Bob Layton: Hostilities toward homeless stymie solutions

Bob Layton of Lexington is the outgoing president of Meadowthorpe Neighborhood Association.
Bob Layton of Lexington is the outgoing president of Meadowthorpe Neighborhood Association.

As president of the Meadowthorpe Neighborhood Association, I am responding to my neighbor, William Andrews, who recently wrote in the Herald-Leader on our community's actions on the homeless shelter proposal referred to as Lorillard Lofts.

Andrews rightfully disputed the lynch-mob term in David Christiansen's op-ed piece that was applied as a blanket term to everyone in the meeting which resulted in a resolution opposing the Lofts homeless shelter proposal. Andrews was not part of any lynch mob.

The truth lies somewhere between their two positions.

I respect many of my neighbors who commented thoughtfully on the specifics of the proposal and I thank the committee which drafted the resolution. I also know many of my neighbors do more than talk about caring for the less fortunate, and I'm grateful for the service and example they provide for all of us.

However, Andrews characterized the emotional responses to the plight of the homeless as those of a few in the meeting. Unfortunately, civil and reasoned responses to the proposal were the minority.

During the meeting, one angry neighbor who was 20 years younger and six inches taller than me said I was looking at him in a physically threatening manner. I heard the Bible used as a justification for not helping the homeless. I saw a final vote intentionally demanded prior to a previously scheduled session to gather more information from impartial city officials. I saw neighbors be disrespectful and attempt to interrupt and shout down other speakers.

Many speakers went beyond what I agree were valid criticisms of the specific Lorillard Loft proposal, instead saying why the homeless in general should not be helped, with unfair extreme stereotypes of those who were not present to speak for themselves.

Speakers said the shelter shouldn't even exist because those in need would be drawn to it. A caring community will reject the idea that our neighbors should go hungry or freeze to death because more of those in need may come seeking help. During the meeting many speakers prefaced whatever their remarks with "I'm for helping the homeless, but ..."

The month after the vote, the neighborhood newsletter invited neighbors to volunteer to serve dinner for one hour a month at the Hope Center. While other neighbors most certainly serve the homeless in other ways, the fact is, while over 170 voted to oppose the shelter, only two neighbors responded by volunteering to help serve the homeless another way.

My volunteer work is ending. I have served as an officer in Meadowthorpe for several years and on committees for years before that. We have inspiring, generous and extraordinary neighbors who are nothing short of exceptional at helping fellow neighbors who are similar to themselves when needs arise.

Fall festivals, potluck dinners, curbside flags at the Fourth of July, luminaries for the holiday season and street trees and park improvement projects are just a few of the efforts that benefit those who own or rent in the neighborhood.

Communities cannot ostracize those who appear different, who come from different backgrounds or who have fewer socio-economic resources. We cannot turn our backs on those most in need, and those who are most vulnerable. Those who would otherwise have no voice are also people we must care for.

One-third of our homeless neighbors have served our country as veterans. Our homeless neighbors die at a rate three to four times that of the general population and have a life expectancy of 45 to 50 years.

This is a need to address all year around and not just when there is an immediate and life-threatening danger from extreme cold temperatures.

My hope for 2014 is that we, as a community, have the chance to think about and volunteer in specific ways to help those who are different from us and who may not survive without our care and service.

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