Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Xenophobia and Liberty Plaza

I've said this before, but the A2 city council meeting last night, well-documented by the politically active twitter denizens of the city, has brought it to my attention yet again.

There's nothing wrong with wanting a park to be safe. I enjoy safety. I'm actually a bit of a worry-wort, so I try to avoid scary situations. And of course, a city government has a responsibility to keep its public spaces high-quality and secure.

It's the way the conversation about Liberty Plaza goes that gets my goat. As reported by the Ann Arbor News, it's a place where "homeless people congregate." Oh, God forbid that homeless people exist in Ann Arbor,
and especially that those without private space congregate in one of the only public spaces downtown. With the tone implied in that sentence, they may as well have reported that it was known as a place where rats and cockroaches congregate.

These are people. They are members of our community. Make it safer, sure, but intend to make it safer for them as well. Crime is a problem, but not all the folks hanging out in Liberty Plaza pull box-cutters on their neighbors. In fact, when I eat lunch there I see people playing chess, talking with their friends, distributing and eating pie, and occasionally commenting on how cute my boyfriend and I are (and let's face it, we are pretty darn cute).

 My worry is that for Ann Arborites, a safe Liberty Plaza doesn't mean "a place where no one gets hurt" but rather "a place where nobody who looks scary hangs out." Sonic Lunch is fun, no doubt, but Sonic Lunch clears out all the poor, homeless folks and replaces them with yuppies on their lunch break and wholesome families. It kind of has the feel of a military campaign - the real citizens of Ann Arbor brazenly taking back what they believe to be theirs. And where do the former group go? I don't know - the library, campus, Wheeler park, various coffee shops. People are not an infestation you can take care of. People always have to go somewhere.

So, leaders and concerned citizens of Ann Arbor, if you don't want to see homeless people, you have to give them homes. Period. Redesigning Liberty Plaza might be a palliative fix, but the price our community pays for not taking care of everyone's needs will remain. You could start by facilitating the establishment of MISSION's Stone School house, a an effort from the same leadership as Camp Take Notice that would provide homeless people with a self-governed, safe, and structured community. You could take on more responsibility for affordable and transitional housing because you have the resources, rather than complaining about neighboring communities' "fair shares." You could stop the police from evicting the temporary campsites of people who just don't have any other place to go.


  1. What a smart and kind hearted statement from which I am sure is a very lovely lady. She is right, You can not just run the homeless off or destroy what few belongings just to put a show on for those with homes. If the police are so worried about someone cutting someone with a box cutter then they need to keep him in jail. Not release him less then 2 weeks later for whatever reason they have., This is not the first time the cutter has tried to kill someone and gotten away with it. Within the last 2 years the cutter has busted another man in the head with a brick in P.O.R.T.S. bathroom and got away with that as well as his many open intox. charges he walks scott free from. What is the problem here? The homeless cutter who keeps getting a free ride just to go back to the same things that are giving the plaza a bad name. Or is it the Police who keep giving him a free ride to keep commting crimes.And as far as M.I.S.S.I.O.N's stone school plan. What a smart idea that would be. People helping people. Others helping the homeless who want to help themselves. People watching over each other and trying to help each other and keep each other out of trouble. I was homeless for 3 years and had nearly given up hope on myself and the rest of mankind. that was until I met the awesome folks of M.I.S.S.I.O.N. They helped me off the streets and not only gave me the tools to help myself, But now I am on the board of directors for M.I.S.S.I.O.N. One of the house managers at the 3501 Stone School Mercy House, The founder of Camp Misfit and friend and helper to Ann Arbors homeless. All this and so much more thanks to M.I.S.S.I.O.N. So think long and hard before you deny us what we are asking for our property, Because all you have to do is look at me or so many others we have helped and you can not deny that what we are doing DOES work. WOOF!!!

    1. Thanks, Toy! Your story is powerful and conveys exactly the message I had in mind. I'm rooting for MISSION and for dignified treatment of all people, regardless of their circumstances.