Our professor was curious what we really thought about persons experiencing homelessness.
I wasn’t prepared for the vitriol which quickly spilled from my classmates’ mouths.
The homeless are filthy, they said. They’re always around, annoying everyone. They’re dangerous. They’re terrifying.
No one gave any thought to what people experiencing homelessness might think of these descriptions.
When I asked if any of my classmates had ever spoken to one of these people, there was no reply.
It was the early afternoon only a few weeks later when I watched a pair of IU Police Department officers eject a man and his young daughter from Herman B Wells Library.
They had been sitting quietly, using a computer. The only conceivable crime they could have committed was looking poor.
It’s time we admit Bloomington is becoming a very hostile place for people experiencing homelessness, and the prejudices of privileged IU students are at the heart of the matter.
Let’s consider a less anecdotal example.
Last week two police cars were parked outside the Shalom Community Center, which provides services for Bloomington’s homeless population.
The police officers began issuing tickets for comically minor infractions, ranging from jaywalking to deflated bike tires.
When confronted, the police officers said they were under orders to hand out infractions until the normal gathering in front of Shalom disappeared.
While the mayor and the chief of police have both issued apologies for the incident, the reasoning behind the harassment is clear.
Many in Bloomington, including students like my classmates, consider persons experiencing homelessness an eyesore at best. At worst, they see them as a dangerous infestation.
Bloomington’s leaders want a thriving commercial city with a gleaming ivory tower at its center, but they’ll settle for masking the evidence that Bloomington is anything but prosperous.
Our students want not only a cloistered campus, but a sanitized city where they can skip down Kirkwood without being reminded that their privilege comes from the same system that grinds others into the dirt.
But we can’t just make these people disappear. No matter how hard Bloomington Police Department and IUPD struggle to keep the peasants out of the castle, they’re still alive and have every right to be here.
If Bloomington’s government really cared about persons experiencing homelessness, it wouldn’t be paying cops to prey on the vulnerable.
It would be funneling that money into housing programs and job training.
If IU really cared for these people, it would be offering free educational resources to them, including unrestricted use of our libraries.
If the students really cared for our brothers and sisters, we wouldn’t be mocking them in classrooms and ignoring them on sidewalks.
We would be out in the streets, having honest conversations with people different from ourselves.
We’d be doing what students are supposed to be doing: learning.
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