Don’t confuse criminals and homeless

By Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett and Cassie Franklin

“Any policy that punishes those in poverty is a bad policy,” says Dr. Donna Beegle, former professor at Portland State University and CEO of Communication Across Barriers.

It is concerning that both local jurisdictions and the media continue to stereotype individuals, families and children with no home as criminals as seen in last week’s paper. The Herald’s July 17 article, “Strong steps against crime,” stated that the city of Arlington is so giving that panhandlers, i.e. the homeless, make up to $300 a day; that the panhandlers/homeless are heroin addicts; that they shoplift at Walmart; and more… The city passed an ordinance making it illegal to ask for money practically everywhere in town, and is willing to provide 90 days in jail for housing to offenders of this ordinance.

This is the most costly option any city can choose. One leader is quoted as saying she hopes the homeless get the message “that they need to move along.”

We’d like to ask, where might that be? Another jurisdiction?

We believe Arlington cares, in spite of what’s portrayed in The Herald article. The article admits this by showing how much people of Arlington give to homeless. Or another example: Arlington’s ministerial association has a track record of reaching out to those without homes. Its own Public Services Director is the one quoted describing Arlington as a “giving city.” While Arlington doesn’t appear to budget any public funds for human services, it works with United Way of Snohomish County and the State Department of Social and Health Services. That’s a good start.

As we said in our June 28 commentary, “The homeless are people in need of help,” some need support to overcome addiction, some need rental assistance because of a lost job, and others need vital services to help address mental health issues. The people living in Arlington are our community’s youth, veterans, single men and single women, as well as families. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction tracks 123 K-12 children, who are homeless in Arlington. Are they criminals?

The Homeless Policy Task Force would like to invite Arlington to join the countywide table so there can be learning about the differences between criminals and the homeless. Together we can work to support our most vulnerable citizens, find solutions to alleviate and end homelessness, and help everyone in our community feel safe.

Cassie Franklin is CEO of Cocoon House and Co-Chair of the Homeless Policy Taskforce. Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett is Director of the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness and Co-Chair of the HPTF.