Compassion or condemnation?

It didn’t take long, did it?

I’m talking about the reaction to Paul Shockley’s article in Sunday’s Daily Sentinel on the homeless and the Grand Junction Police Departments Homeless Outreach Team, known as the HOT team.

My disappointment is as much about the fact that I’m not surprised as it is about the reactions contained in the comments posted to the article on the Sentinel’s web page, GJSentinel.com. That disappointment is tempered by hope that the handful of comments are not necessarily reflective of the attitudes of 150,000 of us in Mesa County who, for the most part, enjoy lives far different than the relatively small group of folks the HOT Team interacts with on a daily basis.

Lives that include values such as compassion and common sense.

If that weren’t so, if we took the advice in some of those comments, we’d dismantle Grand Valley Transit, that heinous tool the homeless use to get to their street corner begging posts. Defying logic, we’d move the Greyhound and Amtrak stations to Delta or Montrose, increasing the cost of buying bus or train tickets to relocate our local homeless population somewhere, anywhere, down the road.

We’d pile on with those casting aspersions at homeless advocates or anyone else who disagrees with us, all the while railing against “politically correct policing.” We’d be using our “loud voice,” which on the Internet means all caps for words like “WE” (usually an all encompassing term that, when capitalized, seems to include only those who agree with the writer) and “GOOD” (ditto) and “BUMS” (no need for explanation.)

All anonymously, of course, perhaps because anonymity offers a refuge to say things we’d be embarrassed or afraid to have credited to us in a public forum.

Nowadays those things are said in the online equivalent of the unsigned missive that won’t get published as a letter to the editor. Often they’re posted under an adopted online moniker, an alter ego designed to inflate the stature of the commenter, who then becomes “American Patriot” or something like that, the mysterious modern equivalent of the Lone Ranger or the Green Hornet.

Thankfully we still live in a place where compassion is common, where common sense is still sometimes the norm.

That includes firing police officers who abuse the unfortunate and building housing that provides “a way home” for those needing help to get off the streets. It includes interdenominational efforts in support of Grand Valley Catholic Outreach, its soup kitchen and day center and other programs. It also includes churches and volunteers from their congregations taking turns providing shelter for the homeless during the cold winter months that overtax the Homeward Bound shelter on North Avenue.

I’ve spent a winter night at one of those church shelters, pretending it provided me with some insight into the lives of those who headed back to the streets the next morning instead of to a warm and familiar home. I’ve spent part of a cold night traipsing through riverfront camps with a homeless advocate whom some continue to tar with transgressions in a youthful past instead of accepting the redeeming efforts of an adult present.

As a family, we’ve donated our own cash and useful goods to efforts to assist the homeless. As an elected official, I voted to spend some of your tax dollars and to earmark federal grants to the efforts of Homeward Bound, Catholic Outreach and other programs.

Because of the opportunities I’ve had to learn about the issue, I know that those seeking handouts on our corners, those in trouble with the law, those living in camps along the river rather than seeking assistance are as much a minority in the homeless population as “American Patriot” and that ilk are in our broader community. I also know that most of those served at the North Avenue shelter are families, that hundreds of kids in School District 51 are in that population and have their education compromised because of it.

Like most of you, I ignore the solicitations of the street-corner panhandlers while wondering if there’s any feasible permanent answer to the issue of homelessness. But I know that compassion and common sense are a better start than harassment and a bus ticket out of town.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25.

Jim Spehar comments weekly using his real name. Your comments, signed or not, are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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