About “The Least of Us”….

Sunday sermon time…

Homeless people make most of us uncomfortable. The reasons vary: some people are frightened or intimidated, believing that unkempt and sometimes strange-acting street people pose a physical danger. Others feel guilt over a comparatively privileged status. Still others simply lack compassion and want “those people” to stop cluttering “their” landscape. A San Francisco Catholics Church evidently fell in the latter category.

First the water rained down, and then the condemnation rained down — and on Wednesday, San Francisco’s embarrassed Roman Catholic Archdiocese said it would tear out sprinklers that have been dousing homeless people sleeping in the doorways of its premier church in the city.

I’m sure Jesus would have been proud….

Here in Indianapolis, we haven’t been hosing down the homeless, but we’ve been hosing them in other ways.

As I’ve previously written, last year, a local group of independent filmmakers documented the City’s embarrassing treatment of homeless individuals (and the fact that NO public dollars are spent on programs to help them). The film actually motivated citizens to demand action by the City County Council–and the Council responded by passing a “Homeless Bill of Rights.” (Can we spell “democracy in action”? Very encouraging.)

Then the Mayor vetoed the ordinance.

The “usual subjects” defended the Mayor’s veto, because (wait for it) the constitution already gives homeless folks these rights. (Which were being so carefully observed by local authorities…)

The Huffington Post has an interesting report on the veto, under the headline: Hoosier Reputation Taking a Beating. (That’s a bit unfair–thanks to our legislature, our reputation is already pretty badly damaged….)

Prior to the historic vote and once humanitarian arguments were set aside, both sides debated the cost of granting equal rights to persons without housing. Opponents of the HBR feared high litigation costs should persons experiencing homelessness file lawsuits demanding equal access to public places.

I hate to point out an inconsistency here, but if homeless folks already have these rights, then they also already have the right to sue. And I haven’t noticed any “flood of litigation” over the City’s constant violation of those rights.

Proponents of the HBR cited statistics proving the cost of incarcerating the persons experiencing homelessness — something that is done now because homelessness is effectively illegal in Indianapolis — makes the HBR a cost saving measure.

We can argue costs and abstract rights until the cows come home, but I can’t get one scene from the documentary out of my head: the police trashing the pathetically few possessions of homeless people in an encampment that had become a sad but supportive “community”–throwing into dumpsters the books, chairs, tents and other items that these down-and-out folks had managed to hold onto, and telling them to scatter, to “go somewhere else.”

But not telling them where, because in Indianapolis, there are few, if any, places to go.


  1. Ballard has much more pressing issues than the “Homeless Bill of Rights”; he has the new Justice Center, Angie’s List, the Eleven stadium and more money is needed to improve those charter schools and add voucher students. Exactly how much time does he have left in office? Can we possibly hold his issues at bay until he is out? Honest to Goodness, Indianapolis; what lies ahead for all of us?

  2. If ONLY those homeless people had a ball of some sort to play with, THEN the city and state would jump right in. 😉
    In NYC they have a program based on Housing FIRST. They don’t try to fix the folks before helping them, they just get them inside in housing. THEN the rest of the building has people that help them with Mental Health, substance abuse, work skills and so on. But the first thing is get them off the street. Makes sense to me.

  3. In the 90’s Indiana closed Central State Hospital. It was the only facility offering inpatient mental health services to the homeless and indigent. It was stated that the cost and challenges of restoring the very old facility were insurmountable. I can understand that. What I cannot understand is why we didn’t build a new hospital before we closed the old one. Disgraceful. The patients were turned out on the street with no place to go.

    Most seem to agree that the root cause of homelessness is addiction and other untreated mental health issues. Rather than promoting measures like the so called homeless bill of rights, which would accomplish very little, let’s raise our voices and demand a new public mental health hospital.

    If anyone wants to get partisan and state the Republicans currently in power would never finance a new hospital, you’re probably right. As you say that please keep in mind that the Democrats were in power when the existing hospital closed. Maybe we could add a rider to the soccer stadium bill currently being considered. 82 million for a soccer stadium and another 82 million for mental health treatment for the homeless. Treat the root cause.

