There’s a debate brewing in Downtown Hartford over whether to create a homeless shelter in the historic Center Church in Downtown Hartford. The Courant’s Jeffrey Cohen has been covering it. As soon as the plan was announced some residents and merchants immediately opposed it. Some folks, who may or may not live in Hartford began to criticize the critics. Here is the debate.
As a former resident of downtown who still goes to downtown restaurants and businesses I think it is unfair for people to criticize Hartford citizens and merchants who do not want to be next to a homeless shelter. To characterize those people as “racist,” “xenophobic,” and “classist” is just uneducated and insulting. To characterize them as “wealthy” people who don’t care about the homeless is also incorrect. One of the people who commented on Cohen’s blog was labeled “wealthy” and a “high priced condo owner.” That person’s condominium is assessed at $187,000.
Perhaps this is why many of the people who posted on Cohen’s blog who were critical of my friends, colleagues and former neighbors have chosen not to post their names or identify the town where he or she lives. Many of those criticizing anonymously are doing it for the sole purpose of assauging their own guilt over their failure to do something concrete to help the homeless.
Most downtowners do care about the homeless just like people in many of the surrounding suburbs, many of whom are wealthier. Most downtown merchants care about the homeless as do suburban merchants who make more money than their downtown counterparts.
One of the posters on Cohen’s blog said it perfectly:
Mat: “it’s astonishing to me that so few people have any tolerance for a Hartford resident voicing an opinion that would be taken for granted in the suburbs.” As a journalist I’m often contaced by people who are concerned about a sex offender living in or moving to their neighborhood. Why is it wrong for people in downtown Hartford to be concerned about their neighborhood?
Imagine if a homeless shelter had been proposed for West Hartford Center, the Buckland Hills area or Route 44 in Avon. There would be tremendous outrage.
No one downtown is arguing against the need to help the homeless. Of course a shelter is needed, and anyone who lives near a site where a shelter is being proposed has every right to fight it.