A continuing saga locally, similar to that in many other communities, is that of tent cities.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in east Champaign apparently will be the home for the Safe Haven tent community for the next month.
The Rev. Tom Royer, pastor of the church at 612 E. Park Ave., sent a letter to Mayor Jerry Schweighart and the city council, dated Sunday, that “the parish of St. Mary has decided to host the Safe Haven tent community for 30 days.”
“This will give them (residents) additional time to work with you and the zoning commission to find a more permanent location for their community,” wrote Royer, who did not give a date when the tent city would locate at the church.
City Zoning Administrator Kevin Phillips said Wednesday the city still holds that tent cities are in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance, and he said the city would take enforcement action if the tent city does relocate at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
The discussions revolve around questions such as whether the tent city would annoy nearby residents, or how long it will be allowed to stay in a particular location. It’s amazing to me how little talk there is about alternatives. What other options are there for people who are down on their luck, often facing physical and emotional, as well as financial challenges? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what we can do to provide housing, not how to prevent people from coping?
One can’t help but recall Anatole France’s (1844-1924) famous passage from Le lys rouge (The red lily):
Cela consiste pour les pauvres à soutenir et à conserver les riches dans leur puissance et leur oisiveté. Ils y doivent travailler devant la majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.
For the poor it consists in sustaining and preserving the wealthy in their power and their laziness. The poor must work for this, in presence of the majestic quality of the law which prohibits the wealthy as well as the poor from sleeping under the bridges, from begging in the streets, and from stealing bread.
This has become the topic of our dinner conversations lately. While I am saddened to think about people living in tents (here and all over the world), at least they provide some kind of shelter. Our social service agencies are so underfunded these days, I honestly don’t know if some of them will survive. I’m on the Board of the Refugee Center, and the amount of money that needs to be raised to provide VITAL services is disheartening and overwhelming. All this to say that tent cities are a visible symbol of the problems our community faces today, but there are many other invisible crises going on as well. Thanks for another important post, Chip.