Offer homeless people dignity, not handouts

To the editor: Homelessness is so intractable because when those we wish to help refuse our "largesse," we wring our hands with almost a sigh of relief as if there's no more to be said or done. I see a definite light to get beyond this defeatist attitude in Michael Totten's Dignity Village narrative. ("What L.A. can learn from a Portland homeless encampment," Opinion, Jan. 22)

It's not in a person's nature to readily accept someone's help to fix your perceived deficiencies. The clue we need is in the name of the small village in Portland run by homeless people: Dignity.

One's own dignity comes from self-directed and meaningful action for oneself and with those of common interests. If we can figure out how to help those in need by empowering instead of trying to fix them, we might be surprised at what we all could do.

Portland gives us some badly needed hints.

Paul L. DuNard Jr., Cypress



To the editor: While I applaud Michael J. Totten's recognition of Portland's Dignity Village, I do take exception to his reference of "schizophrenics and mentally ill people" who "cannot take care of themselves."

This does not correctly illustrate the real dilemma here. Many individuals who are homeless and have mental health conditions are untreated and are therefore unable to make reasonable choices for themselves. With treatment, we know individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders can get off the streets.

Individuals experiencing homelessness and mental illness and substance abuse disorders are looking for "dignity" in the same way as the individuals who reside in Dignity Village. Recognizing the individuals first and separating them from their illness and disability is the first step to restoring dignity and self-respect.

Promoting "person first" language helps eliminate preconceived beliefs and stereotypes. It is also important to recognize that everyone has the right to food, clothing and shelter even if their illness or substance use impacts their belief or desire to have those things.

Patricia LaPlace, Huntington Beach

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