Where Is The Progressive Commitment To End Homelessness in Lakewood?

Many progressive minded communities enjoy patting themselves on the back for holding the correct political views. There is a certain, dare I say, smug, satisfaction in some quarters over the abudance of rainbow flags, Black Lives Matters posters, and other progressive decorations in this city. I have no objection. Having lived in the southern suburbs, I am used to such open and proud displays of political affilation. In North Royalton and Brunswick, for instance, there is no shortage of blue and red porch lights, blue line flags, MAGA yard signs, and other conservative emblems. However, as a relative newcomer to Lakewood, I must confess that I find most of this self-conscious progressivism to be quite shallow. But it doesn't have to be that way. People are free to live up to their rhetoric, if they so choose. If Lakewood's progressivism is to amount to more than an exercise in vanity, it must protect human dignity, not surrender it to misery.

Anyone who actually bothers to walk along Detroit Avenue and West 117th Street can't help but notice the inceasing numbers of homeless persons. Many, if not most, of these destitute unhoused individuals are African American. Few are the helping hands or acts of compassion extended toward these men and women, many of whom must pass the time on benches or in bus shelters in the intense heat and unforgiving sun of July and August. Yet Black lives are supposed to matter, right?

It's no coincidence that quite a few businesses have posted "no public restrooms" notices. The Lakewood Public Library prohibits sleeping and bringing in blankets and changes of clothes, according to its patron handbook. As there is no homeless shelter or drop-in center in Lakewood or the western edge of Cleveland, such policies of exclusion have resulted not only in the unavoidable sight of unwashed uncomfortable people (unavoidable yet easily ignored by passers by), but in noxious odors not easily ignored in various spots where the poorest of the poor must relieve themselves. Situations like this don't exactly proclaim social justice.

Yes, there are social services available in Lakewood and Cleveland. Non-profit organizations, however, are not a cure-all. These institutions are usually a last resort, after job loss, eviction, trauma, or family dysfunction have finally beaten down an unfortunate person. Those totally without resources or support may find themselves sleeping on a sidewalk or on church steps. Others with cash will check in to an unpleasant residential hotel. And let's not pretend that "rooming houses" (to put it politely) don't exist in this city. Because they do. I won't mention any names. But those properties are increasing, some under the label of alleged vacation rental services.

Simply put, Lakewood lacks a comprehensive compassionate plan for dealing with homelessness and poverty. Waiting for a heroic politician or elite body of experts to sweep in and solve these problems is pointless, as well as an insult to human dignity. Concerned people must step forward to begin offering help in a comprehensive way. And those institutions already helping must do more.

Residents and visitors may choose to ignore human tragedies, for the time being, but if these problems are left to fester, they won't be ignored economically. Where decency and compassion fall, raw economic self-interest will rise. Middle-class homeowners and major retailers and banks won't remain in neighborhoods or suburbs where socioeconomic decay becomes a constant.

If you believe you are a progressive, ask yourself toward what is Lakewood progressing. If you're a conservative, what is this community trying to conserve? Human life and quality of life matter. This is a question of common sense, as well as brotherly love. All the BLM and rainbow decals don't help youth or older people struggling against poverty, insecurity, and uncertainty. It's a hostile world out there. Genuine positive change requires concrete action, not slogans or self-congratulatory symbolism.

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Volume 18, Issue 16, Posted 7:58 PM, 08.03.2022