A burning question: Considering the logic of homeless bias | SierraSun.com
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A burning question: Considering the logic of homeless bias

Playing upon fears made all too real by the Angora Fire, some Tahoe locals have been quoted publicly saying that homeless encampments are a fire threat.

If that is true, and it probably is, the Ehrman Mansion on Sugar Pine Point is also a fire threat. So is Fleur du Lac, Vikingsholm, the Thunderbird Lodge and every fine restaurant, casino and resort in the Tahoe Basin. You could even say the entire city of South Lake Tahoe is a fire threat. That is where most of the concern about the homeless seems to be coming from.

In all fairness, a $25 million home on the lake is just as much a potential fire hazard, if not more so, than a homeless camp. The Washoe Fire near Tahoe City this last summer is a perfect illustration. It was caused by a faulty propane tank in the yard of a house whose occupants were not even home. Though it was not a lake-front home, the illustration still applies and could not be more clear.



Multi-million dollar lakefronts have appliances and other electrical devices, fireplaces, gas stoves and heat, all operated by human beings, sometimes children. All are subject to misuse and failure. A boat in a boat house could start a fire.

It is hard to fathom the logic of singling out the homeless as the potential source of another devastating fire. Such narrow-minded thinking is obviously intended to pave the way for the eradication of homeless camps in order to protect the Tahoe



Basin. Sounds like a noble goal. But, if it’s true, the same logic also requires us to get rid of all lake-front homes as well. As a matter of fact, it demands the removal of any and all structures in the Tahoe Basin related to human activity.

A perfectly green solution. Then, all we have to fear is lightning, or an asteroid.

Pointing the finger at the homeless is an uneducated, knee-jerk reaction. Fire disasters can originate anywhere. They do not discriminate based on lifestyle, net worth, square footage, location or social acceptability.

Backyard gossip about the homeless is nothing short of arrogant at best. This attitude is not compatible with a compassionate, progressive society.

Homelessness is not so much an issue, or a problem, as it is a natural fact of life. It can never be “solved” once and for all. Doing something about the homeless is not always a good idea, especially if it’s to stigmatize and criminalize them, run them out or punish them just for existing. There have always been poor and homeless people. There always will be. The more fortunate among us can either accept them, engage them sensibly or turn against them and vilify them, giving tacit approval to further abuse of the homeless.

When we glorify material wealth and success to the point that we virtually make it illegal to be homeless, we are no better than a government that unjustly invades another country, detains people against their will and spies on its own citizens.

Yet, this is the direction we seem to be heading. We are beginning to outlaw all but the most affluent among us.

This is not just a local trend. The homeless are being threatened all over America. Every church and every pastor in the country should be speaking out vehemently about what is being doing to the least of these, our brothers.

Any one of us could be homeless in a heartbeat. Hopefully, the overwhelming majority of us have a greater capacity for understanding than those who care nothing for the poor.

Homelessness is the source, and result, of serious social problems. In spite of that, the homeless deserve the same respect and protection we give our close friends. If we are not comfortable with our homeless kin, we have some problems of our own to work on.

We could begin, at the very least, by opening our hearts.


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