Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses… the wretched refuse… wait, did we say that?
The Bishop Dudley Hospitality House opened at Indiana and 8th Street in Sioux Falls in January. The new homeless shelter has helped 357 men, 116 women, and 30 families in a total of 8,000 visits* in the last three months (hey, Mayor Huether, what’s that I hear about Sioux Falls having lots of jobs?).
Alas, having a facility to help the poor means the poor will come around more often. Evidently, the neighbors don’t like that:
Business owners in the area — like Rick Ahlers — say they’ve seen more problems since the shelter opened.
“I’ve had a couple of Native Americans out here fighting in the parking lot two weeks ago and I called 9-11 because I’m just not going to put up with it. I’m not going to go out there and ask them to leave. I’m not going to put up with it. I’m just going to call 9-11 and have the police do their job,” said Ahlers [Tess Hedrick, “Business Owners Say More Disorder Since Shelter Opened,” KSFY, 2015.04.06].
Sioux Falls police appear to be responding appropriately (to anyone getting into fistfights, not just Native Americans, we hope):
As expected, Sioux Falls Police say the number of 9-11 calls in the four-block area have increased and so have patrols.
“You’re going to see a lot of different activities especially with officers on foot, on bike patrolling, in the cars and getting officers assigned to work down here specifically for that reason,” said Sioux Falls Police Officer Jim Larson [Hedrick, 2015.04.06].
Homeless people are going to go where they can get services. Homeless people, given their higher rates of chemical dependency and mental illness, are going to bring public safety issues to wherever they go for services.
But where are we supposed to put homeless services like the Bishop Dudley shelter—out in the middle of a cornfield in Turner County? Out in Tuthill Park? Up by Wal-Mart on Marion Road?
A homeless shelter isn’t a landfill that you put out past the edge of town where no one can smell it. A homeless shelter is a service you put in the neighborhood where the people in need are to minimize the resources they have to expend to get to it and thus allow them to save as many resources as they may need for other necessities, like clean clothes for their kids, or bus fare or a used bike to get to work on Cliff Avenue.
Placing services for the homeless on a specific block may increase the need for police work around that block. But would the Whittier neighborhood be better off if the Bishop Dudley House weren’t there providing any services at all? Would the neighborhood be safer if those homeless folks were left to fend for themselves?
We’ve got to help the poor, and that help has to happen in specific places. Done right, that social assistance makes everyone safer.
*Correction 18:15 CDT: An eager reader provides a useful correction! In my original text, I sloppily repeated KSFY’s statement that “the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House has served more than 8,000 people.” My eager reader provides the more accurate numbers above, based on what the reader heard Dudley House exec Chad Campbell say at a community meeting last night.
Lest you think, “Oh, only a few hundred homeless! Nothing to worry about,” my eager readers shares a number of other sobering statistics about the depth of poverty in South Dakota’s Premier city:
Another astounding number is that 46.9% of students in the Sioux Falls school district, more than 23,000 total, so roughly 11,000+ students live in families who qualify for free and reduced meals, said another way ‘nearly half of all the children in Sioux Falls schools live in families who are in poverty’.
Yet another astounding number is that there are 3,600 households on the waiting list at Sioux Falls Housing for help, and the wait is more than 4 years long.
Weekly, more than 400+ households come to the weekly Faith Temple food giveaway, and more than 100+ families come to the Food To You giveaway on several Thursdays of the month (families can participate only once per month). Both of these faith-based ministries are helped mightily by Feeding South Dakota [reader e-mail, 2015.04.07].
Again, Mayor Huether, what’s this I hear about Sioux Falls having jobs? How about instead of billboards for folks passing through, you focus on connecting those jobs with the people living in your streets and not getting paid enough to feed their kids?