Words, labels and opinions can be applied in scattergun fashion

By Bob Dalton

If you, by chance, have been reading the newspapers lately or have attended one or more of the Sweet Home City Council meetings, you have come across a variety of words, labels and opinions in regard to the proposed Exclusionary Ordinance with undertones of homeless that have definitely stirred the imagination and emotion of many, including myself.

Even though we have been told the Exclusion Zone is about unlawful behavior, the comments that have ensued in letters to the editor and articles indicate a large overlap into the homeless arena. At times it is hard to differentiate between the two, when the pictures in the paper are those of homeless people.

But when I read some of the words/labels or comments being applied such as “Why do we pussy foot with the out-of-control mental cases?” I wonder if people have a clear understanding of how damaging or hurtful words can be, have any understanding of the problem or the knowledge of those that have been working on the problem, without themselves being educated on the topic or engaged to make a difference other than complaining.

When you break it down some, the phrase “pussy footing around” or the title of an article that states “We have to do something” indicates no one is doing anything. Well, I hate to break someone’s bubble, but there have been many things that are being done to lay the groundwork to address the problem.

First, the Police Department has been doing all they can with the resources they have when called to address unsafe behaviors involving anyone, some who just happen to be homeless.

Other projects that are currently happening here in Sweet Home are numerous. Multiple meetings on homelessness have been conducted. The Adult Services Team has met quarterly and C.H.A.N.C.E, both which are resources for addressing various needs such as housing, finances, addiction and substance abuse. Others, like local churches, also have been involved.

Labels or opinions like “mental cases” or “You’re talking about people that don’t care” clearly indicate a lack of understanding of mental illness, the symptoms, diagnosis or treatments. Without treatment, many are not even capable of understanding how to care or behave, in order to lead a somewhat normal and productive life.

I think of my own daughter, who was diagnosed as being mentally retarded from a very early age. When you hear the word “retarded,” it hurts, and even more when used in a derogatory way by people who are leaders within our community. Had she not had the support of my wife and myself, continuing doctor appointments, everyday medications, a case manager and personal care, I can only imagine the kind of life she would have had without that support.

Then there was my father, who suffered from alcoholism. Until I attended some of his recovery classes, I did not understand the disease or what it entailed.

As far as the issue being “decades in the making,” unlawful behavior and mental illness have been around forever. These are complex issues, and most would hope they would just go away.

One thing I know for sure is we cannot exclude or arrest our way out of this problem.

It will take people from all aspects coming together to work on the problems that we face in our community and coming up with positive solutions.

Our success will not be measured by beating people down, but how we pick them up without judgment, whether it be for unlawful behavior or homelessness. We may not be able to change people, but we can change our attitude, and using the wrong words, labels or opinions will just get in the way of progress.

– Bob Dalton is a Sweet Home resident who has been involved in efforts to address local homeless and public health needs.