By Annie Lo
Underneath the glowing neon signs, the happy chatter and smell of the warm, inviting restaurants of Franklin Street lives a sad truth that’s hard for most residents of idyllic Chapel Hill to accept. The students and teens that flock to Franklin Street in droves can always return to warm beds at the end of the night, but many are not so fortunate; the cold pavement of Franklin Street is where some still hunker down for the night.
Homelessness is not what comes to mind when one thinks of Chapel Hill. It’s an easier idea to accept in the bigger cities nearby, like Durham and Raleigh. But the reality is that homelessness is still very prevalent in this small town. Franklin Street regulars, such as high school students, see first-hand that Chapel Hill has a homeless population just like any other urban environment.
Some see the stretch of pavement between themselves and Walgreens like a gauntlet, dodging panhandlers right and left.
“I see homeless people in the streets and sometimes I feel like they’re faking it,” said senior Hong Niu.
But whether or not Niu doubts the authenticity of the homeless he encounters, it does not usually stop him from lending a helping hand.
“If I’m walking and I see them on the street, then I’ll give them something probably,” Niu said.
Others view homelessness in a more serious light and have noticed that the treatment of the homeless by the more fortunate can often be rude and not understanding.
“I think homelessness is a legitimate problem in Chapel Hill,” said senior Kyane Epps. “Sometimes I say hi because I feel like they’re mistreated a lot.”
Charity toward the homeless has been a major issue in recent Triangle news. Love Wins Ministries, an organization dedicated to the welfare of Raleigh’s homeless population, encountered trouble with the Raleigh Police in late August. The group was distributing sausage biscuits and coffee to the homeless when the police intervened.
“We showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years,” Rev. Hugh Hollowell posted on the Love Wins blog. “Officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.”
Raleigh’s sudden reaction to harmless charity set a dangerous precedent for the perception and treatment of the homeless for the entire area. Thankfully, Chapel Hill has not yet prohibited any distribution of charity to its homeless population, which numbered at 123 individuals this past January, according to the NC Coalition to End Homelessness. But these people still need more help and respect within our community.
Epps supports this sentiment with the clear logic that the homeless are just as much a part of Chapel Hill as anyone else.
“They’re just people, too.”