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Homeless should be helped, not shunned

November 21, 2004|by Claire R. Seibert, Williamsport

To the editor:

Bob Maginnis' column "in search of Hagerstown's homeless" did nothing but add to the fears and misunderstanding many local people have of the situation many of our fellow humans are in. The editorial was very one-sided in its views. Without gathering all of the information, it made many assumptions and perpetuated many stereotypes about the homeless.

Nowhere did Maginnis show even an attempt to understand how people get to be homeless and how difficult it can be to get out of their current situation. It takes overcoming addictions in most cases (no easy task), finding a support system when they've been alone for so long and have built up a distrust of people and institutions in general and starting a new life all over again (getting a job, finding housing, saving money, paying bills, yes - responsibilities).

It is unfair to blame the city's inability to keep businesses going in the downtown area on the homeless. People don't shop downtown because they're afraid of crossing paths with a homeless person.

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Get real. I think you need to look more honestly at that situation. Hmmm Could the Wal-Mart Supercenter have something to do with that? There have been many businesses that have closed up shop downtown, but I doubt seriously that the owners would blame it solely on the homeless in Hagerstown.

How do you account for the businesses that have been doing well? Why aren't they heading out as well? As for the library, I have never been deterred from going there because of the homeless being there. Again, did Maginnis survey the people going in and out of the library to see how many were scared of the possibility of encountering a homeless person there?

As a volunteer and coordinator at REACH's Cold Weather Shelter, I have taken my now 7-year-old daughter with me on many occasions to drop off bagged lunches or other items at the shelter. She has been met every time with friendly smiles and hellos from the shelter guests. They joke with her and tease her and comment on her pretty outfit or how tall she is or whatever.

Just because someone is homeless does not mean that he should be feared. Every one of us is a child of God and should be treated as such. The Nighs and Maginnis should spend some time volunteering in the shelter and get to know these people first before stereotyping them as potentially harmful to children. That was an unfair and shameful assumption that Maginnis stated in his harsh and ill-informed editorial.

I have been to the "hobo camps" as Maginnis likes to call them. His descriptions are pretty accurate. But instead of being so shocked and appalled at how those living conditions were found, one should be so moved by those deplorable conditions to try to help so that we don't have people living like that. One statement that I do agree with in Maginnis' column was the last one, " it's really no way for a grown (person) to live."

I challenge Maginnis and the Nighs and others like them who haven't a clue what the homeless situation is like, to volunteer at the cold weather shelter, to try to help them find a job, fill out an application, apply for housing, seek counseling, work toward a GED, or one of the many ways that one could help them get out of the situation they are in.

These people need our support, they need someone to believe in them, to give them a chance, to care, to help them back on the right track. Damaging columns like Maginnis' are not needed, and only cause more harm. So, Mr. Maginnis, and Mr. and Mrs. Nigh, and anyone else interested in making a differenceCall REACH at 301-733-2371 to let Terri Baker, REACH's director, know that you're ready to help.

I think we can all agree that no one would like to see any homeless on the streets, but they're not going to just disappear overnight. It's going to take a lot of work and faith, and believe me, there are many success stories. But most of all, you need to understand what it's like to walk in another person's shoes.

Claire R. Seibert, Williamsport

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