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:
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.