In the shadows of our town…

 

 

Our town is so lovely. Beautiful New England at its best, really. Well, we’re not coastal, so we lack that type of beauty, but, still…

 

Honestly, I can’t easily imagine a prettier downtown. Oh, I’ve seen the Main St. shots from some lovely little Southern towns, but I don’t know that I’ve ever wished to trade this:

down town

Connecticut is a wealthy state. You knew that, right? As a whole, the average income is higher here than many places and property is valued very high. I think it’s the fact that we’re “pretty New England” with proximity to NYC that makes us such a hot commodity, really.

 

Anyway, this area has that “old money” feel to it, with big old Colonials and refurbished Victorians being so much more prevalent than modern McMansions. Our town green is one of the loveliest in the state and we, literally, gather round that bandstand to sing Christmas carols in December.

 

The trees blaze crimson and scarlet in the fall and lighted Christmas pines line the whole thing come the holidays. Our lamp posts are wrapped in garland and it’s enough to make a traditional heart sigh.

 

Along those main streets, you’ll find several old churches, the library, a couple banks, and lots of restaurants and small businesses. You’ll find benches strategically placed for a rest and wide walking paths and sidewalks.

 

You’ll also find our homeless.

 

That makes some people squirmy. You see, in all those lovely descriptions, it’s sometimes hard to acknowledge that it’s not all sunshine and roses. It’s very easy to act like our town is so near to perfect– great schools, beautiful landscapes, rich history, gorgeous architecture, stunning seasons, etc. Most of us, even if we’re watching our budgets like hawks, move smoothly and easily through our days and fancy it a fine life, indeed.

 

It’s not comfortable to paint the homeless into our bucolic picture.

 

But they’re there. 

 

We have a local soup kitchen that’s run on a strictly volunteer basis. People donate food and volunteers cook and serve bagged lunches and hot suppers. Local churches (Catholic, Episcopal, Congregational, and Baptist) rotate through the cold months of the year and offer shelter overnight to those who need it– again, volunteers run that.

 

The building used for Loaves & Fishes (our soup kitchen) is no longer available. They had no where to go. No place to set up shop to meet the needs of this part of our population.

 

The newspapers blew up. Some people were devastated at this loss. Others viewed it as an opportunity to “relocate” this service further away, to the outskirts of town.

 

The latter group argued that the homeless were an intoxicated group of troublemakers who loitered in public spaces and had a history of defecating in public.

 

The former group argued that these are people and they are part of our town– we need to take care of them and we need to do it where they LIVE, not on the fringes of the town where they can be “out of sight, out of mind.”

 

A widow stepped forward and offered up a building she was not using. She would donate it, in memory of someone dear to her, to be used for Loaves & Fishes. The volunteer ministry could go on.

 

But the new location is also downtown. It’s near some parks and baseball fields, actually, not far from the town green I told you about earlier. Right now, they’re going through zoning regulations to make sure it will work, and it’s looking like it will pass those.

 

But people are in an uproar.

 

I sat at the table, just outside of G’s story hour, and listened to the conversation. One mother led the charge and spoke with passion, “Look, it’s not that I don’t care about those people– I do. And I’ll send in cans or whatever to feed them, but I just don’t think it’s smart to have them in that building. It’s too close to our kids. That’s not right. I’m not comfortable with that, you know? Right?”

 

Lots of nods.

 

I just sat there.

 

She was opposite me at the table and looked me right in the eye. “Right?” she pressed.

 

I know this mom. Our boys have played baseball together. Her husband is a boy scout leader and they’re a very sweet, religious family.

 

I cleared my throat. I honestly didn’t want to talk. But I also knew I couldn’t nod.

 

“The thing is– the homeless are part of our town. And this is where they live. If we’re going to claim we want to care for them, we need to acknowledge that and meet them where they’re at. Do I worry about the proximity to my kids? No. I really don’t. Because I don’t think the homeless population is a greater threat to my children than any other population. Honestly, I think the person most likely to try to hurt or con my child is likely very clean, smooth, and clever… and not homeless.”

 

No one talked to me after that. Well, that’s not true. One mom did. She’s brave enough not to care if the others didn’t like her associating with me. She and I don’t actually agree on this, but she didn’t view it as a reason to alienate me. I like that about her.

 

Anyway, it’s got me all tied up in knots, this little “crisis” in my town. I realize other towns have more significant problems. Honestly, we’re fortunate that our homeless population is as small as it is and that, so far, we’ve had a pretty good system in place to care for them.

 

But, oh, I think we have so very far to go…

 

and I’m realizing I might wind up in the “not cool” group if I keep saying so.

 

 

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12 comments to In the shadows of our town…

  • Carol B.

    :APPLAUSE: You are *uber* cool in my book!!!!

