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Activism for a cause or activism for fun?

By Scott Tibbs, May 15, 2013

Are homeless advocates in Bloomington serious about solving the problem of homelessness, or are they satisfied with making themselves feel morally superior? What is the endgame of this activism?

Last week, several activists were arrested when they camped out in a parking garage. They had signs with slogans such as "Sleeping is a human right," mirroring a similar protest the previous week where they laid sleeping bags in the hallway and camped out during a City Council meeting. A couple days before that, the city ordered Occupy Bloomington to remove a tent they had erected for the homeless after complaints from neighbors about trespassing, vandalism and "verbal confrontations." After the parking garage protest, a friend posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning that the garage "had vomit and fecal matter in it this morning."

I understand the concern that homeless activists have, and the frustration they have with city government. But from the way they are behaving - making a spectacle of themselves in city hall, a downtown march after their tent was removed and getting arrested for squatting on city property - it appears they are much more interested in being activists for the sake of being activists than they are in actually working to reduce the problem of homelessness in Bloomington. They have managed to make themselves feel morally superior to city officials, but what concrete steps are they willing to take?

One of the main concerns appears to be the lack of a low-barrier shelter - meaning a shelter that does not turn people away because they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While people addicted to drugs or alcohol also have physical needs, it is those very addictions that are major contributors to homelessness in the first place. The problem is much more complicated than simply providing a temporary structure. The most loving and compassionate option is to train the homeless to be self sufficient.

There are often beds available in traditional shelters.

Furthermore, with as many people participating in the marches and other forms of protest, they should be able to pool their money to at least begin the process of fundraising to establish the kind of shelter they are advocating. But if I may be cynical, that work is a thankless behind-the-scenes task that does not generate publicity or allow activists to claim moral superiority in the streets or on the Internet. If activists are truly interested in helping the homeless, some of the effort that now goes to activism should be instead funneled into concrete solutions.