  4. David; you are right about Democratic Governor Evan Bayh, he closed public mental health facilities statewide, not only Central State Hospital. This caused homeless and rising crime rates around the state. This also caused a rise in joblessness at the same time. Of course he also pulled out of the Senate race at the last minute leaving the party scuffling to find a replacement. We got Donnelly elected only because Mourdock made the stupid statement that if women got pregnant from being raped, God must have wanted her to have that baby. Today, we have the added factor of joblessness, ending unemployment benefits, loss homes, criminals returned to our streets due to shortened sentences. Face it; we have many causes of homeless here and many problems to deal with but the priorities of our duly elected officials run to nourishing the wants of sports fans.

  5. I have met many homeless people by serving them breakfast one morning each week. On average they are very unkempt and suffer from personality disorders for which they feel that the only treatment available to them is addiction to drugs and/or alcohol which makes their personality even more dysfunctional. I’ve never met one who chose the path that they’re on but it happened to them and very few will escape it.

    They are a problem for “us” and we for “them”, the difference being that we have all of the power. We could choose to alleviate their suffering, but they cannot.

    Of course their lifestyle is shared by many in the world but these happened to be born here. Someplace else and they would not stand out so much.

    One choice they have is to break the law and go to nice warm and relatively comfortable jails but even we understand how compelling freedom is.

    Many churches and some individuals, to their credit, try to alleviate some of their suffering, but the general public, those with power, wishes that they would just go away.

    There is a lot of sadness in life and they have been given more than their share.

    Solutions? Frankly, they’re hard for me to imagine. They’re not dying in the streets as elsewhere, but we offer no real alternative to them. The few who beat the homeless rap offer some inspiration but the hobo is as old as I am and more.

    The fact that our society is unable to solve the problem doesn’t mean that there is no culture that could. It just means that cultural evolution is never over.

  6. JoAnn…Equally short sighted is the current bill to eliminate the common wage provisions that have been required on public projects for decades. The battle cry is “save the taxpayers money”. It’s bull. I once owned a construction company that competed for public works jobs. My company got business and my employees received strong wages. Win win situation. My prediction is that the savings will hurt the workers, increase the profits of the construction companies, and save the taxpayer zip. Warch the costs of these projects in the coming years. The costs will not reduce, the money will just land in different pockets.

  7. David, I recall Central State Hospital. The softball league I played in used the Central State ball field. Sometimes the patients would watch us play. Supposedly, the people at Central State were going to be placed in Group Homes. I found out later there were “Waiting Lists” for Group Homes, the Choice Program and Medicaid Waivers. There are no waiting lists or lack of funding for the Pacers, Colts, or it appears the Indy Eleven. The Simons, Irsay and Ozdemir of the Indy Eleven go to the front of line.

  8. The Indianapolis ‘sports’ mecca was supposed to enrich our community so much that we could afford all sorts of things unaffordable in the past. Somehow that pot of gold at the end of the sports rainbow never materializes for public services, the mentally ill, and the poor.

  9. Louie; I had two family members who worked at Central State for many years, my brother was a patient there before it closed. A good friend had her son placed in Central State so she could have him at home most weekends; he was not a welfare patient, many were not. Those waiting lists for group homes were primarily comrised of patients whose famiies could pay for their care; almost all were inconenient to Indianapolis famiies. Those who could afford to place their family members meant the patients lost much of their family support, so vital to their well being.

    This is a favorite story of mine; my friend’s son was “retarded” – “mentally challenged” these days – I never knew his level of abilities. Mary (I will not use their last name as it would be familar to many) would have Guy at home weekends with his brother; it was their habit on Sunday nights after she returned him to the hospital, he would call her after she got home. One Sunday she told him she was very tired so please not to call that night as she was going straight to bed. Well of course he called; the operator asked if she would accept the collect call from Mr. (his last name), she refused the call and hung up. The phone rang again a few minutes later with the operator asking if she would accept a collect call from Mr. (his last name), she again refused and hung up the phone. The third time the phone rang the operation said, “Will you accept a collect call from Mr. Jones?”

