Letter: Don’t distance the homeless, treat them with empathy

Editor,

In a recent letter to the editor, a citizen insisted that we remove financially-struggling neighbors from our town.

Her letter used the words “they” and “them” 27 times, and “the homeless” four times, for our fellow citizens who live in poverty every day and night.

The letter created an image of “The Other.” They. Them. The homeless. It kept a safe distance from real people and their real problems. Not once did it mention a person by name, not once did it tell a real person’s story, of why that person might be living on the street or unable to put food on the table or keep a roof overhead.

The only actual mention of “homeless people” stated that our impoverished friends are a threat to those who may want to visit here. It didn’t mention that unsheltered people themselves are at far greater risk of harm than the rest of us.

We are a community of over 40,000 humans on North Whidbey. Each of us has our own story, whether we’re housed or on the street, comfortable or out in the cold, well fed or hungry. None of us is more valuable than another, none of us has an entitlement to push the other out of our sight, and damn sure none of us will be scooped up and shoveled out of town to a place where nobody has to look at us.

All of us belong here in this place, not just those of us with the means to take whatever we want and keep it for ourselves.

The letter was correct that Band-Aids like food, clothing and shelter aren’t the long term solution. Yes, crime is a real problem; yes, substance abuse is a horrific tragic journey; and yes, citizen safety is a valid concern. But poverty is a complex web, and nobody has the perfect solution.

Our community won’t find that solution without applying those Band-Aids first. And we’ll never get there by turning The Other into a pariah, removing people from our sight who don’t look, dress, act, talk or live like us.

We’ll find the answer with hard work, compassion and kindness. Thousands of people in our community are already doing exactly that – churches, businesses, service clubs, governments, educators, law enforcement and citizen volunteers are working together every day.

A smile and a little understanding cost us nothing. But to another person they could mean, well, everything.

Bill Walker,

Oak Harbor

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