Homeless?

As the articles on the front page of today’s Daily Sentinel highlight, there are ongoing problems in this community with one segment of the population we collectively refer to as “homeless.”

But there is another group, also placed under the umbrella label of “homeless,” whose reasons for being without a home of their own are quite different from those in the first group, and for whom the problems and solutions are quite different.

For this second group, being homeless is a catastrophe. For many in the first group, it’s a lifestyle choice.

We at The Daily Sentinel hereby declare our intention to find different nomenclature to describe these two distinctly different sets of people that are currently called “homeless.”

In one group, there are families — single parents and couples — who may be living out of their vehicles or forced by circumstances to share space with relatives or friends. They are people who had homes, but lost them after Mom, Dad or both lost their jobs and their income no longer covered their mortgage payments or rent.

They are invisible to most of us.

Those in this group are far different than folks squatting in camps along the river, panhandling on street corners for money to feed their drug or alcohol addictions or dealing with mental illness.

It is hardly fair to lump those people in the first group into the same category as those in the second by using an amorphous, inexact label for both.

Moreover, programs or efforts needed to deal with the two groups are vastly different.

For the first group, temporary financial assistance along with help in finding a job or a place to stay until they are back on their feet may be what is required. A healthy economy with available jobs is critical for them.

For the other group, the problems are more long-term and the solutions more difficult. Simply providing meals, low-cost or no-cost shelter or even finding jobs for them often fails to address more deeply rooted problems. Their place of habitation is unlikely to change just because the economy improves.

The Grand Junction Police Department and its Homeless Outreach Team have done an admirable job straddling the line between working with the long-term group and enforcing city ordinances that members of this group frequently violate. It is these group members who are most likely to endanger themselves and threaten or intimidate average citizens who want to use public property such as parks and riverfront trails.

We don’t know exactly how to refer to this group of people, many of whom voluntarily reject conventional housing. But it’s clear they are not homeless in the same sense that a family which has lost its house to foreclosure is homeless.

Terms such as “transient” or “houseless by choice” aren’t precise enough. We’re open to suggestions from our readers.

Transient public dependents?


COMMENTS

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“We don’t know exactly how to refer to this group of people, many of whom voluntarily reject conventional housing. But it’s clear they are not homeless in the same sense that a family which has lost its house to foreclosure is homeless.”

A step in the right direction might be to refer to people without homes as individuals with unique circumstances.

As someone who volunteers with the homeless and knows a number in the ill-favored group, I’m very wary of constructs that can “clearly” place people into two groups—especially when the label implies the groups should be treated differently.

“Transient public dependents” is a terrible, value-laden label that shows The Sentinel editorial writers have a ways to go before they can answer their own question.

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