To The Editor:

When I moved to Franklin County in 2010, I was told there were no homeless people. Incredulous, I soon discovered that, while few homeless people lived on our streets, there most certainly were teens couch surfing, families living in cars, and people making their way in extremely substandard housing in rural areas and within city limits, many without heat or running water.

We do not like the optics of homelessness. It forces us to reckon with the imbalances of wealth and privilege in our society. It might even make us question spending money on comforts for ourselves, knowing that we have neighbors who do not have the wherewithal to house themselves. But to demonize them and claim that they prefer to be “free of any responsibilities” is shortsighted and downright bigoted.

Such language stokes fear and reinforces unsubstantiated stereotypes. Broad generalizations such as “some have mental and physical problems…are alcoholics or drug dependent…have criminal records…verbally abuse people…” is not only unhelpful but irresponsible. These same descriptions could be applied to any group in our society, including the middle-class individuals who live in the house next door. People who are experiencing homelessness are first and foremost people, just like those who are able to provide adequate shelter for themselves.

There are no easy solutions. That much we can agree on. But to begin the conversation from a position of power, and to denigrate every person who lives in our community without adequate permanent housing, is to exacerbate the problem, not to help it. Instead of demonizing and stoking fear, perhaps our community leaders could work toward solutions, such as providing family shelters, men’s shelters, transitional housing for the recently incarcerated, mental health services, addiction services, and other sensible measures.

I already know the objections. I have heard them before. “Not in my backyard” is an old refrain. But the fact remains that these are our neighbors, whether we like it or not. Their problems become our problems because we are all interconnected as members of this community. Sending them to the next town or hoping that St. Louis will take care of it for us is not working. Let’s begin by seeing them as human beings, made in the image of the Creator. From there, perhaps we can work with them toward real, viable solutions.

   Rev. Aimee Appell

   Peace Lutheran Church

   Franklin County Human

   Rights Task Force