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Criminalization is not the answer

Big win in the Missouri legislature for those who think people experiencing homelessness should just get jobs. Homelessness has been made a criminal activity. To everyone who thinks that homelessness should be made a crime, I say you’re right. But the homeless are not the criminals. The criminality lies with us, who allow homelessness to rage in our communities.

Homelessness doesn’t just happen to people. It’s a result of chronic and pervasive mental illness — wrought of genetic predisposition; physical illness or injury; psychological stress and ongoing trauma. Caught early enough, these factors can be mitigated. Unresolved, mental illness and substance abuse are huge factors in the homeless population. There are few resources to treat these issues here. Lack of care for persons with mental illness, combined with lack of housing and poverty, create a perfect storm for homelessness in St. Joseph.

Now the legislature has passed a bill, aimed at requiring communities to actually step up and care for their homeless, by way of making it illegal to sleep in the rough. The legislature could end homelessness, with laws requiring rentals to be safe and livable, and by assuring that each community had access to well-funded, effective mental health care, with long-term support. People don’t become “pervasively” mentally ill in 3 to 12 months. They are not going to get well in that span of time.

So what can we do to end homelessness? First and foremost, improve access to mental health, addiction and substance abuse treatment. Coordinate our approach to assuring services and housing for all people by including private landlords in the Continuum of Care Homeless Services Coalition. Increase assistance to our most vulnerable — those people living in poverty and constantly on the verge of homelessness. People living in generational poverty need education on managing money, finding jobs and how to care for rental property. We must have jobs that pay livable wages.

Lastly, design a crisis response for people who have been kicked out of their homes by family or, illegally, by a landlord — to keep them from becoming chronically homeless.

None of this is easy. But making homelessness a criminal offense makes it much harder.

Bridget Supple

Executive Director of InterServ

Ban assault weapons now

Republican Senators Cruz and Hawley, with campaigns heavily funded by the gun lobby, refuse to accept that the proliferation of guns is a serious problem in our country. They call for “safe schools.” What about “safe” grocery stores, “safe” malls, “safe” churches and synagogues, “safe” Walmart’s? Cruz absurdly called for only one door into and out of schools, but there were no doors to lock during the 2017 Las Vegas open-air music festival at which 60 people were slaughtered by a gunman with an AR-15 and over 411 wounded.

They speak about “freedom” to carry assault weapons. Would they have all the rest of us hide behind a locked door so that criminal elements, immature teenage boys and mentally unstable adults roam through our country with assault weapons? The Second Amendment calls for a “well-regulated” militia. It does not give Americans the “individual” right to carry weapons of war.

The massacre in Uvalde, Texas also proves that even “good guys” with guns could not defend against a “bad guy.” While female teachers heroically threw their bodies across children in a desperate attempt to save them, the disorganized police did not know what to do for more than one hour. What grim irony that the NRA convention then banned all weapons. Were they afraid that they couldn’t defend themselves when faced with a gunman with body armor carrying an AR-15? I’d certainly like to see the cowardly Cruz and Hawley try.

Elizabeth L. Sawin

St. Joseph

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