In 1945, the Rev. Martin Niemoller said, "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist.
"Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew.
"Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant.
"Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me."
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Now in Lexington, 2011, we can add: "They came for the homeless, and I didn't speak up, because I have a home."
It may seem an overreaction to use Niemoller's powerful words in reference to the current situation in our community regarding the proposed chronic nuisance ordinance.
Lexington has a lot at stake in this issue. Excluding and marginalizing segments of the population through ordinances is not the response we need. We are better than that; we are a community that can have civil, open communications and come to collaborative conclusions that respect the dignity of all citizens, provide needed services and keep our neighborhoods safe.
There are laws against all the violations cited in the proposed ordinance; public-safety officers can do their jobs and have demonstrated this without a new law. The difference is that in the proposed ordinance, subjective opinions are allowed to identify any property as a "chronic nuisance."
Urban County Council members continue to repeat "no one group is targeted" in this proposal. Why, then, make a law that will have unintended consequences such as churches that have three complaints — parking violations included — within 60 days can be declared a "chronic nuisance"?
Community efforts to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless can have clients who cause a "chronic nuisance" due to their human condition: no public toilets available as they wait for service.
Rental units that deal with citizens who cause disturbances can be cited as a "chronic nuisance." And all the above closed for a year?
Yes, there are appeals, hearings and legal remedies proposed if a location is cited — but at a cost. The cost will be to the outreach to the marginalized of our community and to the reputation of our community. The compassionate, humane soul of our city will be diminished.
This ordinance will cause landlords and even faith communities to cease serving those who may be a problem. This ordinance will increase homelessness, which will increase incarcerations, costing the community more dollars than do coordinated services.
We need to recognize the reality of this situation. There are many citizens who suffer with addictions and mental illness. Many don't have the resources or desire to get help from programs available. Do we, as a community, want to withhold food, shelter and other basic rights from them?
These are our community's lost souls. No amount of family intervention can guarantee wholeness; many families give up.
Anyone who has family members suffering with these conditions knows there is no legislation that can stop addictions or mental illness. And we all know no legislation can remove the poor from our community.
We need to speak up and ask that churches and non-profits be excluded from a chronic nuisance ordinance. The city government struggles to fund social services for the increasing number of poor citizens. Churches and non-profits provide basic human needs and give hope to the hopeless as our society struggles with solutions.
Speak up, Lexington. Don't wait until it's too late. This ordinance does affect you.