  10. The first and most simple thing that we can do to help these human beings who are without a home is to stop referring to them as, “The Homeless” or even, “Homeless People”, and start referring to our fellow human beings who are without a home as just that, “People without a home.” They are people without a home and being without a home can be a temporary situation. Contrary to popular myths, which help comfort our helplessness with where to start to solve the problem, the majority of people without homes are not suffering from mental illness nor from chronic substance abuse. Our societal structure will always produce individuals who are temporarily without a home. For more than 3 decades the term “The Homeless” has become dismissive and corralling to millions of individuals and families who are daily and hopefully temporarily in dreadful circumstances.

    Who are these people without a home? They are all types of people from all walks of life. Gaining entry to the club shows no prejudice. Families with children account for 40% of the 15,000 people who enter homelessness each year. Any series of unfortunate events could cause a family or individual to enter homelessness including young mothers with children who flee domestic situation, constant medical issues leading to loss of job, loss of everything to fire, a family simply falling on hard times, plus poverty and the lack of affordable housing are the leading cause of a family entering the potentially temporary situation of being without a home. On any given night in Central Indiana, 3,000 children are likely to be without a home.

    Entering homelessness has devastating effects on a family by disrupting virtually every aspect of family life and health especially for the children. Entering homelessness yields higher rates of asthma, ear infections, stomach problems, speech and mental problems, lack of immunization, daily food insecurity, the children being four times as likely to fall behind in education and social development. many children go to foster care.

    With help from organizations like Dayspring Center, which is in desperate need of funds, people without a home have 4 times better chance of recovering from their temporary situation than those people who do not receive help from such organizations. More importantly, through the assistance from strong neighborhood help centers such as Mary Rigg Center, human beings struggling to keep a roof over their head can avoid entering the devastating situation of being without a home.

    No, President Ray-gun (Mr. zap it with a slogan and it will all go away if you vote for me), Mr. ‘…these people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps…’ No, sir, because it’s hard to do when you’ve lost your bootstraps.

    Six days a week on my way to work I’d drive near the settlement under the bridge at Maryland and Davidson which was just on the other side of the tracks from Angie’s List’s compound. It’s location made a lot of sense given that it’s close to some restaurant dumpsters, but simultaneously it offers a remarkable view at the rooftops of buildings housing 3 major corporations. I drove through the settlement to witness, to get a really healthy dose of gratitude, and to actually look for acquaintances from my years in the Food & Beverage industry who might by misfortune be there. Trust me, in that settlement I’d see people who breathe and need to perform other bodily functions to remain alive. Also, if you drive through a similar settlement and you look closely, you can see the people without homes each have a pair of eyeballs looking to connect with the same.

  11. Since that church in San Francisco is Catholic, meaning that they insist my Singular Primary Offspring founded it and that it has My special Ear, I asked them why they had installed that sprinkler system in the first place, since I know best how much rain to provide to both water the lawn and any moist incentive to anyone using their doorstep as a place to sleep. Rather than respond (they can’t depend on Pope Francis to automatically excuse their actions anymore), they just had it removed. Sometimes I just don’t appreciate My own abilities.

  12. It seems to me that those who opposed the homeless bill of rights and/or government help toward the problem of homelessness are folks with a distorted view of our society. They seem to believe that everyone is capable of making it in this world. If only all of us were born truly equal this would be so. Despite our best efforts through laws, education and teachings of being good this is just not so. Sad as it is there will always be those among us who cannot take care of themselves. We as a society can either accept this and step up to the task of caring for a certain percentage of our population or we can turn a blind eye, blame those who are so lost and pretend that all will be resolved someday into the future … preferably on someone else’s dime.
    We don’t treat stray dogs as badly as we treat our fellow humans in Indianapolis.

  13. One of the key issues also involves the civil rights of the mentally ill. I don’t know what the answer is. For too long people could have ” residential mental health care” forced upon them by their husbands or their families, and many abuses occurred. Even so, there is nothing more traumatic and heart-breaking than to see a loved one deteriorate mentally and be unable under current law to get them sufficient help. The woefully inadequate turn-around times and out- patient triage is not sufficient. To expect a person in the midst of a psychosis to make these decisions for themselves seems irresponsible, and so many people with brain disorders just end up in the jails…what a terrible thing. Dorothea Dix must be turning over in her grave.

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