Most homeless advocates never wanted a tent city to exist. It should not exist. Every citizen in our society has the right to sleep in a warm bed, wake up and take a hot shower, and eat breakfast with clean utensils. No one should be forced to sleep outside in tents during a Western New York winter.
Yet after the Civic Center Monroe County Local Development Corporation evicted the homeless from the Civic Center parking garage (an unacceptable situation to begin with), the county intensified a housing crisis that has brought our entire community to a tipping point.
It should not be forgotten that Monroe County is legally obligated to care for the destitute. People have been living in tents for over two months because the county has shirked its responsibility to locate and fund a new shelter. The county's inaction is made even more shameful because there are hundreds of abandoned properties and buildings within the city center that could be converted into a modern hypothermia facility.
What has been lacking at all levels of government is willpower, compassion, and accountability. In other words, the City of Rochester and Monroe County did not allow Sanctuary Village to exist as a gesture of merciful tolerance; they made it impossible for it not to exist by their lack of political courage and moral ingenuity.
Furthermore, tearing apart the encampment just days before Christmas did not prove that some people are too dangerous to house or that self-sufficient communities consisting of poor people are inherently prone to dysfunction. The decision to spontaneously dismantle Sanctuary Village only proved that the Monroe County executive and Rochester mayor have been unwilling to uphold their civic duty to provide safe and reliable housing to our community's weakest and most marginalized population.
The mayor and the county executive must put their verbal pledges of support into immediate action. Every night that one of our citizens sleeps outside against his or her choice is one night too many.
The bottom line is that the homeless were not only booted from the Civic Center garage without a plan to house them, but that the mayor and her team haphazardly preceded to midwife an underserviced and at times anarchic homeless encampment without seeking approval from City Council, the appropriate neighborhood association, and taxpayers in general.
The only response now is to rectify these mistakes by finding and sanctioning a new indoor Sanctuary Village as soon as possible. What will it take for our community to realize that this is an emergency?
Founder and director, Gandhi Earth Keepers International