook without a daily reminder of its existence. I inevitably feel guilty about the privileges I have in my own life when confronted with people who are that much less fortunate living so close by.

It’s always going to be easier to turn a blind eye to a problem then to confront it face on. However, ignoring struggling and injustice isn’t going to produce a solution. Until more people are forced to witness this extreme example of wealth disparity in their own backyards, we’ll never adequately tackle this problem as a society.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

39 comments

Benten B.
Benten B1 years ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mary B.
Mary B2 years ago

Homeless shelters are different than people 'squatting on vacant land or empty houses. This is one of those problems that needs to be handled by local governments with federal funding. The buildings need caretakers and some staffing to help with cleaning chores, hopefully from among the homeless themselves. There needs to be a medical person on call and a way to get the mentally ill to take their meds. And they need to have a space of their own inside instead of being put out during the day. How can anybody possibly expect a person living in these conditions to look for work, let alone expect a business to hire them? This just is not a problem that volunteer based charities can handle effficiently.

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Jane R.
Jane R2 years ago

I'm for finding housing for the homeless. I just don't think they should be too close to a residential neighborhood where children play outdoors and in parks. This could possibly put them in harms way.

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Jessica Christensen
Janne O2 years ago

Can hardly blame them. It's a group with a lot of stigma, including drug abuse and mental illness. I don't think a lot of people would want it in their neighborhood.

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Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F2 years ago

why not

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Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

I had to manage a homeless shelter and a low-income apartment in Venice, CA, and it frankly was a nightmare. Sadly there are many homeless who also have untreated mental challenges, and keeping the places clean and the people from going off was nearly impossible.

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Joanna M.
Joanna M2 years ago

It isn't the fact of the homelessness that most people are objecting to, but rather that many are drug addicts or alcoholics, may have mental illness, etc. People are afraid that such individuals may pose a threat to property or their physical safety, and you really can't blame them. While many or even most may not do anything, who's to say that someone suffering from one of these may not act in a way they might not ordinarily? As they say, all it takes is once...

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DIane L.
DIane L2 years ago

People are interesting creatures & I have to include myself in the pack. We want the homeless taken care of, but not in our backyard. We want the tigers, lions & wolves to live but not in our backyard. We want oil consumption to go down but do not cut down on our own driving.

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Suzanne Pena
Suzanne Pena2 years ago

i live in fullerton and i hadn't heard about this until very recently. personally, i would accept a homeless shelter because it would make more sense to have the shelter here than to have people, as described above, living out of their cars or in tents on random streets. i have seen one or two homeless people in the fullerton/placentia/brea area lying on bus benches or on the sidewalk. i feel really bad for these people would welcome a shelter for them as they deserve a safe place to live.

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