Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: Bloomington’s Chamber of Commerce confirmed it hates the unhoused community

<p>Tents stand Dec. 8, 2020, in Seminary Park. Based on overwhelming feedback from members, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce opposed a proposed Bloomington City Council Ordinance that would expand protections for homeless encampments.</p>

Tents stand Dec. 8, 2020, in Seminary Park. Based on overwhelming feedback from members, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce opposed a proposed Bloomington City Council Ordinance that would expand protections for homeless encampments.

The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, an organization stacked with some of the city’s richest and most influential people, released a statement Tuesday detailing just how much they hate poor people. 

Based on “overwhelming feedback” from its members, the chamber voiced its opposition to a proposed Bloomington City Council ordinance. The ordinance, which the council will consider Wednesday night, amends the municipal code to provide greater protections to people experiencing homelessness living in encampments.

[Related: Bloomington Chamber of Commerce opposes ordinance on homeless camp protections]

The Chamber did not parse words as it announced its hatred for Bloomington’s unhoused community. Anonymous comments from some members encouraged the city to “eliminate” people experiencing homelessness or forcibly remove them from their homes. The release itself tried to position the Chamber as sympathetic toward the homeless community while somehow also weighing the importance of business interests over the lives of our unhoused neighbors.

[Related: Bloomington City Council members drafting ordinance to better protect homeless camps]

The proposed amendment includes prohibiting the city from displacing people experiencing homelessness from camps if sufficient housing isn’t available, requiring the city to store certain items belonging to anyone who is displaced, and allowing the city to designate specific areas of public property where camps will be allowed and these rules will apply.

“In a recent member survey we conducted, 85% of respondents oppose this ordinance,” Erin Predmore, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said in the release. More than 100 of the Chamber’s approximately 830 members responded to the survey.

The release included 26 pages of anonymous testimony from the chamber’s members, and I encourage you to read the document of what the city’s business owners had to say in its entirety. Members of the Chamber unleashed their ugliest, most hateful ideas in the anonymous comments.

They are cowards and won’t speak publicly because of purported fear of reprisal. 

“I was going to speak during public commentary on this issue, but I’ve seen people called Nazis and fascists for opposing the homeless encampment,” one member wrote. “I pay over $500,000 in property taxes each year. I should be able to speak up without fear.”

This member’s utter lack of self-awareness is shocking. If you believe wealth should shield you from accountability, you have some fascist tendencies.

Even though the city has repeatedly targeted members of the unhoused community, people experiencing homelessness and activists supporting them continue to advocate publicly for their right to live.  

“They don’t want us to live, they want us to exist and they want us to exist how they say we should exist,” Trevor Richardson, an activist who was experiencing homelessness, told the Indiana Daily Student in January. “Living is not always pretty, but living is up to the person living that life. Mayor Hamilton is not a dictator, and we should hold him accountable when he tries to be.”

Members of the Chamber might think it’s a mischaracterization to say they hate poor people, but some of the testimony makes it clear. When asked for potential solutions to homelessness in Bloomington, several advocated for forced removal.

“Remove all homeless people and help them find care and services in larger cities,” one said.

“Stop making Bloomington attractive to the homeless,” another added. “Don't give them a place to sleep in our parks. Move them out of town.”

“Eliminate the nuisance!!” a particularly thoughtful member suggested.

“Make them submit (voluntarily or by being arrested) to being put into shelters,” someone who deserves to be called a fascist said.

The rule the proposed amendment addresses has been enforced by the city twice since early December, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In both instances, belongings — including tents — were taken from people staying in the park. 

Marc Teller, a Bloomington Homeless Coalition board member, told the IDS in January that he holds the city responsible for the death of 51-year-old JT, who members of the unhoused community say froze to death Dec. 24, 2020. Teller said JT had a tent before Bloomington Police Department officers and non-sworn personnel cleared the encampment at Seminary Park Dec. 9, 2020.

Despite the Chamber’s false claim in the release that the ordinance would allow encampments for an extended period of time, the ordinance does nothing to guarantee the safety and stability of people’s temporary homes. 

It’s a small, but necessary, step taken by the city to recognize people experiencing homelessness as people deserving of dignity. But granting some level of dignity to the city’s poor is apparently a step too far for Bloomington business and property owners.

People experiencing homelessness — who have directly suffered at the hands of the city — will most likely voice their support for the ordinance Wednesday night during public comment. If the Chamber’s opinion wants to be seen as valid, then they should be there too. Hiding behind anonymity isn’t how a democracy works, even if you’re rich.  

Kyle Linder (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and international relations. He wants everyone to join a union.

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