[Xpress’] Dec. 16 cover story, “Gimme Shelter: In Wake of 10-year Plan to End Homelessness, Local Agencies Regroup,” was both sobering and compelling. Hardly an easy read, it was nevertheless a commendable, critical look at the nuanced implications of the outcome of the 10-year plan to “end” homelessness in Asheville; moreover, it was buoying to read about the tough, dedicated work of folks like my friend Amy Cantrell to keep this issue at the forefront of our city’s attention.
More of an observation than a criticism, I did notice that the story placed a discreet emphasis on people who have become homeless through financial downturn and unfortunate luck-of-the-draw. While I believe it’s important to dismantle the stigmatized, knee-jerk assumptions commonly attached to this population, I also believe it’s important to stress compassion regardless of the circumstances that lead someone to periods of homelessness.
The truth of the matter is that many individuals on the streets do grapple with dark pasts, including addiction and scrapes with the law. Sweeping that reality under the rug in no way helps cultivate an understanding that dignity and safety should be human rights, irrespective of how we might describe someone’s moral turpitude.
It is often challenging to argue this point to a broad audience, especially within the brevity that journalism requires, and I can understand why the Mountain Xpress chose to present the matter as such. However, I feel it necessary to add that attitudes aimed at improving conditions for those who are impoverished, struggling or suffering will likely yield more sustainable and effective policies if they dispel myths that people are ever “deserving vs. undeserving” of care.
— Laura Eshelman