The state capitol building was defaced last week by someone wielding a can of black spray paint.
"Hear our cries," and "10 minutes for the homeless" were scrawled across the pillars outside the capitol, purportedly by "the homeless."I take issue with that manner of attracting attention and with anyone who tries to blame it on a whole category of people.
I sympathize deeply with the problems and worries of the homeless. But this was an act of vandalism, plain and simple - not a cry for help or understanding.
The location of the "message" would indicate that lawmakers and government officials were the intended recipients of the message. But it didn't take defacing property with black paint to ask for a 10-minute audience with officials; those very people are available through an extremely open, if somewhat tedious, process called the Utah State Legislature.
It isn't difficult to call attention to problems. During the annual 45-day legislative session, committee meetings are open to the public for testimony. The homeless wouldn't have been limited to 10 minutes. And officials can be reached year-round.
It reminds me of a friend who told me he'd "like to tell those legislators a thing or two."
I responded, "Why don't you? They're having budget hearings and committee meetings this week and anyone is welcome to testify."
In a way, I was issuing a challenge, a simple "put up or shut up."
He chose not to attend any of the meetings, although I'm pretty sure he retained his right to complain about the system. I am convinced that our friend the spray-painter would react the same way.
Instead of turning frustrations around and confronting and possibly getting help from people, it's easier to work up a small temper tantrum and destroy something - even if it's only a piece of a building.
Personally, I don't appreciate it. That building is my building - and yours and everyone else's.
I'm also leery of anyone who purports to speak for a group of people - like the homeless. And I'm saddened because this one thoughtless, stupid act has destroyed some of the good will and tolerance the community as a whole exhibits for people in need.
The new shelter for the homeless was built on a foundation of the generosity of individuals, churches and organizations. It was a community project and, in fact, reflected what's best about our community: caring, sharing and working together.
The day the vandalism was discovered, I received a couple of disturbing phone calls.
"I'm getting tired of it," one man said. "It seems like the more we do for the homeless and the poor, the more they expect us to do. It's not people helping each other. Somehow, it's become our duty and their birthright and I don't like it."
"How dare they?" a woman shrieked at me. "Who do they think they are?"
That brings me to my final point. As far as I know, there's no evidence a "they" was even involved. It only takes one person to hold a can of spray paint.
There's no evidence that it was even a homeless person.
But, if it was, so what?
The homeless come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of backgrounds, with all kinds of viewpoints. They form as clear-cut a category and have as much in common with each other as apples and concrete.
I don't claim to speak for "apartmentites" just because I live in one. If I did, people would laugh at me.
It's no different from talking about "welfare bums," as if everyone who is on welfare just loves living the high life at about half of the poverty level. Or about the "selfish rich." (Haven't you heard that no one gets rich by being generous? If it were true, a lot of our charities would crumble.)
I don't think the genuine problems of the homeless, which are more complicated than the lack of a permanent address, receive the attention they should. A good portion of our social structure is not built to help people better themselves, but rather, to keep them in one place. Those issues deserve to be addressed. And we ought to try to see the big picture, to look ahead and plan instead of slapping bandages on things.
But no problem was ever solved with a can of spray paint.