Event sparks conversation on homelessness

Freshman Devin Beach of Louisville demonstrates by holding a sign that brings awareness to homelessness during a protest at Fountain Square Park Saturday. The protest was put together by junior Maura Broderson of Versailes and featured a mixed crowd of supporters and individuals affected by homelessness. Tyger Williams/Special to the Herald

Andrew Henderson

Posters proclaiming “People Aren’t Issues” and “Parks For All” were found scattered throughout Fountain Square Park this past Saturday as people gathered to spark a conversation.

WKU students and Bowling Green citizens came together on Saturday for the event Fountain Square 4 All, which was created as a response to the editorial piece “Downtown panhandling must be dealt with” by the Bowling Green Daily News. 

Maura Broderson, Versailles junior and one of the event coordinators for Fountain Square 4 All, said her initial response to the editorial was wishing the piece had pursued more dimensions within the issue of homelessness. 

She also said the language in the editorial was poorly phrased and didn’t respect all of Bowling Green’s citizens. 

Broderson said the event was to help start a more proactive conversation not by pushing people out of the park but by addressing homelessness as a more systemic and complex problem.

“I just think for a newspaper to publish something like that, it was a tone that we can’t leave the community on,” Broderson said. “It was a tone of dehumanization, and I didn’t want their article and their editorial to be the last note that Bowling Green was left on, and that this issue was left on.”

The Daily News’s editorial piece claimed an issue of panhandling was occurring on the streets around Fountain Square. While the author claimed not to be unsympathetic to the plight of homelessness in the downtown area, the piece states that “it has become obvious that the influx of them is starting to cause problems.” 

“It is our hope that the homeless influx doesn’t hurt the image of our downtown and Fountain Square or the downtown business owners trying to make a living,” the editorial reads.  

Information was distributed at the Fountain Square 4 All event to provide education about homelessness in Bowling Green and in Kentucky. 

A 2014 report by the National Center for Family Homelessness found the rate of child homelessness in Kentucky is the worst in the nation with a reported 66,818 homeless children in 2012-2013. Additionally, the Kentucky Department of Education found that during the 2013-2014 school year, there were more than 29,000 homeless students in Kentucky.

112 of those students were in the Bowling Green Independent School District, and 125 attended Warren County Public Schools. 

Lawrenceburg junior Alexis Corbin said she attended the event because she’s passionate about trying to solve chronic poverty. She said when she was growing up, her family had to deal with the conditions of poverty. Corbin said the language people use towards those experiencing homelessness or poverty can be significant. 

“They deserve compassion and empathy — not sympathy, but actual empathy,” she said.

Corbin said the editorial failed to distinguish between panhandling and homelessness as two separate issues. She also said the editorial had no civic responsibility for people to follow and called for other people to solve the problem instead of portraying solutions as a community effort. 

“When we think about solving systemic problems [instead of] just trying to stick a Band-Aid on it, we need to be careful of our language,” Corbin said. 

Kate McElroy, Bowling Green senior, attended the event as a representative member of the Southern Kentucky chapter of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. 

McElroy said the chapter is interested in housing rights and that the link between housing and homelessness is undeniable. 

Information was distributed by members about the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. URLTA is a state law in Kentucky aimed at protecting the rights of renters and landlords. 

McElroy said Bowling Green chose not to opt in to URLTA and that the city was not required to. At the event, KFTC members encouraged the passing of HB 368 to apply URLTA on a statewide basis. 

“If your home is unsafe and you can’t pay for it because of a rent hike or anything like that, then you may face homelessness, and those things could be preventable with URLTA,” McElroy said. 

Bowling Green native Robin Baldwin also attended. Baldwin said she attended the event to support those who are homeless and education about homelessness. 

She said she learned the most about homelessness during the six years she lived in Los Angeles, where she worked with the homeless.

“It’s not because they choose to be on the streets. It’s circumstances that happen to people in life, and once we get to understand that, then I think it’s awareness first, then education and then action,” she said.

She said the event served as a good conduit of education and awareness. She said anyone can see a problem and criticize it, but it’s important to do something about the issue after observing it. 

Baldwin believes working with local churches and businesses to create an understanding of the needs homeless people have would be a step in the right direction.

“It’s about having a heart of compassion,” she said. “And that’s what I hope our community will have … a heart of compassion.”