What a wonderful thing the city of Tampa, in conjunction with Catholic Charities, is doing. Concern for the homeless during these days of stay-at-home orders and advisories from the medical community to wash frequently and use hand sanitizer is in many people’s minds, but they are actually doing something about it.
A homeless camp has been funded and erected consisting of “One hundred tents . . . fenced-off on a site that will also include mobile shower trailers, a mobile laundromat, and six portable toilets. Its residents will get three meals a day and, if needed, medical treatment.”
Electricity and water supplies are in place. All is ready for opening on Monday, March 30. Up to 100 homeless persons will be more secure in the weeks and even months ahead. Everyone coming in will be screened for the virus and those with symptoms referred to a medical facility for testing.
They seem to have thought of everything.
And then, halfway through the article, there it is.
“It will be open to any homeless person except for registered sex offenders.”
I tried and tried to find any logic in this. I have failed miserably.
Homeless persons who are on a sexual offense registry have the same needs and vulnerability to the virus as those who are not. They have the same risk of spreading it to others if they contract it. They have the same risk of dying from it as anyone else.
Regardless of what they have done in the past, they are human beings as much deserving of care and compassion as anyone else, as deserving of “Christian charily” as anyone else – but apparently the Catholic Charities of Tampa don’t agree.
Is the past history of everyone admitted into Hillsborough Hope – the name of the project – known? Will there be murderers among the homeless admitted? Drug dealers? Wife beaters? Child abusers? I would be amazed if there were not some of each category.
The exclusion of registered persons from services offered to everyone else is common. In many communities their presence is banned from some locations, often including the schools of their own children. They are not allowed to participate in many facilities offering help and job training to those in need. In their old years, their families struggle to find long term care facilities that will accept them.
But this decision, to exclude them from this project when their continued presence on the street runs the risk of spreading a disease already classified as a pandemic, is beyond unconscionable.
It is dangerous. It is cruel. It is criminal.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.