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Cervantes: Where’s the hope for the homeless?

BY CHRISTOPHER CERVANTES | SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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When we lost the football game to Iowa State, I noticed some things. For one, I noticed that a lot of people are depressing drinkers, but more importantly, I noticed that the way some of our students treat the homeless in Iowa City is downright despicable. I saw an old man, wheelchair-bound and missing a leg, grunting in annoyance as a group of Hawkeyes threw pennies at him. When they left, my friend and I gave the man some money, but it did nothing to really help. I could tell by looking in his eyes that he was both embarrassed and emotionally hurt.

There is only one bit of information that has shocked me more. That would be the Iowa City ordinances directed toward the homeless and their use of the Pedestrian Mall.

For those who don’t know, these ordinances restrict the use of the mall in ways many believe are targeted at the homeless. For example, if people were to sleep on an outside bench from 10 p.m.-5 a.m., they would be subject to a $65 fine. The ordinance also dictates that one cannot lie on planters, use public outlets, use public spaces for storage, and (this one’s a kicker) ask for money by certain areas, such as ATM machines and parking meters.

Some of the laws are, in a way, reasonable, for I have seen many people being aggressively asked for money right after withdrawing from the ATM. Vulgarities can and often are given out generously.  However, it is hard to fathom how having someone lying down on an outside bench is worthy of a fine.

I went around and asked several students about the ordinance, all from a variety of majors. Their opinions ranged, with some seeing this is as overly cruel and ineffective (and expressing an emphasis to put as much effort into helping them as restricting them) to the view that it was fairly reasonable.

Why is it that these ordinances have struck a chord with the students, but not with the majority of Iowa City’s citizens?

The answer: They have more to lose.

As students, we can crusade and say that we know what is right and wrong easier than we can microwave a pizza. In reality, we don’t have to think about making money the same way a business owner does. As a general, uncontrollable trait, human beings have a fear of the unknown. When it comes to the homeless population, there is a lot that we don’t know. I have seen many people back away from an establishment in fear, just because there is homeless man leaning on a nearby wall.

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to ask one of Iowa City’s homeless men what he thought of not only the recent ordinances but also the general way he has been treated.

He shrugged and said, “It’s what’s expected. They don’t like us. They think we’re a problem. I just want to sleep and eat sometimes.”

Before any work can be done to rectify the homeless situation, we must first have the courage to treat and speak to them as human beings. Only then can we obtain enough courage to do the right thing.


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