U.S. hides homeless from sight

The homeless: what should be done with them?

This is a question cities across the nation are wrestling with. States such as California, New York and Florida have implemented regulations restricting the homeless out of a desire to protect communities from dangerous situations.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla. authorities allegedly arrested 90-year old Arnold Abbott for feeding the homeless. According to the New York Daily News, Abbott was breaking a new law that made it illegal to feed the homeless outside without a permit.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler defended the law by saying, “What Arnold is doing is actually a very kind and compassionate act. We are just simply asking him to do it in a proper location.”

New York City is currently working to remove park benches to ensure safety for families. According to The New York Times, the benches are being removed as a result of recent clashes between the homeless and residents of the neighborhood who complained that they no longer feel comfortable attending a park.

Gary Baird has served as the director of the Genesis House, a local homeless shelter in Siloam Springs, since 2006. Baird is also an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. He believes it is his purpose as a believer to care for the homeless.

Baird said the public has many misconceptions about the homeless. He challenges the stereotypes of dirty street urchins, alcoholics and drug addicts often associated with homeless people.

“When I go to speak at places, I openly admit that the stereotypes exist, but then I mention the people I help,” Baird said. “I tell them about the woman with cancer who had to pay for treatment so now she can’t pay her bills. The vast majority of the people we see grew up here and went to school here, but have experienced life circumstances that have led to homelessness.”

Baird believes there is an appropriate way states can approach keeping homeless people away from family-friendly areas that will not only ensure the safety of the public, but also provide aid for the homeless.

He suggested that to help the homeless, states should construct rather than remove places for them to spend their time.

“States need to construct decent day shelters that can be a resource, construct enough day and night shelters to house the homeless and create a larger budget that funds both permanent and intermediate houses,” Baird said. “Most importantly, we need to accept the fact that we cannot fix the entire problem.”

Baird shared a story that he has often used in his sermons on Sunday.

Michael was chronically homeless. He would travel from California to New York and would often stop by the Genesis House during his journey. One day Michael went to the Genesis House and explained to Baird that he was too old to be homeless, so Baird sat him down and they outlined a plan.

Baird helped Michael find a one-day job and arranged to meet with him again after he received his paycheck to discuss how to save money.

The day came and Michael arrived at the Genesis House without the money. Sitting down, Michael told Baird his reason.

Michael was walking by Wal-Mart when he saw a couple of homeless children outside the store. Michael asked if they had eaten that day. “No,” the kids replied. They had not eaten in a while.

Michael took the children into Wal-Mart and bought them dinner. After they left the store he sat and ate with them.

“I think Michael truly understood what Jesus taught,” Baird said.