Opinion Columns & Blogs

Casey Casamento and Benjamin T. Davis: Homeless program is a reflection of city’s character

One of the most contentious issues today is government assistance for the poor. Our political discourse is plagued by interminable chatter about public versus private services – to almost no avail. If anything, this chatter undermines the difficult work undertaken by many to ensure others are treated justly and with dignity.

As Christians, we affirm human sacredness and desire a more robust vision of the common good than this political debate suggests. We don’t believe the poor and socially marginalized are categorical problems to be solved and then put aside – but rather people to be loved and cherished for who they are, knowing they have an invaluable contribution to make to our community.

So it’s toward this end that we register our support for the Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, which has expanded the vision of community policing to embrace people too often overlooked.

The Police Department started the HOT program in 2013 in an effort to confront the alarming growth of homelessness in our city. Modeled on a similar program in Colorado Springs, HOT seeks to build meaningful relationships with the city’s homeless rather than encumber them with paltry fines and misdemeanors.

That is to say, instead of writing tickets and incarcerating them for camping in public space, the officers offer to take them to a shelter or connect them with organizations that help restore their lives.

By any measure, the list of organizations assembled to aid the officers is considerable. Groups such as the Lord’s Diner, Kansas Food Bank and His Helping Hands are among the crowd. Also joining in the effort are many other groups that provide medical, housing and job-placement services that go beyond meeting basic needs.

Once the offer for assistance is taken, the officers walk with that person as he begins the process of starting a new life. In essence, they become trusted friends for the road ahead.

The profound compassion of these officers speaks to their character and gives our community a sterling example to follow. It is our hope that all Wichita city officials, regardless of partisan or economic philosophy, would pledge their support to ensure HOT remains a staple in our community for the future.

We believe the strength of our character as a people will be marked by the longevity of this irreplaceable service.