Treatment of Homeless Population in Irvine Needs Rethinking

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In general, the homeless are not allowed to occupy the streets. Orange County have decided to play hardball by harshly enforcing the no homeless policy. Many of us have noticed shopping carts full or recyclables, and other tokens of the homeless, devoid of the people who are usually seen occupying the space.

Why is it that the homeless need to be removed from Irvine’s streets? Is it to preserve the surrounding areas, to make us all safer? Some may even say that there is enough funding so that virtually any eyesore, such as the homeless, shouldn’t have to be endured by Orange County residents.

Here’s a reality check: the people of Irvine, like many in affluent or middle-class neighborhoods, have a false perception of the world. There is an invisible and visible barrier, a clear distinction between the wealthy and those living in poverty, hiding the struggles of the people who live in desperate environments.

In fact, in a lame attempt to shield students and the community from the discomfort of poverty, Irvine has cultivated an indifference to real-life suffering. Elizabeth Schultz, a UCI graduate student and mom, has seen support among her peers for getting rid of Irvine’s homeless population in the name of safety.

“I think there’s definitely a perception that the homeless are not real people. In the Irvine mom community, they’re isolated and they don’t care and aren’t interested in coming up with any solution other than getting [homeless people] out of Irvine,” she said. “They want Irvine to be a protected, private community that’s isolated from any indication of poverty.”

Avoiding the more brutal aspects of life is ideal. After all, isn’t that what we all work so hard for here at UCI? Grabbing the reins of education so that our degree allows us to never have to see, let alone experience, destitution.

However, it is a fact that poverty has reared its ugly head in our country, in inner cities in and around the Los Angeles area, and even here in the relatively pristine Irvine.
In fact, there has been a noticeable increase in the homeless population in Orange County overall. Most notably, the federally mandated Point-in-Time survey revealed that there are 4,452 homeless people in the area, of which 853 are children. Another five percent of this population are transitional-age youth, ages 18-24.

These numbers should raise concern.

According to sophomore Rogelio Cervantes, “It’s sad, it’s repulsive, and quite frankly it’s just a real messed up situation. Also, it doesn’t help that many people stereotype the homeless. Many people actually think a lot of homeless people want to be like that.”

They are here, but because there is no real, tangible exposure to this kind of extreme poverty — almost as if the roads have been cleansed — how can we know what it feels like to smell the streets of skid row, to be able to empathize in a humane way?

Just as recently as November 10, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department made sure to rid Fountain Valley of it’s perceived trash — hundreds of homeless who were forced to move. The removal of individuals, that may appear to be very different from us on the surface, so close to our campus feels like an attempt to purify the area and can make it even harder for students to notice that homelessness is a problem in our a community.

Behavior such as this is encouraged in the community of Irvine, and this maliciousness has been incorporated into the city. People are proud of it instead of disgusted by it. Nobody blinks an eye that hundreds of people, women and children included, won’t even have a tent or encampment to rely on this winter.

It’s more than just a cardboard sign; homelessness can mean a complete loss of character accompanied by overwhelming hopelessness, especially if you fall within the 13 percent of homeless individuals that have a severe mental disability or make up part of the 21 percent who have experienced domestic violence, as reported by the PIT survey.

There are many reasons why one may be subjugated to such an existence. People should not have to live like this, but if they do, they should be visible, if only to remind us that we have an obligation to all members of our community.

“I really do see how the public, our own government, and the community have a blind eye towards the issues regarding the rise of homeless people,” said Cervantes, “It’s funny because we, the people, think the government is doing everything they can to stop this problem. On the other hand…the government wants to leave it up to the community and advocate groups to take care of the issue. Therefore, I can see how there’s no real work getting done.”

Whether we would like to have a glimpse of it or not, the problem is here. The people are there. Help is needed, and not just at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or during Homelessness Awareness Week, but all the time. Turning a blind eye will not make the problem disappear.

Living in a community that reflects the reality of our world is one that will benefit all students in preparation for entering the workforce and the walls outside of UCI and Orange County. If the only comfort level achieved is via identical streets and perfect shopping centers with organic storefronts devoid of the diversity that includes homelessness, Anteaters will not be adequate, contributing members to society. We will not embrace and celebrate variety in all its forms; we will not be able to find solutions and evoke change because we will have simply erased the problem.

Sydney Charles is a first-year dance major. She can be reached at sacharle@uci.edu.

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