Making the homeless feel more at home

September 21, 2016 — by Austin Wang

Homeless people should be more welcomed. 

In the air-conditioned 85°C Bakery on De Anza Boulevard, a homeless man, almost 7 miles from the nearest homeless shelter, shakily handed the cashier a few dollars for a cold drink. The smell of sweat and rotten food permeated around him, drawing the attention and complaints of other customers. He picked a seat right next to the door, almost as if he knew that, under the pressure of mounting complaints, an employee would soon escort him out (which he did).

This and similar occurrences, while entirely legal, further distance the Saratoga’s bubble from the humanity of the homeless. The area’s homeless population is an invisible minority, a group largely kicked out of sight and kept out of mind. While seeing homeless people wandering the city does happen, kicking them out of an establishment is common practice in the effort of maintaining a perception of cleanliness.

Sheriff’s deputy Chad Garton, the school’s resource officer,  said his agency routinely receives phone calls reporting suspicious figures that turn out to be law abiding homeless individuals. Although these calls almost never result in any further action, they send a clear message to the homeless population: You are not welcome here.

Currently, Saratoga’s laws regarding the homeless are generous, as the city does not have relocation policies or public areas that ban the homeless from entering. The city only bans activities such as obstructing roadways and public disturbance. However, if attitudes toward the homeless continue to worsen, Saratoga’s policies toward the homeless may grow more severe.

While homeless people obviously don’t own property in Saratoga, they should not feel ostracized and unwelcome. In a city as wealthy and safe as Saratoga, it is ironic that such a scant amount of money has been spent on public resources like shelters that could benefit the less fortunate. The nearest homeless shelter is close to 7 miles away in San Jose, and there are only a few free public bathrooms and water fountains.

According to the 2015 Santa Clara County Homeless Report, there are about 6,556 homeless individuals living in the Santa Clara region, 71 percent of whom are living in places not meant for human habitation such as parks and streets.

Only about 10 to 35 of these homeless individuals live in Saratoga each year, and, for the past three years, Saratoga has never sheltered a single homeless individual.

Understandably, there would likely be no political support for building a homeless shelter in Saratoga.

Saratoga and other communities, however, could instead adopt Santa Rosa’s initiative of building private showers on trailers for the homeless. These showers would improve the general hygiene of some of the homeless and would decrease the chance of a homeless person being kicked out of a private establishment.

These mobile showers are fairly inconspicuous and inexpensive. They would not turn Saratoga into a hotspot for the homeless, but they would instead offer the homeless a brief respite and hopefully alleviate negative attitudes toward them.

While showers and other facilities may improve the lives of the homeless, it is ultimately up to the individual citizen whether or not they want to accept or reject the homeless. One does not have to do so much to attempt to change the suspicious and unaccepting atmosphere regarding the homeless; in fact, simply saying hello and treating them as fellow humans can make a homeless person feel much more at home.

1 view this week