Shawnee’s homeless population has suffered a couple of setbacks in the last few months. First, the Shawnee Public Library has started making loiterers leave the library property. Second, the Shawnee City Commission voted not to rezone the Shawnee Rescue Mission’s property on Louisa to permit an overnight shelter. Third, the City Commission voted not to approve a rezoning request to allow a soup kitchen on Main Street. Fourth, the city personnel have been trying to discourage the homeless from visiting city parks.
The change in practice at the Shawnee Public Library came about because other members of the public at the library complained about homeless members of the public at the library. Some patrons report feeling intimidated by the presence of homeless individuals. Since homeless people are members of the public, they are allowed to use library resources (such as books and computers). However, anyone sitting on the bench outside the library is now asked to leave.
So what is the purpose of the bench? Libraries in Oklahoma City have in fact removed benches, and the library in Shawnee has removed some of the more comfortable furniture inside. These changes only cause us to become more destitute as a society. A public library is more than a collection of books; it is a public space. I say the bench is a library resource.
The Shawnee Rescue Mission will have a day shelter, but not this winter. They had asked for the rezoning so they could also establish an overnight shelter. Many members of the community have voiced support for the shelter, but some with businesses nearby have opposed it. Notably, Commissioner Harrod’s daughter said that an overnight shelter would hurt their business. Others complained that a homeless shelter might house criminals. It was Commissioner Harrod who introduced the motion to deny the rezoning.
But denying the rezoning for a homeless shelter will not make the homeless go away. Indeed, they are by definition homeless, so they have no place to go. We can try to move them from one place to another, but avoiding the problem doesn’t solve it.
Some community members expressed concern over allowing a soup kitchen on Main Street, complaining that it would hamper efforts to revitalize downtown. Someone wants to serve food in the center of your village and you’re worried that’s going to lower your standard of living?
The City of Shawnee is no longer allowing churches to reserve park shelters to feed the hungry. Rumor has it the churches don’t bother reserving the shelters, so this policy change has not hampered their efforts.
Where’s Occupy Shawnee? Where’s Food not Bombs? Where’s the ACLU? Where’s Habitat for Humanity?