Since moving to Traverse City approximately six months ago we have observed a number of political and planning issues that are fairly common in larger cities, but which have percolated to the surface here more recently as the region has grown in population and importance. Last night, it was a topic that some seem to want to avoid discussing altogether, homelessness.
Many of us would probably like to think that resort communities are somehow supposed to be immune to negative socio-economic planning topics as everything is always sunny and pleasant. Unfortunately, even in paradise, there are those who are less fortunate. How a community, resort or otherwise, deals with such problems goes a long way toward shining a light on the collective humanity of its citizenry.
Traverse City may be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but it’s weather, particularly in the winter can be and is deadly. I cannot imagine the difficulty in trying to stay warm and nourished out on the streets of our city during these months. Even last night, in early April it was 16 degrees. According to data from Safe Harbor an average of 94 people a night are homeless in Traverse City.
For the past number of years, the community has addressed the challenge of homelessness by providing sleeping and feeding locations at numerous churches throughout the area on a rotating basis. As the homeless population has grown, the need for a single, centralized shelter has become more obvious. Transporting people around to various locations is expensive, time-consuming, and a logistical nightmare, not to mention the homeless themselves trying to keep up with which church is offering them shelter on which night.
Through lengthy efforts a location has been chosen and I am proud to say the City Commissioners voted last night to approve the location (a building currently owned by the city) which will be purchased, renovated, and operated by Safe Harbor. It has not been an easy process though, as opponents were as often as vocal as the proponents.
Despite this victory, I am saddened by some of the callous comments I have heard and read regarding this issue. Comments like:
“These people…” or
“We should give them money and a bus ticket and send them away.” or
“Taxpayers are taking the hit for non-taxpayers.”
What these comments seem to forget (aside from empathy) is that many in our society are but one medical emergency, one rent increase/building conversion, or one job loss away from a life on the streets. Not everyone has a family or personal safety net to fall back on and it is society’s inherent responsibility to provide one for the common good. People are more than simple accounting equations on a ledger – just ask the people of Flint.
Residents have every right to oppose and express concerns, but I really have a problem when the reasons cited de-humanize or demonize their fellow human beings who are suffering. That’s not opposition, that is meanness.
My hope is that once the dust settles and the shelter is open and operating, the fears expressed about diminished property values, impacts on area businesses, need, cost, and otherwise will be abated. I guess only time will tell. For now, I will celebrate that the city’s decision makers have chosen the right, just, and equitable path towards addressing homelessness in our little slice of paradise and I couldn’t be prouder.