Caring Communities

Elizabeth Town was a university community of 60,000+ citizens. While generally prosperous, the community had a number of homeless residents. Janet Hartman, a long-time resident of the community, owned a one-acre plot of ground within the city limits which her family had acquired over 100 years ago. The property was green space which Hartman maintained. 

Hartman decided to use her property as an encampment for the homeless. She bought tents for the homeless to live in. She set up a communal campfire for cooking as well as portable toilets. The property was close to a river where the homeless could bathe. 

The community was outraged at what was being called Hartman Estates. They were offended by having to see the living conditions of the homeless. The university students, however, were of a different mindset. They took food and clothing to the homeless and would spend time talking with them. 

The City Council made a concerted effort to shut down the homeless campground. This was surprising in that the Council was very progressive in its political philosophy. Council ordered the police to shut down the campground, but the police had no authority to do so. The Council tried to take action against Hartman, but she was not violating any ordinances. 

The Council eventually passed an ordinance which was used to shut down the campground after over a year of challenges to the ordinance. The State Supreme Court eventually gave its blessing to the shutdown of the campground. The homeless were dispersed. 

What is the role of government in a case like this? Should it provide basic shelter for all of its citizens? Should it encourage local non-profit and caring citizens to help? Or should it try to discourage the homeless from locating in its community? 

All of us tend to disguise our unpleasant features. Communities want to ignore their homeless since they represent a negative image. How might a community accept challenges like the homeless and develop approaches for dealing with those who have limited resources? 

Just imagine how a community can encourage positive solutions to deal with those in the community who are facing a tough time? Why should someone like Janet Hartman become a villain for wanting to help? Just imagine how situations like the homeless might become a rallying cry for community support and eventually a source of community pride? Just imagine a government body which is truly responsive to the needs of its citizens? 

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“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead (Anthropologist)

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