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"After census, community should think"

"'So she took drugs and got herself knocked up.So what. It's her own fault. To hell with her.There's a certain predictability of response to tales like those of Marcie, a woman who's been intermittently homeless on Bainbridge for 20 years. In a society often short on compassion for those who veer wide of personal industry - I got mine, get your own - or Victorian mores, our Marcies are likely to earn scorn or their presence willfully ignored.But behind each failure is a human face. Therein lies the importance of the Continuum of Care Coalition and its census of local homelessness - to be conducted this month at Helpline House - which should bring our Marcies to light and help us gauge the need for transitional housing and other social services.Thoughts of the impoverished in our midst made us think back to the writings of George Orwell who, although better remembered for a pair of novels, was also an essayist and astute social critic. Early in the century, Orwell lived among the poor and homeless of England, offering dispassionate chronicles of their plight. Amongst his many ruminations, Orwell contemplated the contempt with which those in poverty are often greeted.Why are beggars despised? he asked, answering simply, Because they fail to earn a decent living. It's a provocative idea, perhaps more so for an American society that bestows status and prestige largely on one's material wealth. Writer Robert C. Lieberman, expounding on Orwell's works in a 1996 essay, suggested that we too often paint poverty and homelessness as symptomatic of personal moral failure, creating a underclass whose behavior and values separate them from respectable society. It is, Lieberman wrote, (a) rhetoric that casts the poor as the enemy within, rather than as allies in a common enterprise - a way of validating our own standing by accentuating our difference from theirs. Indeed, there is a perversity to the idea that a region that has created unimaginable wealth still has citizens living in cars. Even this week, a homeless camp in Seattle will pull up stakes for the umpteenth time and relocate to another park or vacant lot, with the certainty that neighbors there will drive them away again. And the state Legislature, hamstrung for the convenience of large-vehicle owners by I-695, begins work on a two-year budget that shrinks social service spending even as the budget itself grows. Under the governor's proposal, the Department of Social and Health Services is asked to cut spending by 3 percent - curtailing coverage for dental work and prescription drugs, and closing wards at state hospitals.On Bainbridge, we strive toward a more enlightened approach. Helpline House is blessed with a cadre of dedicated volunteers; our city government has committed $500,000 in the coming year to meet human services and housing needs.But we suspect the census of homelessness will cast in dramatic relief the need for continued support for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. For some, bad choices have led to bad consequences. Just as likely, they've simply fallen victim to the same economic challenges faced by us all. How we as a community respond to their plight - compassion or judgment - is up to us.Suppose the census confirms that there are 30-40 homeless people living on Bainbridge Island today.What will you do?What will you do? "

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