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Low-barrier shelters and intellectual honesty

By Scott Tibbs, April 2, 2014

Last week a letter to the editor made the following claim:

When the Interfaith Winter Shelter closes on March 31, around 60 members of our community will be left without a safe, legal place to sleep. Neither the city nor any private organization has stepped up to provide an immediate or lasting solution to this problem.

That is simply not true. It is shamefully dishonest.

The Interfaith Winter Shelter is a low-barrier shelter, meaning that substance abuse does not disqualify people from staying there during the winter months. Bloomington also has several other shelters for the homeless, including New Hope, Backstreet Missions and Martha's House, as well as an emergency shelter run by Bloomington Township government. The claim that no one from the public or private sector has "stepped up" is plainly and clearly false.

There have been marches and rallies to protest the lack of a low-barrier shelter in the summer months, but the question for the people protesting is obvious: Instead of holding a sign, marching and chanting slogans, why don't you pool your money together and ask others to contribute to the establishment of another low-barrier homeless shelter? And no, working to provide shelter does not include gathering activists to "Occupy" a city parking garage.

Simply complaining about the lack of a "low barrier" shelter without actually trying to solve the problem accomplishes nothing. Furthermore, it shows a great deal of disrespect for the many people at the various homeless shelters who have dedicated their lives to helping people in need. One can argue for the need for a "low barrier" shelter outside of the winter months without denigrating the work these organizations do by pretending they are doing nothing.

There are plenty of good reasons for why other organizations operate "high barrier" shelters. Intoxicated people can not only be a danger to themselves, they can be a danger to other people seeking shelter as well as staff and volunteers of the shelter. I am sure there are also liability issues inherent with a "low barrier" shelter. Simply demanding private organizations or government "do something" is myopic in that it ignores these real concerns.

There is more that can be done to address homelessness in Bloomington, but this kind of political activism is not it.

See previous articles here and here and here.