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Newark Councilmember to the Homeless: You Need Jesus

The “Community Vision” Series will resume soon, but for now there is something rather serious that I must address as soon as possible. Some disagree about the serious nature of this, but I definitely see a problem. At the December 6th Newark City Council meeting, something was said in relation to the homeless by a member of City Council which indicates an alarming tone deafness when it was said that the homeless need “God” in their lives and to “do the right thing”.

I had attended the meeting for the purpose of making a public comment to pay tribute to a dear friend and fellow activist who passed away recently. I left after my comments with the intent of watching Council’s recording of the meeting on YouTube later on. I can’t fully express how outraged I was when Councilman Jeff Harris effectively told the homeless his own equivalent of the patronizing “you need Jesus”.

This is already abhorrent for any citizen to say, but it is borderline dereliction of duty for a sitting member of local government to say. Unfortunately, too many citizens hold such terrible views about the homeless and his base of support will probably reward this callous remark when he is next up for reelection in two years. A common theme in the remarks about the homeless issue by members of City Council was one of “I don’t know what we can do about it”. This detached near-unanimous response to the issue (only a couple of outgoing members believe that we can do something) was prompted by a few citizens speaking about the issue, including a woman who is homeless.

She spoke bravely about her experience, about how she was evicted for trying to help homeless people, about how she hopes that we can do something to help before it gets dangerously cold. The culmination of Newark City Council’s emotional detachment from the homeless crisis came with Councilman Harris basically responding flatly that the homeless are apparently not religious and determined enough to escape their plight (despite the fact that many are very religious and even hardworking). As a formerly deeply devout Christian, I know enough about the scriptures to know that this is far from the written viewpoint held by the namesake of Mr. Harris’s purported faith. In the ultimate failure of abiding by the creed of “what would Jesus do”, Harris demonstrated that he would leave the homeless to freeze despite having a position of power to help move our community towards a more compassionate and real solution.

Members of City Council act as if there are not models for effective local action to help the homeless that they can easily find via Google. With the membership of Council as of January becoming a one party organization (something else I will address very soon), it is going to be imperative that they own this issue once and for all. The Republican Party in Newark and Licking County will have all the power to find a solution to help or hurt the homeless; and it definitely is either/or. When the new Council has their first meeting in January, I will make it a point to address them on this vital issue.

This attitude needs to change, because lives are seriously in danger.

Stay Tuned…


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