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Op-Ed: Threatening Hornell’s homeless with violence is dangerous and cruel

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By Erica Boccia, Hornell NY

I was recently presented with a “letter to the editor” dated November 21st, two days before Thanksgiving(1). And while the last part of that sentence might seem useless, somehow I feel it is important to call attention to. This letter was serving as a ‘notice both public and private that the writer had advised the town of a potentially dangerous situation. Having had such notice the town could be held liable for any harm that comes to person or property as a result of the town’s inaction’ in regards to a homeless person living under a bridge in North Hornell. (To be clear the writer called it an ‘encampment’. It’s not even a single tent at this time. It was one shopping cart, a few book bags and some other belongings. While the use of the word isn’t incorrect, it feels a little misleading.)

The writer had claimed this was potentially dangerous and I’d like to say that I agree.
This is dangerous… For the person who is living under a darn bridge in Western NY at the end of November. It absolutely is dangerous …for the person being targeted by an angry writer who lives down the road.

More dangerous were one of the three offered solutions in attempt to get them to relocate: spraying the homeless person with “cold showers” to dissuade them from being on public property. As I write this tonight, it’s currently 26° with a real feel of 19°. Let’s hose ‘em down! Hot take on the situation (pun intended).

I’m curious if the writer even bothered to read the information he cited in his letter? “The problem with hostile architecture is that it doesn’t aim to address the homelessness crisis. All it achieves is making life harder for those already struggling. Forcing people to find other places to sleep won’t solve the issue of homelessness.” (2). I wonder if the writer had noticed that the resource he posted was NOT in favor of harming people who are unhoused, but rather it was sharing that we as a country haven’t found a better way to help them?

I’m also curious- if the town now has liability due to this said ‘notice’ given by the writer for alleged inaction; does the writer also now bear liability for calling others to action? To be clear I’m talking about the action of harm to the homeless person. There is no way that spraying someone with water when it’s colder than 32° won’t harm them and that’s what was offered as a solution. So, writer, does this mean if someone harms this homeless person, you also hold liability? After all it was your suggestion. One could argue you instigated it.

Going back to the “letter to the editor,” the writer had claimed the news is “literally filled with stories of how allowing such camps to take root has led to the deterioration and destruction of the town.” Which town? It said “the town” so I was assuming there was a specific one in mind. If it’s a typo the question remains the same. Which “towns”? This is usually a problem that impacts large cities. Seeing homelessness in a small rural town isn’t common in my experience, due to the lack of resources to allow them to sustain being homeless. Which is all the more sad if you ask me, that we have someone suffering right now in our community.

Writer you said “Now we have God knows who living under a bridge just yards away from a peaceful quiet neighborhood? Seriously?” I’d like to attempt to answer ‘who’. An estimated six percent (6%) of the homeless population in America are veterans (3). You want to spray a possible veteran with cold water in November? Nothing says holiday spirit quite like that. Also, nothing says “I love my country and all who defend it” like treating them as a disease.

Beyond veterans, mental health and homelessness also have a disparaging correlation. Roughly 20% of homeless people are battling severe mental illness (4). Shall we hose down a schizophrenic in the freezing temps? That’s not exactly “thanksgiving spirit” but maybe I’m wrong. As one of at least three mental health professionals (that I know of) who live on your street, I would beg you to reconsider your aggressive position on this. This person might be unwell and terrified.

Writer, you said if you see something say something and when you did you were met with an answer you didn’t like. This prompted you to perform a search on how to eradicate someone who’s probably in the worst stage of their life. Did the opportunity during your “ten minute online search” present itself so that you also searched for “resources for the homeless in Steuben county”? Or was there not enough time?

My one-minute search gave me 2 resources, Turning Point and Catholic charities. Rather than calling the people that hold some sort of office in North Hornell “good little lazy bureaucrat” after not getting the answer you hoped for, why not offer help to this person? Why not see if these resources knew about someone living under the bridge? Why not offer empathy? How has this person harmed you? If that person hasn’t harmed you, who has? You are clearly hurt.

Dear writer you said you’ve lived in North Hornell for 20 years. Love that for you. My family moved to North Hornell in 1989. I’ve seen lots of families come and go from this street. I see your house is for sale and you’re leaving too (5). I think it’s interesting that you so openly claim how we are under some sort of siege and we need to “take back our town”. From who? The single homeless person living beneath a bridge near kwik fill? Yikes. A single human whom none of us knew even existed-until your letter to the editor.

But… you are leaving?

Did you consider that by publicly announcing that ‘no one does anything’ that maybe you were enticing others to come live there also? You just advertised the location like it’s consequence free. Sounds like a sweet deal to someone who might be unhoused and needs a place to stay where they aren’t spraying you with cold water or using animal repellent on you. Just a thought.

If this person has been there months, and yet none of us knew- is it dangerous or not? I’m confused. Help me understand. What crimes did they commit? What property damage? It kind of feels like this was under the radar until it was announced by you. I certainly had no idea and I walk down there all the time. I drive by twice a day, four days a week. I had no clue. Nor did my brother who was in such disbelief he went and checked on this person to ensure they weren’t dead down there last night. No one was there so maybe that is promising. Maybe there is just some debris to pick up because this poor soul found someplace warm and got help. I’d be happy to help clean it up if it means someone is safe now.

And before I end I want to point out that if someone’s take-away from this entire piece is that “this woman supports homelessness” I am going to invite you to do a personal inventory as to why you even bothered reading it this far. Quite the opposite, I am deeply against it but for much different reasons. I am just as opposed to homelessness as I am cruelty, which is why I felt it important to sit down and write this.

According to Zillow, writer, you have five bedrooms. You don’t want this person under the bridge and you feel no one is solving the problem of this poor human possibly freezing to death. (I’m assuming that’s the problem because otherwise, again, no clue that this person was even there so they clearly aren’t bothering anyone). Offer one of your rooms to the person who’s living under a bridge I guess?

Happy holidays and best wishes on your move. May you and anyone you care about, never end up like that poor human; and may that person get the help they need before they die alone, cold and scared under a bridge.

1- https://hornellsun.com/2023/11/21/op-ed-seneca-street-bridge-homeless-camp-concerns/

2- https://interestingengineering.com/culture/15-examples-of-anti-homeless-hostile-architecture-that-you-probably-never-noticed-before

3- https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness/)-https:/endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness/

4- https://nami.org/mhstats (https://nami.org/mhstats)

5- https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/444-Cleveland-Ave-Hornell-NY-14843/32584787_zpid/ (https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/444-Cleveland-Ave-Hornell-NY-14843/32584787_zpid/)

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