Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Royal wedding plans put homeless in the spotlight

Compassion | Opponents blast a town councillor for wanting to solve the problem
by Rob Holmes
Posted 1/17/18, 03:34 pm

A British town councillor incited outrage for his supposed intolerance of homeless people when he advocated cleaning up the streets of Windsor, England, ahead of Prince Harry’s May 19 wedding at Windsor Castle.

In a late December tweet about the “epidemic” of vagrancy and street sleeping in his town, Councillor Simon Dudley provoked the ire of charities for the homeless and even Prime Minister Theresa May when he requested more police help to enforce vagrancy laws. Many articles vilified Dudley, implying he just wanted to rid his town of the needy.

To the contrary, Dudley outlined the town’s multiple programs for the homeless and needy in his borough and even those from other areas in a January letter that evidenced a compassionate attitude.

“In the Royal Borough we believe homelessness is completely unacceptable in a caring, compassionate community such as ours. We are working to create the necessary housing for our residents,” Dudley wrote.

As leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Dudley cited security concerns over panhandlers’ aggressive behavior and disruption of business and tourism—the same concerns U.S. officials express in urban areas with people living in public.

But most incendiary, Dudley also said some people sleeping in the streets rejected offers of help.

“Recently council officers secured emergency accommodation for every individual begging and rough-sleeping in Windsor, through making contact with each one,” he wrote. “A significant number of the adults chose not to turn up and use the accommodation that we had purchased for them, instead choosing to remain on the street begging.”

Despite evidence that he was not simply making poor people’s needs a matter for the police, advocates for the homeless continued to rage at Dudley.

Greg Beales, speaking on behalf of the housing advocacy organization Shelter, said people on the streets at night are desperate, especially in winter. “Stigmatizing or punishing them is totally counterproductive,” he said.

But another London-area official agreed with Dudley’s stance on the need for both police help and protective initiatives for the needy of Windsor.

“We need clean streets but also need to acknowledge homelessness,” Councillor David Lindsay of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea told me. His advice for helping the homeless goes beyond government to involve the church: “There are quite a lot of churches in London that pitch in to help the homeless. It blesses the homeless and helps churches when they do things together.”

Associated Press/Imamu Baraka Associated Press/Imamu Baraka An image from a video of a hospital patient taken by Imamu Baraka

Passerby calls out hospital for patient dumping

Imamu Baraka couldn’t believe his eyes as security guards from a nearby hospital dropped off a dazed and obviously unwell woman at a bus stop and walked away one evening last week.

“Are you going to leave this lady out here like this?” he asked. The woman, just discharged from University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus, had on only a hospital gown and no shoes in the 30 degree January cold. She was unable to respond normally to Baraka’s entreaties to come sit down as she walked around aimlessly. Two plastic bags of her belongings sat on the sidewalk.

Baraka, a psychotherapist whose office is across the street from the hospital, began filming as he walked behind the security guards, pleading with them to not leave the woman. The men refused to answer as they headed back through the hospital doors.

Baraka said his video was the means to get some answers. After it went viral, the hospital’s CEO and president, Mohan Suntha, said he believed the 22-year-old woman had received good healthcare at the hospital but admitted, “We absolutely failed … in the demonstration of basic humanity and compassion” while she was being discharged.

Baraka returned immediately to the bus stop to help the woman. He reported the incident by calling 911, and an ambulance returned to bring the woman back to the hospital. He learned the hospital then put the woman in a taxi to a homeless shelter, where her mother later found her, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The newspaper has reported other instances of what is known as patient dumping, or discharging patients without providing needed services.

Elements of the normal discharge process always include documentation. And a mandatory part of every hospital’s accreditation is an individualized discharge plan made prior to the patient’s departure, “to ensure that patients are discharged at an appropriate time and with provision of adequate post-discharge services,” according to an article by Drs. Eric Alper, Terrence O’Malley, and Jeffrey Greenwald.

Though Baraka himself intervened on the spur of the moment out of compassion, with 45,000 shares on Facebook, it was his viral video that enabled the unnamed woman’s mother to trace her at the shelter. She said her daughter had been missing for two weeks.

“She’s getting the treatment she needs … things she could not get before, because of this video,” Baraka said. —R.H.

Charitable giving and tax relief

The Republican tax overhaul has raised the question of whether Americans will reduce their charitable giving next year. With greater standard and personal tax deductions, some fear donors will stop itemizing deductions for donations to nonprofit organizations and cut their giving.

If fewer people itemized their deductions—from the current third of all taxpayers down to 10 percent of filers, for example—low-dollar donations could fizzle, according to the Houston Chronicle. And smaller amounts make up the bulk of all giving.

But Ray Parker, a Christian tax accountant in Atlanta, predicted a different outcome.

“There are astronomical breaks for the middle class. Now people are getting to keep more in their pockets, and they can give more,” he said.

Parker said giving went up after the tax overhaul under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but people think differently today: “People buy more gadgets. And few currently tithe. Those who do tithe are doing it because they walk with the Lord.”

During the Great Recession in 2008, a Barna survey of donor behavior showed certain segments of society were less likely to report a major negative impact because of the economic downturn, and one such group was Christians. Parker told me it could be because of a different, Biblical attitude about money. Christians give because of our Lord’s command—aside from incentives—desiring to uphold the organizations, churches, and missions they esteem. So it shouldn’t matter if there’s a tax deduction.

Regardless of the tax law changes, those living by Jesus’ words still have the same commands of Scripture. The question of incentives to help others in need finds its greatest answer here: “Give to the one who begs from you” (Matthew 5:42). And even more pointed: “And when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4). —R.H.

Crime of compassion?

Twelve people received misdemeanor charges this week for feeding the homeless in El Cajon, Calif., in protest of an ordinance against sharing food with people on city-owned property.

In an emergency response to a Hepatitis A outbreak, El Cajon passed an ordinance in October that bars people from sharing food in parks and other public places. The city intended to reduce the spread of the foodborne disease, which has a high rate of transmission among homeless people who already live without basic sanitation and places to maintain hygiene.

In November, just after the ordinance passed, homeless advocates used Wells Park to pass out food in protest. The city said as many as 10 feed-ins already happened in the park each month, costing thousands in cleanup fees.

Citing not only the cost and mess, the city defended its measures as a means of protecting people since Hepatitis A spreads easily through food in an unsanitary environment. But opponents say the ban is just one more hardship for El Cajon’s nearly 700 homeless people.

City council member Ben Kalasho told homeless advocates, “You can go out there, pick them up, take them back to your house and feed them and board them and room them and have them take a shower if you’re really wanting to help,” according to KNSD-TV in San Diego.

Around 1 in 100 people die from Hepatitis A infection. But last year El Cajon had a record 20 cases, the second-highest number of the 546 cases for all the cities in San Diego County. —R.H.

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Rob Holmes

Rob is a World Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.

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