Letter writer: Dignity and safety should be human rights, regardless of circumstance

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[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

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16 thoughts on “Letter writer: Dignity and safety should be human rights, regardless of circumstance

    • bsummers

      The author didn’t speak of “enforcing” – rather, she spoke of “cultivating the understanding” that dignity is a human right. There’s courage in speaking truth in the face of ‘conventional wisdom’ – in this case, the perception being pushed by some in America this past generation, that if you are down on your luck, you probably deserve it. The Market Has Decided That You Are Unworthy.

      Face it – Ayn Rand was a Welfare Queen. In her later years, she relied on those nasty socialist programs to keep her alive and living in some semblance of dignity.

      Everyone, including those who experience “addiction and scrapes with the law” (remind you of anyone you know?), deserves to feel simple human dignity. It’s not a matter of enforcing that viewpoint – it’s a matter of cultivating it. And I salute the letter writer for doing it.

      • Nobody has any value whatsoever to the environment. we are all equally worthless in that regard. Other than emergency room visits, homeless people actually have some of the greenest lifestyles around and so are less of a burden on the planet than most of us.

        • bsummers

          Maybe so, but still:

          “Every time you s*** or p***, you dump ureaic acid on Mother Earth. And then you wipe your a** with the corpse of a tree! You’re not worthy of the cow that died to make your stinking belt, you running dog jackal! Now careful analysis will show you that it is not easy to off yourself because the bourgeoisie controls the manufacture of nylon rope and steel razorblades and all the means of self-extermination. The Weather Underground recommends you beat yourself over the head in a ten foot deep compost heap. If your buddy’s too stoned to off himself, you can drag him over to the field where the tractors can run him over. And if you want to something really meaningful, we’ve got TNT suppositories for everybody. “
          National Lampoon, “Lemmings”; 1973

    • Anyone? Anyone at all.

      Claiming a right must necessarily entail some mechanism for securing enforcement. One cannot claim a right to free speech without requiring a law to prevent censorship. One cannot claim a right to due process without requiring a justice system that protects it.

      Certainly, dignity is desirable. One may need it. One may rudely demand it. And one may even give it unreservedly to the deserving and undeserving alike. But to say one has a “right” to it implies something on an order wholly different. It implies universal possession and that regardless of circumstance society must ensure its provision by some social mechanism.

      Whether a right exists by cultivating it, dreaming of it, wishing for it or conjuring it up out of thin air, it would presumably then exist no matter the method of its arising.

      So, I ask again, how would this supposed “right to dignity” be enforced?

      • Peter Robbins

        By law, public policy, custom and your mother, depending on aspect.

  1. Interesting.

    Seeing that a so-called “right to dignity” is a positive right — in other words, other people are obliged to do something to effect their preservation — and assuming public policy, in your example, is tantamount to law, and assuming law means force, can you explain to us how such a law would be constructed to produce the intended effect?

    I’ll leave aside for the moment the enforcement potential of custom and my mother, aspect notwithstanding.

    • Peter Robbins

      The Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination against certain protected classes. If the law were broadened to include gender identity as a protected class, that aspect of (what I presume the letter-writer would consider) a more general human right to dignity would be vindicated by legal enforcement mechanisms in addition to the social disapproval by which custom currently punishes miscreants.

      • I see.

        So, if one person (or any segment of society, I suppose) denies another of what he or she considers to be dignity, to which they now hold legal claim as an newly-enforceable human right, they should, in some manner or another, suffer sanction of the law?

        How can one ascertain the quality of dignity, or the lack thereof, in absolute terms, sufficient to meet legal hurdles in a civil rights context?

        • Lulz

          They can’t enforce is unless they paint the entire segment with a broad brush as being guilty LOL. Oh that’s right, they already do. Ah let’s see here, if there’s something bad happening in the USA, the finger pointing is going to be directed to white males most certain lulz. The US government does absolutely nothing for them except of course usher them off to war to be killed and maimed and then put on a terrorist watch list for being veterans LOL.

  2. Shirley Yamada

    Hi Timothy:

    A ‘right’ is something you have. No one has to give it to you.
    It’s yours until someone takes it away or infringes on it by force or intimidation.

    So, as hard & time-consuming as it may be, we could work on the taker-away-er by reason, logic, civility, dissent & debate. After that, you plough him into the ground.
    Kidding, of course.

    All the foregoing was reasoned out by calmer, intelligent people who wanted various ‘rights’ restored. It’d prob. work the best & take the least time, which is what everyone wants.

    Cheers, Shirley

  3. ” It’s yours until someone takes it away or infringes on it by force or intimidation.”

    Yes. I understand what a individual right is. I’m an Objectivist.

    What I’m asking is this: if you in fact have a right to dignity, by what mechanism do you guarantee that it is protected?

  4. Cantrell is dead wrong about zoning. Zoning is the ultimate cause of homelessness as well as loss of construction jobs. Zoning can NEVER be any part of the solution, Cantrell should REPEAL zoning, not heap on more of it. Though her version does force the repeal of some contradictory zoning regs. Cantrell refuses to admit the essential fact that she is trying to REPEAL regulations, thus she loses libertarians out the gate and so is doomed.

  5. Yep

    Alan, you DO realize that lieberal progressives LOVE zoning as yet another method of CONTROL, right ? Yes, they do.

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