Homeless deserve compassion, help

In the dark of December Ashlanders are being called upon to resolve the problem of sleeping space for transient folks. ("Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40.)

While attending SOC in 1984, I also taught a class in career redirection at RCC which required students to provide their work history. One man's essay related that as a boy he lived a hardscrabble life in the Midwest, where his tyrannical father worked him as a slave. In winter there was no glass for windows in their barren house, nor shoes for his feet.

In his early teens he slipped away and stole onto a freight train, ending up in San Francisco. He obtained employment washing dishes, and for a small sum could afford a cot, blanket and pillow at a "flop-house." He purchased shoes and items of clothing.

Eventually he found work as an automobile salesman and was successful. Bare-boned as it was, the flop-house had provided a consistent, warm and reasonably safe place for him to lay his head each night.

In 1986, Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a column lamenting the hard-heartedness of San Franciscans toward the plight of people on the streets. He felt the situation wouldn't have been tolerated by the more kind-hearted wealthy of years gone by — they would have provided shelter: noblesse oblige. (I was there taking graduate courses and wrote him detailed observations of many acts of kindness by the locals toward strangers, which he received joyfully.)

There are advantages to public awareness of who and where these transients are located, which might also provide protection for and from them — it's been suggested that if the man who dropped his cigarette in a field had had a designated place to camp, the dreadful outcome might have been avoided. Recent letters to the Tidings recommend transients be provided a camping site, but work for the privilege.

Yet there's a razor's edge to these ideas. For example, in the 1830s one Jeremy Bentham, a man of great intellect but a tiny, Grinch-like heart, devised a plan to rid England of the burdensome poor: they would be arrested and confined to a prison of sorts, where an acid ID would be applied on faces. Their work would be intensely supervised down to the flicker of eyelashes; they would be clothed, fed a simple diet and share large beds — having children would be encouraged, and the children would begin their labors at the tender age of 4; one person could rock 30 infants in oversized cribs, etc.

This plan was considered utopian by many — the burdensome poor out of sight, out of mind. (A somewhat similar program was actually instituted in the colonies "… Benjamin Franklin made good profit from investment therein.)

The Christmastide overflowing of "good will toward men" by the people of Ashland gives encouragement for a solution that will prove the greatest benefit for everyone.

Jeanne Marie Peters


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