Warmth is important for bridging the morality gap

Recently I brought up at a city council meeting, again, the issue of an overnight warming center. People used to be able to stop in at our city hall to sit and thaw out a bit at night, back when it was PD headquarters and open 24 hours. The new police station is likewise open 24 hours, but the city refuses to name it as a nighttime emergency resource in weather extremes.

At the meeting I related that a friend of mine had discovered a person in a sleeping bag in a downtown doorway during the worst of the cold (so far) this winter. Then I was rebutted. It went something like, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably the guy who refuses to go to Hope Haven.”

Well, for some people, if the choices are to go to Hope Haven or SOL, they are not real choices. (This is absolutely no reflection on Hope Haven, which is the best.) Bad things can happen to vulnerable people in shelters, and nobody should blame them for trying to protect themselves by avoiding the unknown. We took in a young man for a couple weeks right after Christmas one year. It was a couple decades ago, but I remember it well because some of his stories literally raised the hair on the back of my neck. In short, giving shit choices to traumatized people doesn’t sit well with me.

It also seemed like they were pretending there’s only one homeless guy hanging out in downtown DeKalb. If you have eyes and ears open, you know better. People break into sheds and RVs this time of year to stay alive. The other day when temperatures started dipping again, there was talk of a person living in his car because there’s no opening at the shelter.

The information, by the way, was accompanied by disparaging remarks about the lack of an overnight warming center in our town. It’s one of the things I’m thinking about when I bring up the “morality gap” between citizens and their government. City of DeKalb has gotten meaner, but residents haven’t.

And speaking of Hope Haven and meanness, the shelter’s grant from the city got cut by 25% several years ago, never restored, and city administrators continually try to cut social service support from budgets. This is especially galling since the city actually creates homelessness from time to time.

That’s right. I’ve written about it before, for example the Travel Inn story, when city authorities closed the place and ordered eviction of the long-term “guests,” not all of whom landed on their feet.

DeKalb did find a rental management company to assist the residents of Edgebrook Manor who were evicted following a 24-hour notice, but probably only because of adverse publicity. DeKalb has no formal policy to help the people they boot out of their homes. It’s optional, so they mostly don’t do it. I know because I recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on this topic, and was told there wasn’t a policy. I also asked for documentation on city follow-up with tenants removed from downtown apartments a few months ago, and got no response at all.

If only the silence were about shame.