    Predators, the kind of men and women that will seek out our children to harm them, DO NOT look like the boogie man. They look like youth pastors, teachers, day care providers, priests, coaches, school officials, friendly neighbors that are happy to watch your children while you shop or the nice man that stops in the store every day (that “nice man” stopped by every, single day, morning and night, because he knew my daughter was there with me while I worked…)

    A long time ago, now, Oprah did a show about predetors. They set up a camera crew in a park, “interviewed” a mom asking if they talked to their kids about strangers. Every mother said that they were confident their child knew not to go with a stranger. Behind them, a man came up to their kids with a leash and asked the child to help him find his dog.I am pretty sure that every kid went with him. Obviously, there were cameras on this happening too, so the audience could see it, so the kids were actually safe, but the mothers and the audience were shocked. But the kids went with the very nice looking older man, almost without any hesitation.

    I looked for the clip of the show, and had to stop one YouTube video (it was Oprah but even though she was not giving all the details, it was so horrific I couldn’t keep watching or listening…) but I found another newer one, this one in Great Britain. Same basic deal, though. Same results too. I’ll post it on your FB post. (It is clean, nothing “dirty” or anything, but of course you can delete it if you are uncomfortable with it.)

    I really commend you for speaking your mind, and for standing up for these forgotten souls. I am sure that some of the are addicts, and there may even be one or two that might hurt others, but what all those people that are in an uproar over this need to remember is that statistically, the serial killers, sexual predators, and con men/women out there go out of their way to appear perfectly normal and as vital members of their communities, not as vagabonds.

    This post is longer than I meant it to be, and I’m sorry, but I feel VERY strongly about teaching kids to protect themselves, too. If we teach them that “bad people” look like they are dirty, homeless, or like the movies show us “bad guys” look like (which is how kids will see them in their heads!!) then they will NOT be prepared if a real bad person tries to hurt them!! Even trying to prepare them doesn’t always work. My oldest daughter was molested by that man, even though I was totally suspicious of him, and tried hard to keep her away. Still, she fought me because he charmed her. Thankfully, it was only one time and thankfully also I never let her have enough time to do anything further. But he waited. He bided his time for months and months and months. I worked there for 6 years total. Then he waited for that perfect opportunity that I was slammed with customers and then he made his move. She was 9 years old. And I didn’t know until she was 17 years old.

    • Thank you so very much for all the important information and points you offered here, Carol. Thank you, too, for sharing your own personal experiences. It is critical that people educate themselves about this topic. I appreciate you taking the time to help with that.

  • Dawn

    Being cool is entirely overrated. Good for you for standing your ground and standing up for those who – far too often – don’t get to speak for themselves.

  • Heather B

    Well you won’t be alone in the not cool group. There’s the lady with the building and all the volunteers and the people that are actually practicing what they preach. Don’t be shy. Get loud enough to sway more people to your side. It’s the right one after all. ;)

    • Oh, I’m DEFINITELY not alone. And, in fact, I know oodles of people who feel like I do. I think what really irritates me is that I feel like many people are using this as an excuse– I think there are people who just don’t really WANT the homeless in our downtown and this is the excuse they give. But it’s disingenuous. I’d honestly have more respect for someone who would actually be honest and say, “I feel like having a homeless presence hurts my property value.” It’s kind of a callous thing to say, but at least it would be honest.

  • Laraba

    I appreciate your courage!

    And of course you are totally right! To think that the homeless are the “dangerous” ones to our kids is naïve and opens the children up to all kinds of risks.

    I was molested by a male tutor who was also a high school principal AND a respected member of his church. It is really rare for a stranger to kidnap or attack a child. Yes, it happens, and those cases make us cringe. But way more common is what Carol B. said — the predator is smooth and cleancut and works hard to charm a child. Because of my own difficult experience, I am super careful with our kids. We are extremely cautious about who is allowed to be with our young children because we know there are nice looking people out there who are looking for access to vulnerable children. Our church has programs in place to protect kids and part of the training includes video clips by pedophiles, telling how they targeted their victims. It is icky stuff but it is real, and people who think that a homeless tramp is likely the most dangerous person are way off target.

    Not to mention, like you said, that of course these homeless are people who have needs and it seems like their needs can be met best in an accessible place. Kudos to you all involved in that ministry.

    • That’s my whole point too, Laraba– the dangerous ones are not typically the unfortunate and marginalized. These are not the people most likely to prey on our children. I am so very sorry to read your story– hearing these experiences makes me want to weep. It also makes me want to work even harder to better educate people. (We, too, have such a program at our church. It’s called “Protecting God’s Children” and watching it honestly made me want to jump into the screen and attack the men featured. But it’s important stuff.)

  • Celine

    I seriously don’t know how I missed this post. It is so sad that people are so ignorant to the real dangers. Honestly having a permenant and set location to serve the homeless would actually benefit the town. It would also allow for more services to grow up that could reduce the number of homeless.

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