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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

"You know how proud you were when your wife had that baby girl?" Frank asked.

My father replied with a firm and sharp "yes," concerned he was about to hear a threat: He was a manager at a day-labor business in Fort Lauderdale and had just fired Frank for showing up drunk to work for the third time.

But as Frank turned around at the door, his expression was not fierce. With his eyes magnified by pools of tears, he pointed to the baby picture of my sister Michelle on the wall and said, "Someone was that proud of me once."

And then he left, probably to go get drunk.

Frank's hopelessness - like millions of people, including the homeless - is not as simple as we want it to be. Commissioner Ed Braddy was villanized last week for publicly researching the correlation between homelessness and criminality. His twofold point about the one-stop homeless center was pretty clear: Homeless people introduce a dangerous element into a neighborhood, so how close to them do we want to be?

While his rhetoric about this being a "post-Danny Rolling era" in Gainesville was as inappropriate as it was ridiculous, the question above is not unreasonable at all.

To deny that there is a greater incidence of theft in the homeless population is to embrace a level of idealism that renders you useless to help. Yes, helping homeless people involves risk. But no, that does not mean we should not do it.

You will meet an awful lot of Franks if you invest in work with the impoverished - high hope and then haunting heartbreak. It's not like the rest of life in that regard. It's not easy like romance or even finding what you want to do with your life.

I hope you see my point.

Some argue that the best way to help the homeless is to leave them with no option but to help themselves. It was Graham Greene who said, "no one can arrange another's happiness" - if it is to be found, we must each find it for ourselves. The same is true for economic independence, so these people say.

This is another delusion, and a far more self-accommodating one I might add. Not a single person is happy or successful by simple self-determination. Many times in my life a friend or stranger has given me a much needed (usually figurative) slap in the face. I honestly wish it happened more.

We need community like fish need water, and sometime in the past century or so, America's rugged individualism went crazy and threw us onto dry land. You'd be amazed how many people slept exposed to the rain Sunday night because the thought of asking a family member or friend from their younger years for a place to stay violated their sense of dignity.

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Honestly, though, I think these people are better off than the affluent who consider themselves 'self-made.' At least the homeless are more likely to recognize that they need help.

If the homeless center gets built, I hope it is flooded with volunteers and does much good. However, I'm not a fan because I believe it contributes to the idea that helping people is the municipal government's job. Those avenues of assistance are already in place now. Homeless people do not need a sterile, fluorescent-lit room and a government worker to help them fill out forms.

They need the help that friendship gives.

Gerald Liles is a history and religion senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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