Love Thy Neighbor

An evaluation of the increasingly widespread homelessness in Colorado Springs

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Love Thy Neighbor

Avery Young, Staff Writer

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Homelessness is becoming all the more prevalent in our society. As something that has always existed as long as class structures and western social constructs have, we all know that there isn’t one solution. There can’t be just one way to solve anything, especially an issue that changes with our society such as this.

 

Homelessness is classically defined with transience in mind – the idea that people are just passing through, on their way to getting a job or a home or something, anything to make people feel better about being blind to the suffering lining our streets. People often use this idea to feel better about the difficulty of living side by side with homeless neighbors, putting the people on every street corner out of their minds.

 

Everyone has felt invisible at some point or another. In high school, people struggle with feelings of inconsequence and ideas of their own shortcomings all too often. For many this invisibility is difficult to leave, following through jobs and relationships. Some people are successful and happy and still come back to it. Homelessness is an extreme of this; in our society we turn a blind eye to poverty for comfort’s sake.

 

On the West Side of Colorado Springs the homeless population is incredibly visible. The combination of a lack of a shelter in the area, a plethora of businesses with public bathrooms/hospitable environments, and host of other personal factors contribute to the struggles the community as a whole faces. The “no man’s land” between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs is home to many lacking sufficient funding and housing situations. In light of the recent displacement of tent cities in the Ivywild area, the issue has become all the more visible.

 

Businesses surrounding Bancroft and Acacia Park suffer from a large population with nowhere to go, loitering and bothering customers, asking for change and essentially, intimidating people. The end goal, really, is not to pose a threat, but rather to be seen. Unfortunately, even the most patient of people struggle to be comfortable in situations surrounded by those wondering where their next meal will come from, when they themselves are simply not in that place.

 

For many, the struggles others face can be a painful reminder of the privilege they have been granted. No one likes to acknowledge the fact that they have the upper hand in society, especially people who have lived their whole lives never having to worry about finding a place to sleep. When faced with this knowledge, it becomes easier to ignore the situation, ignore panhandling, ignore questions from across the park, ignore the litter and remnants of life displaced. Just keep walking, don’t make eye contact, don’t apologize. This is the message sent through street signs and from your mother’s mouth, this is what we have to do to not feel guilty.

 

With the advent of technology and mass media, tragedy is already through our doorstep and at our fingertips. Overexposure to homelessness desensitizes and makes the reality of the situation that much less, well, real. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t affected by tragedy. The two options become ignoring homelessness because one is so immensely surrounded by suffering at every turn  or focusing on it so much that they are desensitized. People try to rationalize homelessness in favor of feeling guilty, saying that people in bad situations must have done something to deserve it.

 

Claiming drug use, irresponsibility, and laziness as causes of homelessness narrows the scope of a broad issue and understates the complexity of the situation. As much as black children don’t deserve to be shot in the street despite crime and as much as women don’t deserve to be raped for “revealing” outfits, homeless people are not intrinsically deserving of homelessness. Many people are victims of circumstance and, while they are not separate from their actions, social biases often lead to unsavory situations. Our perception of the poor in the United States stems from the “Bootstrap” ideal, playing into the capitalist mindset that anyone who works hard enough can make it to the top – this is simply not the case.

 

Just as there is no one cause, for both our perception and the actuality of the situation, there is no one solution to a homeless population.

 

Shelters are often considered the first line of defense in supporting and mitigating homelessness. Having a place to stay and food to eat while you get back on your feet is the primary goal. For many they are still an inaccessible resource, regulated by strict curfews, rules regarding drug and alcohol consumption, and pets. Many people involved in the city believe that people come to Colorado at times for the recreational marijuana, which makes accepting these rules a roadblock to some.

 

This is not an excuse but a reason for the increasing number of people out on the streets. Some shelters like the Salvation Army are run by religious organizations, making it more difficult for gay and transgender people to find refuge. Places like Urban Peak do their best to curb this, but the reality of the situation is that queer teens become queer adults. Making shelters safe for part of the population immediately alienates others, and while this is necessary in many cases it means that there have to be more resources available to the community as a whole.

 

Even people who have jobs and houses and cars struggle to make rent on time, and to buy food and gas. Living paycheck to paycheck is a dangerous flirtation with poverty, and means that everyday people are forced onto the streets despite working two jobs. Rising property values and increasing popularity of Colorado in general also contributes to this.

 

There are far too many inequalities in being born poor alone. The path to homelessness for many is just a few seemingly inconsequential mistakes away in an increasingly competitive job and housing market. The lack of resources even in the face of government subsidized housing and meal plans like SNAP makes avoiding homelessness seem hopeless.

 

The hardships low income and homeless individuals face does more than strain a portion of the population, it hurts our community as a whole. There is the idea to make homelessness easy to overcome but difficult to fall into intentionally, which is fantastic in theory. In the search for this balance, opportunities are often limited which makes the reality of homelessness more difficult for the vast majority of people who would do anything to not be there.

 

There is no real solution. All we can do is open our hearts when we can and do our best to give the people who utilize available resources the ability to rise from their situation. There is the hope that government plans will save lives, but it has to come from the community first; a centralized and localized community-based movement to clean up parks and waterways, build a shelter on the West Side, and have park bathrooms unlocked to accommodate the needs of everyone, might be a good place to start.

 

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