For The Daily Item
Like the Third World countries that bulldoze slums and whitewash local poverty in order to host the Olympic Games, the city of Wilkes-Barre cleared out the makeshift homeless camps in and around Kirby Park and River Common earlier this month in order to put a shiny, happy face on its annual Riverfest last weekend. The city even made sure that the steps at River Common were “sprayed down,” as if to cleanse away any lingering stench or filth from its most vulnerable citizens.
A local television station broadcast a story about the removal of the homeless. One local citizen dismissed any concerns about the city’s actions, saying that “everyone” in the camps had “a criminal background.” How the citizen knew this with any certainty is unclear. The story indicated that police had directed the homeless to local shelters and a Wilkes-Barre soup kitchen.
Homelessness in America continues to be a complex and demanding problem. We stereotype the homeless as mentally ill, unclean, and “criminal.” We dismiss them and their needs, shoving them to the fringes of our society, putting them out of sight, and therefore, out of mind. We treat them as a stain on the fabric of our national tapestry.
We will never overcome the problem of homelessness if all we do is drive our vulnerable citizens out of the light and into the darkness, moving them from place to place for the sake of our own convenience and entertainment. We must be a better nation than that — we must approach this challenge with an attitude other than “the show must go on.”