Make certain the ‘helping hand’ also offers dignity, decency

Tuesday , September 12, 2017 - 1:10 PM


In any given classroom, most students will say they’re there to learn and conduct themselves in accordingly. They follow the rules, respect others and try their best to succeed.

But talk to any teacher and he or she will recall “problem students” — there’s typically one in every class. They’re not bad kids, really, but they disrupt the class. They distract the other kids; they demand more resources from the teacher, leaving better-behaved students with less attention toward their education.

Some of us have found that behavior doesn’t end with primary school. Those kids are the slackers in group projects, the coworkers prone to picking petty fights, the people at public events who destruct property or behave with rudeness.

In short, we’re talking about the people who “ruin it for everybody.”

And there’s nothing worse than when everyone gets punished for the bad behavior of a few, right?

It seems like this sentiment is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about how the homeless are treated at Lantern House and Utah’s other shelters. People who want to recover might be hurt when rules are implemented in an effort to curb the chaos brought by those who won’t or can’t be helped.

Running a shelter is not an easy job — the good news is it appears the Ogden facility is faring better than The Road Home in Salt Lake City, where rampant drug and violent crime recently caused a weeks-long police crackdown.

The Lantern House attributes its success to holding clients in its 90-day program to a high standard — sobriety, check-ins with caseworkers, strict hours and a host of behavioral dos and don’ts.

“Every person that sleeps at the shelter even for one night must complete and sign every page of the packet, which includes the list of rules,” Jennifer Canter, executive director of the Lantern House said in an email to reporter JaNae Francis.

The theory, backed by Ogden police, the city’s mayor and Weber County commissioners, is that the rules keep everyone safe and allow the “good kids” to succeed while preventing disruptors from “ruining it for everybody.”

However, anecdotes coming from current and former residents of the shelter detail possessions being thrown away and food being taken from families when kids are rowdy. Several have complained how difficult it is to follow the rules if they get a job that has late hours; others bemoan getting just a few hours of sleep every night because of the 11 p.m.-5 a.m. check-in/check-out process — they're not allowed inside during the day.

Those anecdotes can’t necessarily be confirmed — there’s no report or other way to corroborate these accounts — so we’re left to choose to believe them or decide they're getting what they deserve.

We don’t often second-guess people when they recount an experience. But we treat the homeless differently, and that’s not always the right thing to do. In effort to “help,” we sometimes don’t treat the less fortunate like equal humans, with dignity and decency.

Utah’s officials have a tough task ahead to continue to deal with the homelessness problem, but it’s important it is done without sacrificing humanity and mercy for people who might need it most.

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