Looking after homeless right thing to do

We have followed the plight of those living under the Route 21 overpass for several years. The solution is providing permanent, affordable and supportive housing for the homeless not only under the Route 21 overpass but in all of Passaic County. This is the goal of Passaic County’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Looking after ‘homeless’ right thing to do
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

“Who’s to say, they (the homeless people who roost beneath the Route 21 overpass in Passaic) don’t get high and snatch a little girl up?”

— Jackie Simmons, talking about squatters she’d like to see get help.

We can’t remember when it started, but it was a sad day for America when it did. Some well-meaning person decided we were no longer able to summon enough good will to help all the people who needed it. So instead of saying feed the hungry because they are starving or clothe the naked because they are cold, help because that’s what you know you should do, the modern Good Samaritans began saying, “Help them or they’ll attack us.”

Oh, Americans are still a generous people, especially during the fall and winter holidays. It’s a turkey for every pot and toy for every tot then. Further, a spectacular calamity like Hurricane Katrina can prompt thousands of people to give millions of dollars to help long-forgotten people.

When the press takes up the cause of bereft individuals and families, the kindness of strangers seems to follow and helps save the day.

Still, under ordinary circumstances, people can suffer day after day without anyone paying much attention. Activists, neighbors and clergy members say people have suffered under the Route 21 overpass for years. Perhaps you saw them on your way to work or to worship. Perhaps you saw them just as you see the trash and the graffiti beneath the overpass: an unfortunate manifestation of “urban decay.” Perhaps, come to think of it, you never saw them at all.

But a few weeks ago, a woman claimed she was raped by four men underneath the overpass. The men have been arrested and remain in Passaic County Jail. Since then, the homeless people underneath the overpass, so distanced from us by their plight and our apathy toward it, have drawn closer as bogeymen, if not as people. The overpass homeless struggle just 150 feet from a baseball diamond, a place where just last week, children played in balmy weather.

Suppose one of the homeless people…?

It’s a frightening question. Clearly, we need to do all that we can to protect our children.

But Passaic city officials need to do more to look after the people who struggle underneath the overpass, too. Doing so would be a part of a comprehensive effort to improve community safety.

Helping those who struggle underneath the overpass would also be the right thing to do.

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